Why is it so hard to find a good and fair deal at the mechanic?

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the great weekly Car Clinic column, it is quite informative, I recently had a bad experience at a local Toyota Kenya workshop and I found the customer care both unethical and arrogant.

After delivering a Toyota Land cruiser whose Air conditioner was not cooling, I received a quotation with a list of 27 items to replace at the Total sum of Sh364,892.

Of all these items, only one was relevant — to Refilling the Aircon, the quoted cost was  Sh12,993.75 plus sundries at Sh2,007.06 and VAT.

I authorised for the refilling of the aircon gas as per their recommendation. However, when I went to collect the car two days later, I found that they had not repaired it, they wanted me to leave the vehicle for one week or else pay a fee of Sh14,455 to have the vehicle released.

I met an old white man who I assume is the workshop manager. I expected he would solve the issue but it only got worse. He went further to state they must replace the Aircon compressor which would cost approximately Sh250,000 or else they will NOT refill the Aircon and I must pay the Sh14,455 and collect my car.  

Is it fair, I am I overreacting? 

If the issue was that the aircon gas was low, why should I replace the compressor?

I suppose with this kind of policy, and seeing so many Government vehicles being taken there for repairs, these guys must be milking the government hard.

Where can I register my protest?  

Robert

 

Robert,

It is extremely difficult not to get justifiably outraged reading your mail. Unless there are other details that you are not sharing, the behaviour of the staff from that garage can best be termed “uncouth”. Greed does not come any worse than what you are describing.

The sad news is yours is not an isolated case. Tales of garages either fleecing clients outright or misleading them into unnecessary and over-the-top expenditures abound. I have been a victim of it too — grossly overinflated parts pricing, ridiculously incompatible labor costs, incorrect diagnosis with an aim of making an extra buck from needless major repairs, and of course the nonsensically bureaucratic jibber-jabber that arises when the collection date is due (they refused to release the car, leading to more bureaucratic jibber-jabber, and THEN had the nerve to charge me parking fees several days later after they capitulated)

One part I fail to understand is why the garage in question held your vehicle hostage. What is the concept behind the Sh14,455 payable for the vehicle to be released, if not a poorly concealed ransom? I know of (and I’m completely against) the idea of garages recommending big jobs for little things, but the use of “MUST REPLACE” leaves plenty of question marks too. Whose vehicle is it anyway?

I would very easily punch any mechanic in the neck if one day I take my car in for an oil change and s/he says I MUST replace the suspension. Is s/he giving me the money to do so? Does it even need replacement in the first place?

Do any of his/her loved ones ride in my car for him to express such impertinent and misplaced concern over property that is not his/hers?

It is unfortunate we do not have an ombudsman to watch out for the victimised drivers who have to undergo such savagery.

That does not mean action cannot be taken: just as there is more than one way of skinning a cat, there is more than one way of getting back at “stealerships” such as the one you talk about.

I am thinking we could start a Name-and-Shame programme where anyone who feels they have been stiffed or otherwise wronged by an unscrupulous businessman is free to air his grievance, and that grievance will see the light of day here.

If the garages cannot conduct their business decently, then we will take the business away from them.

**********

JMB,

I’ve been telling my friends that the current Bluebird/Sylphy gives more value for hard-earned money than the overpriced Premio/Allion twins.

Cabin space is good and rear legroom is fantastic. But, I’ve been driven in two such cars (and drove one this morning) and I’ve noticed something off: the dashboard melts. 

Yes, the dashboard material, under intense heat, melts and looks really bad. It ends up looking like the dashboard suffers from a serious case of pimple breakout. Further investigation revealed that the material used to do the interior is cheap plastics common with Nissan cars like the hugely disappointing Wingroad.

Nissan could do better. On that front, the twins Allion/Premio, win. And on the quality of the ride, the twins also win. The Nissan just does not feel as good to drive. I guess you pay for what you get.

CM

 

Yes, Nissan could do better. They could do better on a lot of fronts. But remember these were cars conceived when Nissan was in a corporate rut and in danger of being masticated by Renault: thankfully this threat of predation was toned down to a merger, and Nissan got a new lease of life under the wizard that goes by the name of Carlos Ghosn.

He is the guy who turned Nissan around, and most importantly, oversaw the transformation of the GTR from an Evo-chasing saloon-derivative into an instrument that makes the knees of Porsche owners shake with trepidation (it is hard for me to stop talking about the GTR, you may have noticed).

