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How to lose a car owner’s trust

/ 09:57 PM January 29, 2013

(First in a series)

In an ideal world, every car would forever run perfectly, without maintenance or breakdowns. All car owners would just jump in, drive or ride, and hop off. But, like that popular ’80s song says, “It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing.”

The real thing is many, many universes far removed from the fantasy. The reality is that cars depreciate in value the very moment the happy owners drive them out of the dealership. The reality is that cars start to die the moment you spark life into the engine, and owners need to bring their cars to the “car hospital”—the dealers and casas—just to prolong the useful life of the vehicles.


There are instances, however, when the trip to the casa becomes a living nightmare, the owner coming out feeling more like a loser. In September 2012, Inquirer Motoring came up with a story revealing an estimated 70 percent of car owners never returning to the casas after the warranty on their cars expired, a practice not unique to the Philippines as it turns out. High prices of parts, and poor, callous service were the two most cited reasons. Auto expert Mark Eskeldson shared that some car owners were even offered unnecessary repairs.

Now, barely four months since the feature came out, Inquirer Motoring’s feedback section has become “ripe” with more sob stories from the casas. It’s about time to once more pick the bitter fruit, and judge for yourselves if these experiences do leave a bad taste in the mouth.

1.) Rip-roaring ripoff. Gilbert Sy (the e-mail sender has allowed his real name to be used, upon verification by this author), a die-hard fan of a certain Japanese brand, bought all his four cars, model 1994 and 1996 sedans, and 2002 and 2003 SUVs, from a dealership on Shaw Boulevard.

In June 2009, one of his SUVs developed an overheating problem, which he suspected was caused by a radiator leak. Gilbert brought the car to the casa, which then recommended the following parts replacements: all cooling hoses, the radiator fan motor, radiator assembly, thermostat, thermoswitch and waterpump. Gilbert was told by the service advisor that the leak was coming from the radiator. Gilbert, surprised at the list of parts needed to be replaced, then decided to get a second opinion from a nearby car repair shop.

“The recommendation of (the repair shop) was to replace the bypass hose, which costs only P130. There was no leak in the radiator. The replacement that the casa recommended would have cost me P25,000.”

Gilbert then went back to the casa and told the mechanics of the repair shop’s estimate.

“The casa asked me to return the car so they could double-check. To cut the story short, they said they found out that the wiring just needed to be fixed. They wrote an apology, but made the excuse (‘palusot’) that the recommendation they made was based on the Japan service manual. I was able to speak with the new head of service and air my disappointment.”

After that near-financial mishap, Gilbert said he remained a big fan of the brand—but not of that casa. He bought the latest model of that SUV from another dealer, this time along Quezon Avenue. “The staff members of the Quezon Avenue dealership are nice and friendly.” A resident of San Juan, Gilbert said he wouldn’t mind the distance.


2.) Robbery at Highway 54. Angel Mejia, a mechanical engineer working overseas on an offshore oil rig, is an owner of a 2011 model non-Japanese van. She used to own two other vehicles of the same brand: another van model 2007 and a 2009 SUV. The 2007 van and the SUV got flooded during the “Ondoy” typhoon in 2009, prompting her to replace them. But not after going through another ordeal of typhoon proportions at her casa.

“Both vehicles carried a three-year/100,000 km warranty. My auto insurance, unfortunately, carried no ‘Acts of God’ clause, so when I had repairs done on them after they got flooded, I spent my own money. The repair method the casa used was like firing a shotgun and hoping someone would hit the target. And after spending more than P400,000 in repairs, I gave up, and sold the cars.”

Angel bought another van, a 2011 model, from the same dealership. She told the Inquirer she was initially glad when they said that this time, it would have an extended warranty of five years instead of the usual three. What the casa did not tell her was that, in her own words, “they would be bleeding me dry in the process.”

Angel said that instead of the usual 5000 km/6 months periodic maintenance interval, the dealership required her to bring in the van after 5000 km/3 months, whichever came first. She was told that if she didn’t follow the new recommendations, the auto manufacturer would not honor the warranty.

Then, the casa jacked up its prices more than double. “I checked the other dealerships nearby and their maintenance cost was only half of what this casa charged, and to think that my casa was on the same highway, just 200 meters away from the other casa.”

That was the final straw. “My van is now due for its 20,000 km PM. No more casa for me. In fact, no more of that dealer’s car for me, even if they offer me a sizeable discount. The three-month interval is not just highway robbery, it is mass rape, murder and pillage all committed upon car owners who unwittingly get sold on that five-year lie of a warranty.”

Three months ago, Angel sold her SUV. She bought the SUV of a competing brand, which stayed faithful to its 5000 km/6 months PM claim.

As for her remaining van, Angel says she no longer brings it to her old casa for service. She said she has found reliable shops for normal oil changes and parts replacement.

Angel asks a simple favor from the author: “Please ask your readers to look for the online thread titled ‘Beware of this brand’s useless 5-year warranty.’ That is her own way, she said, of publicly unraveling the real goings-on in this dealership.

(E-mail the author at tsalazar@inquirer.com.ph)

(To be continued)

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TAGS: auto, car maintenance, casa, Motoring, Philippines
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