Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I love car dealers and car companies, rant mode on.

We made some good headway on the vapor barrier and drywall. I have a load of drywall sitting in the bed of the pickup just begging to be put up. And yet, I have not done it. The reason is my possessions and their maintenance. I sometimes envy those branches of the clergy who take vows of poverty and essentially own nothing. I can see how it could be a very liberating experience.

I decided to work on my car, the 2004 VW diesel jetta. The reason I decided this, was the fuel leak. Some stuff I can put off and ignore for a long time, like a squeaky door. A fuel leak on the other hand is something to be addressed immediately. If this were a gasser, I probably woudn't drive the car until it was fixed. Gasoline is extremely volatile and is just looking for an excuse to catch on fire or blow up and burn your car to the ground, maybe taking you with it.

Diesel is much less volatile and very difficult to set on fire, relatively speaking. Still, it did not want to be ignored for long. Plus, I have been tracking my fuel economy quite closely the last few tanks and haven't been quite able to break the 50 mpg barrier. This is probably due to the cold weather and the winter formulation of fuel. But a fuel leak certainly won't push that number up higher.

I could have just dropped it off in the morning at the VW dealer and it would have been done that night, freeing up some time to play with drywall. But the dealer is not your friend or mine either. In the old days, up until the 60's perhaps, the car companies made most of their money on the sale of the car. Parts and repairs did generate some profit, but not a huge amount. Ditto with the financing. These days, it's totally upside down.

The dealer HATES the customer that comes in and knows what they want and has the cash to pay for it. The current business model puts most of the profit in the financing and the parts/labor. In a recent story that made national news, a man in his early 20's decided he wanted a certain model of Jeep. He also had all the money saved up and ready to go. He walked into the dealer and attempted to buy it. He really wanted to help Chrysler with their current financial difficulties. Seriously...

When the sales person heard he had cash money, he became very ominous and concerned. "Well, we won't be able to give you the big promotional rebates and the "special pricing" if you pay cash. Tragedy had struck. But in less than an hour, he had talked the young man into financing the vehicle and then just "pay it off early".

When they checked his credit, they discovered he didn't even rate a credit score of any kind, because he paid for everything with cash. In reality, your credit score is an "I love debt" score. You could be a multi-millionaire and still have a credit score of zero if you don't borrow money regularly. See how the system is biased against savers? The young man couldn't get a loan of any kind.

Eventually they decided to have his mom co-sign for the loan so he could get all the "special" promotional deals. Wink wink! Mom had the presence of mind to ask about exactly how much additional fees and interest would be added to the transaction to get this "special deal". It turned out to be several thousand dollars. Humph! The sales person had not really mentioned this number before. I am shocked to hear it! Both mom and the son left the store disgusted and angry. He tries to do the right thing to help a struggling company, and in return Chrysler tries to cheat him. And they wonder why they are in trouble. Leasing a car is even worse. The cost per mile is the highest with a lease, almost without exception. Never ever lease a car, ever.

So, back to the VW. I actually called the dealer and asked how much the parts would cost. The two rubber hoses that connect the fuel injection pump to the fuel filter were getting worn out and seeping at the "fuel filter" end. These were specially molded rubber hoses so they followed the contour of the engine and could be nicely clamped in place, etc. I know that the special part that you can only get from the dealer is going to be somewhat more expensive than the generic hose from a parts store. Mentally, I had figured out that I could make the repair for about ten bucks worth of generic parts. If I could get the factory custom stuff for less than $30, I would do it. Hey, it's custom. It should cost more.

Imagine my surprise when the parts guy at the dealer mentioned the heady sum of $177, just for the parts. That's two rubber hoses about the size of your little pinky and a foot long. Labor would be about the same. Holy polymer rip-off Bat man! I was so shocked by this number that I asked him of he was kidding. After a short silence, he said no, he was not.

I was a little off with my estimate for the cheap generic solution. I bought all the parts for less than nine dollars, including tax. I replace both rubber hoses, at both the filter end and at the fuel injection pump end. I also replaced both metal pipes/lines (1/4" flexible metal break lines make awesome fuel line by the way) and re-routed them to a more user friendly location to make future inspection and maintenance easier. NINE FREAKING DOLLARS! It took a few hours including the time to wash off the engine compartment to clean up the fuel mess. So this saved me, at a minimum, $177, and with labor more like $300. Plus tax. So I made about $100 per hour in after tax dollars.

The gear shift had also gotten very stiff, which concerned me greatly. If the linkage was messed up, that could run a few hundred dollars for a new shift linkage. If the transmission was messed up, that would be a few thousand dollars. It turned out that the rubber accordion boots that protect the ends of the shift cables from dirt and whatnot, had turned into a sticky gooey mess a lot like glue. This was slowly working its way into the cable sheath and making shifting a downright nuisance. I scraped and cleaned all the nasty rubber gluey mess off and just greased the cables with wheel bearing grease for a total cost of about eight cents. I'm sure the dealer would have replaced the whole shift cable assembly, and it would have cost hundreds of dollars in parts and hundred of dollars in labor.

The shift cable job took less than 30 minutes, so that's some crazy high number of dollars "made" per minute. It now shifts like a Porsche again. The great irony is that when the car was virtually new, the tandem pump (part of the fuel injection pump system) had a defect and sprung a leak. The dealer replaced the tandem pump at no cost, but would not replace the rubber parts soaked by the diesel fuel sprayed all over the engine compartment. Including the rubber boots on the shift cables. I told them at the time it would damage the rubber, but they seemed unconcerned.

Did I mention that the dealer is not your friend and the system is designed to be hard to work on and expensive? They will suck money out of your wallet at a prodigious rate if you let them.

The moral of the story is you should learn to do the basic stuff yourself and join an online owner's group if you are motivated at all to do this sort of work. The online support group can teach you and walk you through even fairly complex repairs. Even if you don't do most of the work yourself, they are universally excellent at spotting the BS repair that the dealer wants to do that could be repaired by a small independent mechanic for less than half what the dealer wants.

My ultimate solution to this problem is to build my own car. I am more and more determined to do this because of all the designed in overly complex and unnecessary electro-widgits. My car will be far easier to work on and with better reliability and longevity. I have HAD IT. True, it might not have a voice activated ignition system, but I can live with that loss.

OK, back to drywall and firewood splitting.

Finest regards,



Andrew said...

"I love debt score." Sounds like Dave Ramsey, do you listen to his program.

p.s. I am David Swartz's cousin

troy and christina said...

Yes, I am a huge Dave Ramsey fan. He is an economic libertarian, which would describe me pretty well.

Pleased to make your acquaintance. David said you read the blog sometimes. Hope you enjoy it.

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