That said: I know a few people who would still buy a Sylphy over the overpriced Toyotas, unless either the Toyotas become cheaper or the Nissan becomes more expensive. So what if the dashboard melts? Park under a tree, or something. I am fastidious about where I park my car (mostly for security reasons, since Mazda dashboards don’t melt), so as a hypothetical Sylphy owner, it shouldn’t take me too long to single out a few trees, awnings or verandas in the diverse locales I haunt where I can push the bonnet of the Sylphy safely away from the piercing, plastic-melting IR/UV rays of the sun. Alternatively, I could just buy a literal sunscreen: the shiny foil that is placed over the dashboard to reflect away the heat from the dashboard.

I, however, wouldn’t buy any of those. I’d most likely buy a Honda Accord or a Mazda 6; they may be even more expensive but they are far better cars than the trio under trial here. Lastly, I can bet future Nissans that are yet to trickle down to us (2010 models et al) do not have melting dashboards; after all, if Ghosn could oversee such projects as the R35 GTR and the new Patrol then he sure as hell must have addressed the soft dashboard issue.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I occasionally read through your weekly column whenever I have the time. In the recent past, I have read two of your articles where you advised your readers strongly (sternly actually) against having any dalliance with Alfa Romeo cars. Whilst I will not say that they are the greatest cars ever built (simply because no single marque holds such a tag), I also know that there is no such thing like a perfect car.

 I did not keep a copy of the first of those two articles, but I think it was sometime either in late 2014 or early 2015. More recently, I had the chance to read through your article in the Daily Nation of Wednesday April 1 during a four hour flight which gave me enough time to digest your views and opinion on this Italian marque, and I came to the conclusion that either your views were misinformed or outright biased.

Being the respectable motoring enthusiast and writer that you are, I doubt that your views would be informed by bias, so I must conclude that you are misinformed on this matter (and this is acceptable, petrol heads occasionally get it wrong, what with the many cars around!).

You write that “Alfas are insanely unreliable”. Insanely unreliable must mean that the cars are nothing but serial heartbreakers! How untrue! In what sense?

To the contrary, Alfas are some of the most robust and reliable cars you can find around, albeit misunderstood. Granted, a few models had some hiccups, especially around the time that FIAT acquired Alfa and (as has been joked around in motoring circles) altered the Alfa DNA. However, that has long been corrected and Alfa got back its DNA.

Again, this was not a unique challenge to Alfa only. Several other marques, including the so-called legendary German marques, have not escaped such challenges and a lot can be said in this regard about certain of their models. You also assert that “breaking down is a matter of when, not if”. This can be said of any car and I shall not dwell on it for too long.

Apart from the above generalised statements you make about Alfas, the only specific flaws you point out is that “their electrical systems are the worst; they act up and pack up with alarming frequency. The beautifully crafted interior falls to pieces and is a pain to put right, if ever. Hoses blow in the engine, wires melt, gaskets crumble, valves shatter, con-rods bend, driveshafts warp, wheel hubs fall off….”

Perhaps you have forgotten that a while back you had the same unkind thoughts for the electrical systems for certain models of Peugoets! And you certainly forget that most of these listed problems are symptomatic of delayed maintenance, and you will no doubt be aware that Alfa Romeo has never had a stable dealership home since the end of the era of Touring & Sports Cars Ltd. This brought about challenges with finding the right Alfa workshop, properly trained mechanics and obtaining parts. Owners of the few Alfas that remained during this turbulent period mainly resorted to using untrained mechanics and delaying replacement of parts or modifying certain parts including engine parts on these high performance cars. But on a brighter side, with the liberal market that Kenya is today, Alfa owners are now able to affordably source for parts from Europe and other countries with ease and speed (just like most owners of newbie high performance and status cars are able to do to keep their cars running) and this has seen a resurgence of Alfas back on our roads.

You will also perhaps recall that this same fate that befell Alfa also hit a number of other European marques that were popular in the immediate post-independence era in Kenya right through to the eighties and even nineties — including the Renaults, Citroens, Ford, Audi, and more recently Peugoet, not to mention that BMW nearly suffered the same fate. Some, like Audi, Ford and Peugoet are making a resurgence. In the final analysis, it is not that Alfas are “unreliable” or have the worst this-and-that system, no.

