I had to wait a few days to write this post. I was so angry and animated that I couldn’t sit still and write out a rational description of my experiences.
Have you ever purchased something and had it come broken?
Of course you have. Everyone has had that experience at some point. What do you do? If the way it is dysfunctional bothers you, you return it. To me, it doesn’t matter if that thing is a $5 yo-yo or a $5,000 kitchen appliance. If it doesn’t work out of the box, you get a new one.
In nearly every other retail industry from mattresses to kitchen appliances, there is a window of opportunity to return a product if you are not happy.
Except with cars
As you may have guessed I recently had a less than ideal experience in leasing a new car. I am also not very tolerant of problems on brand new products. Honestly, I’m not really tolerant of problems on any products, but on brand new ones, I expect to have something done about them at the store’s expense.
As most people know, the car industry is fundamentally exempt from these consumer conveniences and protections. Once you sign on the dotted line, you are at the dealership’s mercy.
Here’s my story
I was trading in a car for the exact same car in a different color and different model year. The only difference in specs that I cared about was a downgraded sound system. I asked to test this out, other than that, I just needed to work out the details of the deal.
I tested SiriusXM and the radio and heard sound that wasn’t as good as my car but was more than adequate. Unfortunately I did not test the CD player.
This is about a CD player?
People often ask me if they should buy the warranty offered with their shiny new electronic device. My advice is always this:
1. Ask if you can buy the warranty later and for how long.
2. If the answer is in the first year as is common with electronics, then only buy it if/when you have problems in the first year.
On other products you should use your best judgement. I don’t buy them for kitchen appliances generally. I do buy them on iProducts because of the damage protection.
Ok, what’s your point?
The point is most electronics have problems in the first year or run problem free well past their extended warranty lifetime. In addition, items that have problems in the first year often continue to have problems throughout their usable lifetime. On a computer, if I had an issue on day one, I’d have it replaced with a new one, not repaired.
But back to my story. After signing the lease I finally tried to use the CD player later that day. I had actually left the CD in my old car and had to go back to the dealership to get it. When I put it in, it didn’t work. I was hoping it was a simple “reset” but they scheduled an appointment for the next day to bring my car back. I go home in my “new” car disappointed and overwhelmed.
The moment I arrive the next morning I tell them I do not want this car. I explain much of how I feel about products as I did above. But the only thing they are willing to do is fix it. As it is, the console head had to be replaced. Since they don’t have stock and want to fix my car as fast as possible, they cannibalize another 2014 on the lot (why wasn’t I offered to take this other car home? My car was still within test drive miles). This makes me think I don’t want *any* car off this lot. Next time I’m asking if any work has been done on the car I’m buying.
I live an hour from the dealership. Since I’ve been back to the dealership 3 times in as many days, my new car has already wracked up 1/4 of its monthly lease miles for this month. That doesn’t include my normal traveling yet. If this car starts having any other issues, I have a mileage problem on top of a car I have no interest in owning.
So what are you going to do?
I have since contacted the Audi of America corporate office and have started working from that direction. I’ve told them I’m open to alternate solutions but no one has suggested anything let alone anything reasonable.
Right now it looks like I’ll be stuck with a car that I don’t love. Over time, if this problem proves to be a fluke, I might like it. But I’m probably soured on the dealership either way.
The problem is Subaru treated me better
Audi is a luxury brand, but frankly I’ve had 5 Subarus and when there were problems they were far more accommodating. They seemed to actually want and appreciate my business. I had 2 problems that would be on the same level as this. My first Subaru, they made a large “mistake” on the contract and we didn’t notice until we got home. After showing them the mistake (which also looked like a bait & switch kind of thing) they corrected it, apologized and re-did the contracts canceling the old one.
The second issue was on the 4th Subaru which had a broken engine at around 34 months of ownership. It took them several attempts and quite a while to fix. Subaru offered to pay several months payments on that lease as an apology.
Good customers are hard to find
This is my second Audi and my 3rd new car from this dealership. Since deciding to give my business to this dealership I have bought no other cars from anywhere else. I average a new car purchase/lease every 18 months. I’m not a customer they want to lose. I am currently in the market for another car in the next few months.
I hope they offer some kind of accommodation. If not, I’ll be running straight back to Subaru where the brand cares more about keeping me happy and provides a luxury experience while doing it.
What’s your solution?
It’s very simple. New cars with manufacturing defects that become apparent in the first 7 days of ownership should be eligible for replacement of equal or greater value at the consumer’s request. What is broken is irrelevant. It could be engine problems or electronics issues. If it needs parts/service, it was a manufacturer’s defect and the consumer should have the right to reject the car.
This policy should not be designed for buyer’s remorse. It is not a cancellation of the deal, only a change of the car. That is all I ask. When you agree to something you should stick with it when all deliverables are as expected. In addition the car can’t show any accidental damage that would effect the broken thing (this means some wear is appropriate).
This doesn’t preclude the dealership offering an alternative. For example: re-working the contract for a discount for the customer to keep the original car. But the consumer has to agree to any arrangement. I also believe the dealership will have to hold trade-ins until this period ends.
Why this policy?
Consider the reason the car dealership doesn’t want to revoke any deal ever. It’s because cars lose value instantly once they are sold. Even if they took the car back, they may not be able to sell it as at new car prices. But in the case of a car that is already broken on the lot, it should already be considered a used car. I should not have to pay full price for that car and/or have the option to not buy it at all.
It’s also simply not possible to test every aspect of a car in short test drives. You can ask your dealership for overnight tests (this probably would have solved my problem), but they may not accommodate you. I am likely to do that on my next car purchase and walk out if the answer is no.
Any car manufacturer that adopts such a policy is truly standing by their products. I will consider vehicles from them and likely even purchase if they have an appropriate vehicle for me.
Update: Audi South Burlington offered to detail my car as a solution to this problem. The Subaru dealership will be selling me my sixth Subaru shortly.
Please share this if you think there should be better consumer protection for automotive purchases.