Last year I bought a truck and, after putting over twenty thousand miles on it in less than a year, it needed new brakes. So I took the advice that I had never before followed -- I went to the dealership. I made a reservation for first thing Friday morning for a brake job, oil change and tire rotation. On arrival I stated my name and purpose ("Shan P - I have a reservation for a 5k service and brake job."). The service advisor, Ruben, replied, "We'll tell you if you need a brake job or not." I told him that I definitely needed brakes because that they were making a lot of noise and that it had gotten worse since a recent trip to Mt. Baldy. He sent me on my way and told me he'd call when it was done.
About three hours later he called to say that my 5k service was done, that I didn't need brakes, and that my transmission needed to be serviced. I authorized the new service and asked if they'd driven my truck. I was told that they'd driven and inspected it. Ruben said that I had a lot of room left on the pads and that I could expect them to last at least another ten thousand miles. I started wondering if I was nuts or it was yet another case of a woman's car behaving well in the presence of a mechanic.
I drove and braked silently away from the dealership and went to run some errands. On the way home the grinding started up again. I made a mental note to grow a penis before heading back to the dealership. Since no penis was pressing outward from my nether region I pondered other options, including a strongly worded letter of complaint or just finding a good mechanic through my friends and never going back to the dealership. In the meantime I had my dad take a listen and then a look (I should mention that he has more years of professional experience with cars than I have experience breathing -- and that he is the director of a truck racing organization). Without removing my wheel he was able to determine that I needed a new brake shoe. His suggestion was that I call the dealership and "offer to sue." Instead I called the dealership with that most female question, "But how did it happen?"
I spoke with the service manager, Mike, who came up with several really interesting possibilities, but not until after he defended his mechanic over and over again.
"I stand behind the work of my mechanics. They do an excellent job and if I didn't believe that, they wouldn't be working for me."
"But how could they say I don't need brakes if they actually drove my truck like Ruben said? If they'd driven it, they couldn't have missed the horrible grinding noise it makes."
"My guy didn't just drive your vehicle, he took apart your brake, inspected it and measured the parts to within 1/32 of an inch. On your invoice you'll see where it gives those measurements. To within 1/32 of an inch."
"Where would I find that? Would that be after the notes to inspect the brakes?"
"Yes. Exactly." (This sounded like a man talking through gritted teeth.)
"On mine it says 'Check and fill fluids!' There are no measurements." (This sounded like me when I'm right and you're wrong.)
I was then placed on hold while my invoice was retrieved for a conversation more specific to my vehicle. When Mike returned he began reading off numbers and measurements that were not on my copy of the invoice.
"Those numbers mean nothing to me; they aren't on my invoice. How can you have these numbers from my invoice when they're not on my invoice and how can your men have driven and inspected my vehicle and not noticed that I needed brakes?"
"Let me tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you a free brake inspection and we'll send your truck to our brake specialist. I'm confident that we're not going to find anything, but if that'll make you feel better I'll cover it."
"That's really great, but I already brought my truck to you and specifically requested that my brakes be done because of the horrible noise they were making and what I want to know is why it didn't go to a brake specialist the first time?"
"Everybody's brakes make noise from time to time. That doesn't mean anything."
"Oh, that must be why I have been hearing all that squeaking and grinding from the cars around me. No, wait -- just mine are doing that."
"Everybody complains about their brakes making noise. That's like saying the sky is blue."
"It's a very common complaint."
"I'm not imagining that my brakes are making noise. They're grinding, not squeaking. Plus, I had it looked at and was told that I need brake shoes, but according to your guy I could drive it around for another six months."
"Who looked at it?"
"My father, a mechanic."
"Oh. Well, perhaps in driving down from Mt. Baldy your brakes got heated and became off-round."
"Huh?" (An explanation followed, but my dad later dismissed it as horseshit, so I didn't bother remembering for this story. Sorry.) "That still doesn't explain how this happened."
"Let me tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to have your brakes looked at, and if there's any work that needs to be done, I'll cover it. I'll take care of one axle for you. If both need to be done, I'll cover half of that."
On one hand, yes, my head began to swell with power, but on the other, I still didn't have the answer to my question. Also, note that it took the mention of my father to get any real help from this guy. On the way home I called my dad to update him. He asked me to bring it to his place so he could mark the old parts to ensure that the repairs actually happened. When he took it apart, there was no pad left. Parts had been ground down so far that metal shavings fell out all over the place and still filled the bottom of this cup-shaped part. I dutifully retrieved Dad's digital camera with the telephoto lens and helped snap about six shots before he put it back together. Then I called the dealership and arranged for them to get me a tow truck -- it was not safe to drive. The next morning I got a call from Ruben who told me I'd have to call for the tow truck myself and that they would only pay for it if the vehicle really was unsafe to drive. I don't know if these attempts of his to negate my information made him feel powerful, but if so, it couldn't have lasted long.
When the tow truck driver pulled my vehicle up onto his flatbed he remarked about how bad the brakes sounded. I explained the situation to him on the way to the dealership. When he pulled it off the tow truck at the dealership, he insisted on driving it in because he was a "professional driver" and my truck was "obviously unsafe." Ruben walked up and I handed him the brake pad and smilingly relayed my dad's message, "My dad said I should throw this at you and demand an explanation, but I'm just going to hand it to you." I asked the tow truck driver if he needed my signature on anything until they determined who'd be paying, but he shook his head and said, "Oh, they're paying for this," and went to Ruben for billing info.
I told Ruben that I needed to get to work, but that I wasn't leaving until I found out what was going on, so he put a rush on my order. About half an hour later I was called into Mike's office along with Ruben. Mike sat me down, seated himself in front of me and said, "Well, I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know. You need brakes." He then detailed the exact nature of the repairs needed, including something with the rear axle that they had missed and that he'd also cover. I was given a rental car for the day and Mike's "deep and humble" apology. He also requested that I express his apologies to my father for the inconvenience he'd been caused.
While waiting for the rental car I considered what had just transpired. Rather than feeling really cool about having handled this essentially on my own (no guy came along with me or called for me), I was struck by two things.
1) That prick was so patronizing that he wouldn't help me until I mentioned my father. The fact that he wanted to apologize for inconveniencing my father said a lot considering how willing he was to endanger my life, my son's life and the lives of those on the road near me, and
2) For him to have paid for what ended up being about $300 worth of repairs plus a rental car means that we really were in danger.
When I got home that night, some unfortunate schlub had the misfortune to call me from the dealership's "customer care center" to inquire about my satisfaction with the service I'd received.
In the end, everybody was stripped of power: Ruben, Mike, the mechanic, and me. Sure, I had gotten the brake job for free, but I would have rather paid for it and not had the nausea that stuck with me that day.