Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Misleading Marketing: Car Dealership Edition

I just needed to vent, and this is the best place I know to do it. For those that know me, I'm generally a pretty well-informed car guy. I may not know the exact specifications of your '65 Chevy, but I'm generally up to speed on current products. I usually view the car dealerships and sales people as tools that get in the way of what I want. I distrust them at every corner. Heck, I don't even trust their mechanics if I take my car in for warranty work. I generally equate them to the level of politicians. And given that I think California is almost going to financially fall into the ocean because of the current politicians we have here, my opinion of them (and the car dealerships for other reasons) are about the same.

Last week I got a phone call from my local Mazda dealership here in Temecula: Hines Mazda. They offered me an oil change and car wash for $9.99. "Great!" I think, but the catch is they're only open Monday through Friday. Because of my commute, there's generally no way I can make it here during their business hours, so I decided to pass. I was actually due for an oil change, so it would have been perfect. BUT... my older son had "Donuts for Dads" today at Kindergarten, so I took the day off, and I went ahead and scheduled my oil change as well. (I'm actually writing this from the dealership.)

Not only does the oil change include their 50-point (or whatever) check (which is a bunch of marketing crap for "we glanced under the hood"), but it also includes a free car wash. (With the rain clouds looming, that really isn't much of a draw for me today, but whatever.) Admitedly, that's probably worth about $35 -> $20 for the oil change (what I normally pay) and $15 for the car wash. But the advertised price was $9.99.

So, I bring my car in, get the paperwork, and the estimate is $15. "Umm... excuse me?" I say, "Why is this estimate of $15?"

"Oh, that's the standard tax and disposal fee," he replies.

(So as to not crit with a wall of text, I'll omit the conversation I had with the check-in guy, and the Service Manager, Art.)

I'm a little peeved off at the 50% increase in price. The coupons I've seen are a set amount with usually a disclaimer with more for V-6 engines. But they've included hazarous waste fees. Well, Art, the Service Manager here at Hines didn't think this was resonable. His response was that with sales tax going up and hazardous waste fees, this was perfectly normal. I have no problem paying taxes, but this is essentially akin to a hidden fee based on what the marketing person, Debbie, told me. And how does a 1% increase in sales tax even factor in to a discussion about a 50% increase???

What is the whole point of a $9.99 (or in reality $15) oil change and car wash? They're losing money on it either way. The point is to get people in to the dealership mechanic so that they can see the dealership is a nice, clean, fast place to get your car work done, and the people can be trusted too. Well, actions speak much louder than words, Hines Motors.

So, whole point of this tiraid is this: don't take your car to the dealership for anything unless it's guaranteed 100% free (e.g. Waranty stuff). Even then, see if you can take it to your local mechanic, and they'll get reimbursed for it. (I believe some waranty work can be done this way.) Oh, and if you're actually buying a new car... go through Cars Direct or something so the dealership gets less as well.

Be warned, I'm in no mood to defend this. So if you post something that's contrary to my point (e.g. all the coupons I've seen don't include hazardous waste), I reserve the right to delete the comment out of spite.

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