Information Asymmetry and Customer Service

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 at 12:39

If you’re like me, knowing next to nothing about cars, you dread taking the car in for a service. Well, this week when my car wouldn’t start, the first thought that popped in to my head was: “How much am I going to get stung?”.

I bought my car brand new and drove it off the showroom floor seven years ago. Oh, what an experience that was. Fast forward seven years, no major faults or repairs over the years other than the usual service. Until Tuesday week ago. That morning, the car wouldn’t start and had to get it towed to the flagship dealership for service.

I get a call at lunch saying it was the starter motor (WTF is that?!) – it was gonna cost me $2,000 and the part needed to be shipped from overseas and it would take two weeks. Something didn’t sound right. Maybe it was the nervous voice at the end of line? I called around other dealers of the same brand. Same part and labour would cost me $1,250 (the highest price of the three dealers I called).

Maybe the mechanics I called weren’t as smart. You know, they may not be good enough to work at the flagship showroom. Anyway, I thought I’d experiment with the new information I had gained. So I telephoned the flagship.

“Hi, just got another quote for the part,” I said, “You’re right, it’s going to have to be shipped from overseas; they don’t have any in stock. And you’re right, it’s not cheap, it’s going to cost me $1,087 and $230 for labour.” My reliable friend “Silence” stepped in. It must have seemed like an hour before the fellow at the end of the phone replied.

“Oh, umm, let me go and check the price again. Can you hold?” the well trained flagship mechanic asked.

“Hi, are you there? We can do you a better price. The best price we can do is $1,510,” he offered.

In short, I got them to send me the diagnostic report. The two entries were contradictory. I paid $169 for the labour cost to fit a new fuse and drove it to another dealer. The not-so-flagship dealer put it through several tests. Conclusion: nothing wrong with the starter motor. Hmmm.. I’m no expert when it comes to cars, but I know when someone’s tried to take me for a ride.