Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Tale of Two Complaints

Complaints aren't necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes they reveal an issue that the person responsible didn't know about.  They also give the party responsible an opportunity to do some corrective action.  I had two incidents lately where I had to complain and the responses said a lot about the companies involved.

The first one involved my truck.  I have a 2008 Nissan Frontier.  It's been a good truck with no real issues so far beyond scheduled maintenance.  It was just short of 60,000 miles when I took it in to Anderson Nissan in Asheville for a rather extensive list of scheduled items.  A faint whine had recently started in the engine compartment.  Didn't sound like much and I thought a bearing might be going bad somewhere, so I asked them to check on it.

That afternoon, I got a call from the dealer.  In addition to the regular maintenance items, they'd found a few more things that needed to be done, and I told them to go ahead.  Then the kicker: the whine was due to bad timing chain tensioners and it was going to cost over $2,100 to repair, in addition to the $1,000+ that I had already expected.

Holy cow.  I hadn't budgeted for that.  I stammered around for a bit and then told 'em no, don't do that repair, not yet.  I had to calm down.  After a bit, I got on the interwebs and started researching the problem that they described.  The results were interesting.  It turned out that the failure of the timing chain tensioners was a well-known issue and that Nissan had issued a technical service bulletin about the problem, along with the fix, in 2004.  Yet they continued to use the failure-prone parts until maybe 2010.  The problem was bad enough that there are at least three class-action lawsuits pending against Nissan.

Ignoring the issue would definitely be the wrong answer.  The timing chains would eventually break, leading to destruction of the engine and an $8,000 bill for a new one.  Frontier owners on various Nissan discussion boards reported that their timing chain repairs had cost $1400-1800, considerably less than my price quote.

So the next morning, I walked into Anderson Nissan and had a discussion with the service manager.  I told her to go ahead with the repairs, but that I was extremely unhappy with having this repair come out of my pocket.  This was a widespread problem that was clearly the result of a design or manufacturing defect that should be covered by warranty by corporate Nissan.  Yes, my Frontier was out of warranty due to time, but it had less than 60,000 miles.  I didn't yell or scream: I stayed calm and let her know that I was unhappy and that I had very rational reasons for being that way.

This approach paid off.  She could see from her records that I'd followed the maintenance schedule religiously and I wasn't an asshole.  So she did what she could, which was knock $300 off the cost and recommended that I contact Nissan USA.  She said they were more helpful than most people realized.  So $300 wasn't enough, but it was a start.

I then contacted Nissan USA and described the problem and why I was unhappy.  The next day, I got a call from a very nice lady who asked me to send in a bit more information, which I did immediately.  A couple of days later, she called me back to say that Nissan recognized that this was a problem, but that my truck was well out of warranty; however, they offered over $900 to cover half the remaining bill.

I took it.  Could I have argued for more?  Maybe, but as they noted, my truck is 8 years old and stuff happens.  In the end, I paid $900 for a very extensive repair that is guaranteed for the life of the vehicle.  All in all, I think both Anderson Nissan and Nissan USA treated me fairly.

The second complaint also had to do with cars.  I rent a car from Avis periodically when I go to Indiana to train people heading to Afghanistan.  I'm on Avis' frequent-renter program that supposedly gives better service.  Two weeks ahead of time, I made a reservation for a full-size car.  Three days prior to the scheduled pick-up, Avis sent me an email to remind me of my reservation.  So far, so good.  Then I showed up at the Avis counter at 9 a.m., as scheduled, and they didn't have my car.  Not even close.  Instead, the best they could offer was a Nissan Sentra, which is at least three steps down.  I was not at all happy, particularly when I got a look at the Sentra in question.  It had 30,000 miles on it, along with a ton of dents, dings, and scrapes.  But there was nothing else on the lot and the closest alternative lot was 40 minutes away.  Since I needed to get started on the drive, I took it.

I got five miles down the road and turned around.  The Sentra was a piece of junk.  It was uncomfortable, noisy, felt used-up, had a rumbling coming out of the rear end like a wheel bearing was going bad, and had the worst radio I've encountered since a high-school buddy's 1965 Rambler.  I wouldn't have accepted it from Rent-A-Wreck even for a day of around-town driving, much less for a week and 1000 miles.  The original Avis counter couldn't help me, so I wound up driving to the airport.  There, an extremely helpful Avis representative swapped it for a nearly-new Volkswagen Jetta.  I wound up hitting the road over an hour late, but the Jetta proved to be the perfect car for a long-distance drive.  I loved it.

After the trip was over, I sent a note to Avis detailing the events and telling them how unhappy I was.  I'd made the reservation two weeks in advance, they had acknowledged it three days prior, and then failed to deliver.  Not only that, they gave me a car that shouldn't be rented to anybody.

The next day, I got a note from Avis saying that they had documented my case and "escalated it to the proper department for the necessary feedback."

And that's it.  Over a week later, they have yet to get back to me.  Not even a meaningless assurance that they will do their best to fill my reservation next time.

However, they did send me two requests to fill out a customer survey form to let them know how well they performed.  I ignored the first request, thinking that I'd give 'em some time for the "proper department" to get back to me.  The second request, though, was too much.  So I gave 'em an earful.  Or an email full, depending on how you look at it.

So there you are.  Two problems.  Two well-reasoned complaints.  Anderson Nissan and Nissan USA took my issues seriously and responded.  Good on them.  Avis blew me off, even though I'm a frequent renter.  Screw them.

Late Note: The day after publishing this post, I heard back from Avis.  They said, in part: "Any difficulties or problems encountered by a customer are a concern to us and we apologize most sincerely for any inconvenience you may have been caused.  Please be assured that your experience was not typical and the appropriate management teams have been advised.  Although we realize that we cannot make up for a disappointing experience such as this, we do appreciate your contacting us.  Only by being made aware of a problem can we correct it and offer the high quality of service that Avis customers expect and deserve."

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