The Car Dealers Are Worse Than HMOs


Two months ago my car had shifting issues while I was on my way to work. Not knowing what it was, other than that the check engine light was on, the gear indicator was blinking, and it seemed like I was stuck on low speed (though I couldn’t really test that out since I was in a stop and go traffic), I took it to a shop near work. The shop owner was very nice, and he called me the next day and told me the problem they found and advised me to take it to the dealership since my car was very new and had very low mileage, and therefore I shouldn’t have to pay them for the repair, but could get warranty. (I like him! An honest car shop owner.) So, I took the car to the dealer. (By this time the problem had mysteriously disappeared – outwardly anyway.)

First of all, I couldn’t just drop the car off and they only had an available slot the following Wednesday afternoon. Okay – glad my car was still drivable, just needed to take it in as soon as possible to prevent further damage. (Actually, I had consulted, and the advisor there told me that, “Looks like your gear shifted when it shouldn’t. I think you should take it in, even though there doesn’t seem to be a problem now. It’s already happened once, so who knows when it’ll do it again. If you’re driving 60 miles an hour and it suddenly shifted to 40 miles an hour, then you’ve got a problem.” (Yes, especially if I had one of those 16-wheelers tailgating me.)) And then the ever so friendly (not!) service person asked me whether the check engine light was still on. It was not. It went off by itself even before I took it to the shop near work.

“Then we can’t check it. They turned the light off.”

“What do you mean? Wouldn’t it still be in the computer memory.”

“No. They checked the computer already. The memory would be cleared.”

“But they had kindly provided me the diagnosis code and the text description they found from the computer. Surely you can use this to check the car.”

“No. We don’t go by what Mike’s Service said. This is Honda’s policy. We can’t do anything about it.”

“But you know from me that something happened and here is a lead for you to check the car out.”

“You have warranty up to XXXX miles. And the repair would be free.” (Yup! And I would probably be treated the same way every time I had to come back!)

“But wouldn’t it cause more damage not to repair it as soon as you know there is a probelm?” (Of course it would, and it would give them more business later on. More PAID business.)

“If you had come to us first, then we would’ve been able to check it. But now we can’t do anything unless the check engine light is on again. Come back here when the check engine light is on.” (Whatever happened to just opening the hood to look inside? A lost art: checking a car without a computer.)

“But surely there should be some way around it. I was 20 miles from here, and I had to have it checked out right away because I didn’t know whether the problem was life-threatening to keep driving!” (Even health insurances allow you to get out-of-network care if you need to go to the emergency room. And isn’t car accidents caused by malfunctioning car an even higher hazard? There should be a law about this. Heck, this should be a ballot question in the next election.)

Of course, I lost. I drove my car home, which fortunately was behaving normally.

Oh, and by the way I asked Mike’s Service the next day about the computer memory, and he said that they didn’t clear the memory and so the diagnose code should still be there.

Well, I didn’t feel like fighting with the dealership again (yes, I know, shouldn’t avoid conflict on an important issue), and continued to drive the car. Though, once in a while, I’d have this nagging thought of what-ifs such as the car failing me in a bad place and time, landing me in a bad accident and then later on I’d bring a class action law suit against Honda. Anyway the car had been behaving normally, though lately it didn’t seem as responsive when changing the speed. Then tonight as I was taking my daughter home from the daycare it happened again…just as I was merging into the highway after exiting a rotary. It couldn’t accelerate. In fact, it was barely moving like it was on Neutral. Fortunately, I was able to move over to the shoulder without much issue. After I turned the car off and then on again, it was drivable, even though I had the blinker lights on and was driving at 20 miles per hour on the slow lane.

Well, at least I’m closer to the dealer’s location than Mike’s Service this time. We’ll see how they try to wiggle out of doing the warranty work again. Somehow I don’t feel like becoming a martyr with a childseat in the back of my car.


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