There’s no shortage of readers who want me to intervene on their behalf because they’ve been victimized in some way. At least that’s how they describe their plight. Maybe it’s a “lemon” of a truck, possibly a contract dispute, sometimes a fight with an idiotic bureaucracy. For reasons I don’t always understand, they think I’m a consumer watchdog of some sort. I’m not.
Knowing only one side of the story – there are always two – there’s not much I can do anyway. And I definitely don’t have the time to dig out the other side’s version of things. Every once in a while things are different, but that’s rare.
More often than not, these cases involve a truck, or in these last few years, an engine.
Everyone’s suffered the frustration of owning a lemon. At some point or other, we’ve all bought a washing machine or a camera that just never seems able to escape the shop for longer than a month or whatever. It can be one of life’s biggest trials.
But with a bad truck, now we’re talking livelihoods, mortgage payments, food on the table. When a trucking business is based on just one or a few machines, and those moneymakers turn out to be lemons, the result can obviously be catastrophic.
So, what can you do? Well, quite a bit. I have some experience in such ugly matters, and a few ideas about how to deal with them:
• Actually, your strategy should start before you buy the truck. Shop for the dealer as well as the truck. There can be bigger variations between dealers than between trucks.
• Know what your warranty covers and doesn’t cover.
• Establish a relationship with your dealer’s service department before you need it.
• Keep meticulous records of work done on your truck, of its fuel economy, and even of the odd noises you may hear.
• Insist that all work orders be properly written, including mileage, the nature of the fault, the work done, and details of all parts replaced.
• Try to stay reasonable if a disagreement arises with the service writer. Talk to the mechanic if you can, and certainly the service manager.
• If the dispute can’t be resolved in the shop, go back to your salesperson and ask for help. If there’s no satisfaction there, go higher, to the sales manager or to the dealer principal. Be persistent but not rude.
• If your relationship with the dealer has soured irretrievably, get on the phone and call the manufacturer’s head office. It may take several calls to find to the right person, but don’t give up.
• Write a letter to that person as well, copying the dealer principal and service manager, but don’t attach 72 pages of disputed invoices and the like. Make your point, provide a crisp point-form summary of what’s been going on, and ask for timely resolution of your complaint. Ask for a phone call as acknowledgement.
• Don’t threaten to sue unless every possible option has been explored – and you actually have the financial resources to do it. Don’t go there unless all your options are gone, because the only winners will be lawyers.
I think the people who have the most trouble finding satisfaction are those who can’t make their case in a clear, organized way and those who don’t work the telephone very effectively. Realize you won’t hit pay dirt on your first call, so be patient but persistent, and keep a dated log of every communication.