It is all about availability of parts and to a smaller extent good mechanics. But as I have intimated, this is no longer a challenge. In a subsequent article you wrote two weeks later in the Daily Nation of Wednesday April 15, 2015, you confirm this view when you write that “it doesn’t really matter what car you buy, what matters is what you do with it and how well you take care of it”.

You go on to say that you “know people who own and drive reputably ‘unreliable’ cars but have never done anything more than replace consumables and perform the requisite service at the right interval, and those cars run like clockwork”.

Finally, you note that you “know others who drive Toyotas that spend three days a week at the garage, two days on the road and two days parked at home.”  

Haven’t you just confirmed right there that there is nothing inherently wrong with Alfas, or any other car for that matter?

I will leave you with the news that Alfa Romeo is currently undergoing a renaissance under its new home in the FCA Alliance which will see production numbers increase more than five-fold in the immediate horizon (2015-2018). Alfas will also reclaim back most of their original DNA, including a return to Rear Wheel Drive (as well as All Wheel Drive) with a 50-50 weight ratio architecture among many other attributes.

The first in this new range of cars is due for a mid-2015 launch and already many new Alfa dealerships are opening up across the world. I am optimistic that Kenya will soon also get a new dealer to fill the current vacuum left after the exit of C&G from the Alfa dealership. Exciting things lie ahead with this great Italian marque with a truly sporting heart – cuore sportivo! Watch this space!

Peter

 

There is no such thing as a perfect car. True, but there are some that come really close. The Alfa Romeo is NOT one of them.

Neither is Peugeot, but they get a reprieve today since it’s Alfas in the spotlight. When you say “some of the most robust and reliable cars around” — one cannot help but ask: around where? Maybe in Italy, surrounded by flimsy Fiats, flammable Ferraris and God-knows-what-else.

In a world where BOTH Volkswagen and Toyota exist, you have to do a damn sight more than build a soulful car if you want to use words like “reliable” and “robust” in their reviews. Alfas may be a lot of things, but the two things they are NOT are reliable and robust.

I know about the pitfalls that come with making generalisations. These are usually explained away in statistics, so I will not head in that direction. I said: “it matters not what car you buy, what matters is how well you take care of it”.

That applies to the tens of thousands of workaday transports we buy, commonly Japanese or some cheaper European models. It does not mean that you should go ahead and buy a Ferrari 355, a car whose “normal” service requires the removal of the whole engine from the car in an operation that costs Sh97,3050 and can only be done by a specialist.

I made this clear later when someone asked about buying an Audi Allroad and I reminded them that even though parts/maintenance costs shouldn’t be a worry in the face of motor vehicle ownership, there are EXCEPTIONS.

The Audi Allroad is one of those exceptions: it comes with fully adjustable air suspension that is a swine to fix WHEN it goes wrong (no probability-dodging “ifs” here). So as a driver what will you do to prevent the system from failure?

If you drive the car, it will fail. If you refuse to drive the car, it will still fail. You have a third option: don’t buy that car in the first place, much the same way one is wont to avoid Alfas due to their inherent flimsiness and wayward tendencies.

In support of my immediate previous point, another example is the automatic transmission in the Volkswagen Golf, yet another when-not-if financial purgatory-in-waiting. The reason for this is the use of substandard materials in the construction of the gearbox.

The only sure-fire way of preventing failure is to either preemptively replace the gearbox before it fails, or replace it when it does. Either way you have bought a new gearbox. What would you rather do, NOT drive the car?

Which brings us back to Alfa. Their chequered past is not a strong plus point. Of all the known car marques, it is the one MOST likely to bring problems.

Most of these problems can be pre-empted as you say, but the preventative measure IS THE EXACT SAME PROCESS as the curative measure (replacement of offending parts); in some cases worse. Their build quality is nowhere near comparable to fellow European or Japanese models.

Their reputation (and actual iffiness) got to a point that depreciation was a joke: Alfas literally lost 40 per cent of their value the moment they left the showroom.

That means a brand new Alfa with 01.km on the odometer would attract offers not much better than half what you had just paid for it minutes ago.

The issue with them is not a Kenyan one, it is an ALFA issue. Research all the motoring magazines from Europe and find out what they say about Alfas, and then revert. I am sure “reliable” and “robust” are words that will have suddenly disappeared from your vocabulary.

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