It scarcely matters how good your brand name is. In the end it all depends on people.
During the 12 years or so I was motoring correspondent of The Sunday Times, about once a month a fat parcel would arrive. Readers sent reams of complaining correspondence, detailed bills and unfulfilled warranties on their cars. They wanted me to investigate tyres, steering, water leaks, all manner of faults, yet it turned out there was nothing wrong with the cars. Almost always they had fallen out with a service manager.
The cars were fine. It was the people. Motor trade front desks were failing.
Mostly all went well with my own cars. There were exceptions; my rebuilding project with an ambitious MG all went wrong. I never did a great mileage. I was mostly driving other peoples’ cars, which was just as well because I didn’t much trust the car trade. I had worked there and knew its tricks.
In 2000 I bought a BMW (above) off the Bracknell press car fleet. There was some trouble with paintwork, fixed under warranty, a bit reluctantly I thought. I found service managers oleaginous and unreliable and I disliked cloying post-service enquiries asking me how I was and if I’d been satisfied. Once the BMW’s warranty expired and it didn’t look as though I was often going to buy new ones, things deteriorated. Servicing was expensive. Replacing road springs broken on potholes or brake discs was costly, still I returned faithfully to main dealer after main dealer.
The seat belt warning light was “fixed” expensively several times but I stuck to the proper franchised dealer, getting cross only when it became an MoT issue. Weeks passed waiting for spares. When the power steering leaked on to the garage floor the BMW languished in the main dealer in Lincoln so long I had it towed out and fixed elsewhere. Front desks were polite but useless. I grew more irritated by the post-service enquiry and when I told the tick-box girl it had gone badly she promised BMW Customer Relations would get in touch.
It never did. The service relationship collapsed.
I thought it might be better with Honda. Not so high-falutin. We bought two; well-made and reliable. I always liked the finish on the outside of Honda engines; made you think they must be well-finished inside as well. I’ve written books on BMW and Honda but could have dispensed with gratuitous calls thanking me for booking services.
The dealer made a mess of arranging a loan car and apologised. Still, I went back the other week with a noisy exhaust.
“That will be £240 for a new one plus fitting. It is on back-order so we couldn’t do it for a month. We’ll let you know and meantime can we please have a 20% deposit in case you don’t come back – we can’t be stuck with a spare exhaust.” A dread term I knew from my BMW days, “back order” but the 20% was the last straw. I said no I will try elsewhere, went up the road to an exhaust workshop, which put the car up on a ramp. We looked underneath. “There’s nothing wrong with your exhaust. It’s perfectly good. You have merely detached one bit from another bit. See, here is some grass on the end of the pipe where you have reversed. We can put it together easily.”
So they did. Right away. For £50. I didn’t reply to the Honda follow-up call.
Halfords? Bought a new bicycle (above) last year for my birthday. Took it back recently for a minor fixing. Bicycle department told me it was the wrong size. It was too big and unless I could put my feet down properly it was dangerous. I told them they had measured me up for it in the first place. Bicycle man said sorry but since Halfords owed me a duty of care it would replace it. “Bring the receipt and we’ll take this one back.” I hadn’t done many miles. I thought, “Nice chap.”
Wrong again. I’ve been going to Halfords since it advertised in my Meccano Magazines for “Every Accessory that’s Necessary.” When I went back the shop manager repudiated his bicycle expert. He called Customer Relations. Bah, they said, offering me 10% off a new bike. I recalled a conversation when I bought my Carrera Crossfire (disc brakes and plunger front suspension) that I would have liked to try one round the yard but been told it was impossible. Take mine back against a new bike? Flat No.
Dealing with brands can be bothersome. The story of my life is believing people when they tell me things. Car service managers. And now even Halfords. It’s a great disappointment. I now know what these Sunday Times readers were driving at.
And I do have other bicycles. A Revell on my Strida.