Source: Sherman Publications

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Editor's column - Service counts

January 18, 2012

There sure has been a lot of hoopla in recent weeks about the resurgence of the Detroit 3 automakers.

Sales and profits are returning and there is plenty of buzz surrounding this year's auto show.

I have some advice for the folks leading the companies:

Get your dealers to start treating their customers right or all the work to stabilize your businesses may go for naught.

This includes your loyal customer base in Michigan, of which I am a member.

My wife and I have driven some very nice American made cars and trucks in recent years, with relatively few problems. One, however, really gets under my skin.

A couple years ago, when daylight savings time kicked in, I went to change my SUV's clock. A message popped up that told me I needed to insert the CD into the vehicle's dashboard navigation system. Problem was the disk went bad earlier in the year.

This was a perfect example of why too much technology is not a good thing - I just wanted to change the digital clock in my automobile.

I went to my local dealer and my service rep said I was not the only person having this problem. He was resourceful enough to go in the back, find a technician who had a disk, and in five minutes had the clock reset.

My rep told me to just come back every six months or so to get the clock adjusted. Considering how many vehicles my wife and I had leased or bought from the automaker, he thought it was the least he could do to keep us happy. I really appreciated his effort.

Unfortunately, last spring when I returned to the dealer to get the clock reset, my rep could not help me. The disks had all mysteriously vanished. He talked to his service manager who said the only choice I had was to buy a new disk - at a cost of more than $200. My service rep and I were both surprised with his response.

What was most sad about the situation was that the disk I needed for two minutes to RESET THE CLOCK on my $43,000 full-size SUV - my second one since 2005 - sat yards away in the parts department doing nobody any good.

I visited three other local dealers and got the same answer. They understood my frustration, but also said they could not help me. I guess the automaker and/or dealers are not hurting too bad for customers, after all.

There was no way I was going to drop two Ben Franklins on a CD. We just learned to tell time in my truck a new way for a while. I was happy when daylight savings ended last fall, but will still have the same problem this spring. It is a hassle, but I really like my SUV and expect to drive it for 200,000 miles.

I contrasted my experience with that of my father a couple of years ago. He was a very loyal domestic car buyer his whole life. After a particularly bad experience with a dealer up north, however, he ended up buying a small SUV from a Korean automaker in 2010.

He owned the Korean vehicle less than a year when the transmission went bad. To make matters worse, he was down here visiting family a week before Christmas. He had no transportation to visit friends and family, let alone return home.

As it turned out, there was a recall on the transmission. Not only did the owner of the dealership apologize for the inconvenience, he paid for my father's rental car. He then gave my dad an early present when the dealership scrambled to find a transmission in another state, shipped it to Troy and then had it installed in less than five days.

That was a year ago and his Korean model has run like a charm since then. But my dad wants an all-wheel drive SUV for the winters in Gaylord, so he can get up his steep driveway. He is buying the same automobile - just a year-newer model.

My dad is a practical man who appreciates good service, whether hs is buying groceries, a meal or an automobile. He likes his car and has not forgot how well he was treated by the dealer that holiday season. Quality service, he believes, is a significant part of the automobile ownership experience.

I agree with him and will not forget the hassle of trying to change my truck's clock.