The other day I was looking out my office window and something unusual flashed by on the road. I didn't get a good look at it but I could tell it wasn't an ordinary car. I wanted a better look, just out of idle curiosity, so I did what anyone would do in that situation: I reached for the remote control so I could rewind and play it back.

The only problem, as I soon realized, is that windows don't have a rewind feature. It was frustrating. It's not the first time I have reflexively reached for the rewind button. Sometimes I miss bits of conversation and I think for a brief moment I'll rewind and listen to that again. If you have a DVR at home, you might be having the same frustration.

Watching television still isn't as good as real life, at least on average, but that gap is narrowing from both sides. Real life is getting worse while the quality of television continues to improve. Case in point, have you taken your car to the dealer for servicing during the current economic downturn? If so, I pity you. You already found out that the dealership is struggling on the sales side and they are trying to make up the difference on the service side. These days the sales staff has no function other than to hold your arms and legs while the service staff screws you.

Try taking your car in for some minor service, such as an oil change. You'll end up paying for fixes that never actually happened, on car components that don't actually exist. For example, your service agent might tell you that if you don't get your flumerjib aligned, your kragwalter will oomulated and corrode the maxinflap. In a situation such as that, you know exactly two things:

1. If you take it somewhere for a second opinion, the second guy will screw you too, albeit in a new way.

2. If you try to service your car yourself, you will die in a fireball that will be visible from the International Space Station.

So you loosen your sphincter muscles, take a deep breath, and agree to let the suspicious stranger service your brains out. Your only solace comes from the knowledge that sooner or later an investigative reporter will bust your dealership.

I consider this to be one of the downsides of understanding economics. I know in advance, almost like ESP, that none of you have heard this from a car dealership's service department in the past two months:

Service Guy: "I fixed your ping by removing a twig that was caught under the fender. There's no charge of course, and your car is otherwise perfect. So I will just default on my mortgage and kill stray dogs to feed my family this week. Have a nice weekend!"

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+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
Maximflap corrosion is a serious business, my mechanic told me last week that if he hadn't fixed it in time my car would have spontaneously combusted... I could have died!
Jan 22, 2009
Scott - what you describe has been true for a long time. Look at what's happened to automobile dealerships in the last 15 years or so

1) Cars last longer = lower sales revenue
2) car wholesale prices are public = lower margins on sales
3) wider sales competition = more need to "spruce up" dealership to get any sales
4) cars are more reliable = lower service revenue
5) wider service competition = have to offer longer hours, etc.

So - how do dealers cope? The one thing in their control is their margin on repairs. This isn't a secret, and I doubt you'll find anyone who uses a dealer for service and believes it's the most cost-effective solution (usually they just figure they're paying up for convenience, and try not to think about how much).

people who are cost-effective have found local garages with good mechanics.

creative destruction is about to attack the automobile industry, it's not going to be pretty.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
it is hilarious because it is true
Jan 22, 2009
This post couldn't be more timely for me. I took my car in for an oil change and a rotation last weekend. The guy was so concerned about upselling me on unnecessary service that he failed to get the rotation done. I didn't realize until I'd left, and after I saw the big sign offering $10 off an oil change today only. (He screwed me on that also.)

I guess its just my passive aggressive side, but I'll never go to that shop again. Most of the businesses I see going under suffer from the same plague. Trying to drive sales, the just end up driving their customers away.
Jan 22, 2009
I'm still looking for the Undo button of life...
Jan 22, 2009
Of course mechanics will cheat you—or me—we know nothing about cars! It's only in their best interest to do so.

Doesn't this sound eerily similar in content to this post?


-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
Scott, I knew this before you did. And I posted it in my web log, back in 2004. I may be pushing it, but I think my post on this topic might just be funnier than yours: http://www.henryfarkas.com/weblog/12162004.html
Also, I want it noted here that every single thing I said in that P.S. was absolutely true.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
The car going by your window was your new ride. New car dealers now are spooky because they are so quiet. You really can get a good deal and if you want another BMW the service is paid for for four years now. The economy will hopefully have relaxed by then.
Jan 22, 2009
You were an engineer! You created an online file transfer system! Cars are not that hard to understand. I've learned being a female that mechanics are not smart enough to really come up with plausible sounding repairs, they count on your complete ignorance. Educate yourself just a little about your car's systems and what they do and you won't be able to be taken advantage of. Even better, you won't do things that hurt your car and the few honest mechanics out there will appreciate your care of what they consider fine machines that don't deserve to be driven 20,000 !$%*! without oil being added, then brought to them to be "fixed".
Jan 22, 2009
The other day we took the car in because the block heater(a lot of people will not know what that is but if you live in canada you do) was not working. Turned out when some different people worked on the car they unplugged it from the motor and didn't plug it back in. They plugged it back in didn't find any other problems and charged 7.50. This was a Canadian Tire not a dealer service station but still an big chain that we expected to rip us off.
Jan 22, 2009
How very timely. I threw a $27 belt on my car. Dealer estimate? $200.00 Then I found that it was because of a $57 bearing that failed. I didn't dare to ask. Total repair time including two 20 mile trips to the auto parts store - 3 hours. Who said mechical engineers don't know how to turn a wrench? This great depression is going to be much worse because of the much lower percentage of people that actually know how to do anything themselves. I predict people who make stick drawings for a living will starve first.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
And try going to a used car dealership~~~~

On another note...EVERYtime I read "dilbertfiles" my brain FIRST reads it as "Dilbert Flies". If I'm not alone in that mental fart, perhaps you could capitalize on that as a mirroe site or logo involving your fav flying monkeys or some such?
Jan 22, 2009
To help with the rewind button difficulties, or lack thereof:

They're not exactly inconspicuous, but if you have to wear glasses why not add a few features.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
Did you know that the speedomter display on a Prius is projected from a point on the dash, and that if something, say a little grippy pad used to hold a cell phone in place on the dash, blows over to cover that point, the dislay is not visible? I know that now, and the nice Toyota dealership guy didn't charge me a thing to tell me.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 22, 2009
Steve Mann is a professor at the University of Toronto. He's been doing wearable computing research for like thirty years. He walks around with a camera and screen built in to his glasses. I'm pretty sure he can rewind what he sees. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Mann
Jan 22, 2009
If our world is a programmed illusion, rewind ought to be possible, no?

Food for thought (and theoretical support) for our universe being a hologram:


I knew you'd like it :-)
Jan 22, 2009
To Dal Tiger, brake fluid rarely goes low without indicating a serious problem. If your brake fluid is low, you need to check everything in the brake system to look for a leak somewhere. They may have tightened or replaced hoses/clamps (minimal material cost might not even be added separately). But find out where your brake fluid resevoir is and keep an eye on the level.
Jan 22, 2009
I have already been there... I took my car in for the regular oil change, and while they were doing a quick check of my vechicle and filling the washer fluid, the service guy noted that my brake fluid was low. He told me that it could indicate a problem and that he would check it out for me. I thought the guy was being nice and proactive looking for problems before I noticed them, like my brakes failing spontaneously. When I picked up my car later that day, I had a charge of $59.99 added to my oil change for brake servicing. Apparently, there was no problem with my brakes, just low fluid, which they topped up for me, and not having a problem isn't covered under my warranty, so I had to pay for the service. I currently have a complaint in with the service manager as well as GMs warranty department but after several months, I am getting the feeling that they just don't care.
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