A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits
I take my wee Smart Car to my local Mercedes-Smart dealership. The building is a few millions pounds of tiled showroom and wall-to-wall glass. The overheads must be huge. Staff pass you purposefully this way and that clutching folders or files. The one who stands still is the one at the reception desk with the welcoming smile.
There’s a decent breakfast to be had at the coffee bar if you have an early morning visit that serves good coffee, and a chin wag with the floosy who isn’t choosy about who she serves. You can chill out in a carpeted lounge with comfy seats, a television and newspapers and listen to an Aberdonian farmer explain why he bought the luxury saloon and not the basic version, and how he thinks “the SNP are the worst thing tae happon tae Scotland, mon”. There’s also the cleanest toilets I’ve seen in any dealer.
The car is returned washed. Great service and the feeling you’re really siting at home is the one sure way to subdue anxiety and you’ll use the dealer for servicing and repair.
Best of all, if actually at home, Smart e-mail a video with a running commentary from the engineer of the parts of your car that need fixed.
Only once did Merc-Smart let me down – five greasy fingers prints left on the door of the glove compartment by a careless mechanic. It took three scrubs to remove them.
Not getting you car back washed is a common gripe from owners, but the main one is cars returned with the notified fault still not fixed or made worse. In some cases it can be a new fault that wasn’t there when the car went into the workshop!
A quarter of all complaints registered with dealers concern faults going unidentified or not fixed to instruction. After faults come cars not ready when promised. Customer service, poor staff communication or none at all, is the third gripe, a daily occurrence.
You might expect to get the biggest bills from the biggest, flashiest dealers, but aside of luxury car showrooms such as Bentley or Aston Martin, dealers are praised for trying to keep bills low, or offering discounts to regular clients. (The small independent garage that services most any car will do a cash deal if there’s no materials involved. Don’t be afraid to haggle.)
If you can’t get to the franchised dealer because of commitments now that many are located on the outskirts of cities, they will collect and return your car. A satisfied client is a happy client, but an unexpected cost on a basic service can ruin your day and week.
Who offers the worst and the best service? The car world do an annual survey.
Bottom of the heap is Land Rover. The one I drove some years back for rough terrain work was a lemon. It wasn’t a Friday car, it was the rule. According to client feed-back, about the only thing the company gets right is loaning a courtesy car. I trust it isn’t another Land Rover. Everything else is rated poor. The situation is a mystery. Land Rovers and Range Rovers are everywhere, with more models to come. Status must be a higher priority that reliability or repair costs. I think lots must be bought on deposit and a monthly plan, traded for a newer model in year three.
Top of the tree is Lexus, the favoured SUV for mothers taking Jemima and Tristan to school and back, or shopping at Sainsbury’s. Lexus has a habit of getting everything right, staff courtesy, communication, standard of work, speed in completing the work, and has pleasant dealer facilities. The one problem, to my eyes, is they sell ugly cars, at least the external design is plonking, a crass attempt to have them stand out from the crowd.
Very close to Lexus is Honda, often the dark horse in automotive competition. This is the company that invented a small attachment to engines that did what cumbersome expensive catalytic convertors do, but Honda’s clever invention got blocked by US car giants. They had bought into the cat manufacturing business. (Electric cars will put an end to their we scam.) Honda sells only a few models but manages to make the extra effort. Only their facilities let them down. Whatismore, like Skoda, Honda has a reputation for good reliability which helps keep running costs low, but Skoda’s quality of servicing is only just above average.
In between Land Rover and Lexus are all the others brands, with Citroen near the top, giving the finger to opinionated driver’s who consider French cars iffy. They’re half-right because Renault is at the other end of the charts. At the moment, Citroen is one of the few companies doing its best to produce innovative ideas in design and hitting the target most times.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Diesel not do
Almost every manufacturers has announced they have deleted or will delete diesel engine models from their forthcoming range. Volvo has gone so far to say it won’t produce another diesel car, full stop. Pre-owned diesel cars and SUVs will probably hold their value as they become scarce and buyers look for short-term bargains, but values generally will crash in time. We’ve come a long way from diesel fuel cheaper than petrol, (it’s now more expensive) and a diesel vehicle the one to choose for good miles to the gallon. Progress on controlling emissions has a long way to go, however, there are trucks, vans, taxis and buses wedded to the stuff.
When a penniless student I bought a bright orange Mini on its last legs, and used it to tour around the costal roads of our wondrous land. I slept in it overnight and washed in the nearest burn (brook/stream) next morning. I kept it for the summer, sold it in the autumn. I thought then and still do, small cars the ideal urban runabout. But it gave me severe backache from its useless, bendy seats. It cost £260. Ex-Beatle and Wings songsmith Paul McCartney has seen his original Austin Mini sold at auction. In a pleasant Sixties sage green, he pimped it discreetly with a Webasto folding roof, quarter lights in the front to allow the installation of power windows, a wooden dash, bespoke wooden steering wheel, and Aston Martin tail lights. He didn’t think to create a rear hatch for greater practicality, a feature in the initial drawings but stupidly deleted from the production model. McCartney used it a lot in Los Angeles, and it end up renovated in a museum. It was auctioned for £182.000. I sold mine for £220. That’s the price of fame.
Once it was furry dice, and then bulky 8-track players. Those were followed by television screens in the rear of headrests, rear parking cameras, lately Sat-Nav, and now dash cameras are the latest must-have car gadget. Personally, I like cars with few gadgets because there’s less to go wrong. People buy cameras as an aid to insurance claims. Presumably if you are the one at fault in an accident the recording in the dash-cam won’t feature. They are good for cyclists, and bikers, but dash tops are seeing a plethora of digital clutter stuck on them that take the driver’s eye off the road. There are all sorts of solutions to hiding a dash-cam such as incorporating it in the front of the rear view mirror, but the cheapest are the ones you stick on the dash. Car makers and aftermarket companies are forever thinking up wheezes to divest you of your hard earned cash. The cheapest camera is about $250 before fitting. This all getting very silly.