So many people experience nothing but frustration when working with dealers whether it is purchasing a vehicle, securing warranty service or having a vehicle repaired. Customers experience frustration with new car dealers for various reasons. No dealership is so unwilling to work with a customer that the customer has to go to the manufacturer to resolve a problem. In many respects knowing how customer complaints are handled at that level demonstrates taking complaints that can be solved at the dealer or regional customer service levels to corporate is a complete waste of time.
This guide is written in a format that will benefit the majority of consumers who are seeking methods to have a working relationship with their local dealer and avoid some of the common mistakes so often made by the misinformed.
Customer – The customer has a huge role in every aspect of dealing with the dealership. Regardless of the department or situation if you keep your calm and try to work reasonably, not being demanding and abrasive, you can get results at the dealership in all situations. It is important that the customer becomes an educated consumer. Remember, it is your money and how much you spend can be, in many cases, totally up to your ability to manage this relationship.
Salesperson – The salesperson is usually the first person we meet when going to the dealer the first time. There are those that really know their product. But it is rare to find one that really knows the technical aspects of what they are selling. This is not intentional in most cases. The turn-over of sales forces within the industry is HUGE. The move from dealer to dealer so frequently it is almost impossible for them to learn everything there is to know about the vehicles they are selling. Some of them do stay at one dealer for many years and those are the ones (if you can find them) that tend to know the product from a technical aspect to some degree. The other thing to keep in mind is they are paid in different ways; commission only, salary plus commission, and salary plus bonus for number of vehicles sold. In any case, the more they sell the better they get paid.
Sales Manager – This is the person that usually determines the value of your trade, reviews the offer you make, puts together the counter offer, etc. Their job is to make the deal and support the salesperson while making the Customer happy enough to sign on the dotted line. They too get paid in the same manner as the salesperson.
Business Manager/Finance Person – They have the responsibility to sell you the best loan they can and sell you any and all add-ons they can talk you into. Things like extended warranties, finish protection packages, etc. As for selling you the loan, they have a list of preferred lenders that give them a kick-back, such as GMAC who pays them a couple hundred dollars after the loan has been with them for 6 months or so. In many cases, you may have already lined up a source of financing on your own, through your own financial institutions. In many cases, the dealer may already have a on-going relationship with the same institution. Let the dealer shop your loan. Usually, the best credit deal can be through a credit union. So if you are a credit union member, see if your dealer has the “CUDL” (Credit Union Dealer Loan) business arrangement with your credit union. If they do, this will remove some of the paperwork pain. In the case of a new car loan it is common for a rebate to be offered if you use a certain lender. Using that lender will usually result in a much higher interest rate. But there is no law that says you cannot refinance with your bank or credit union at a later date if their used vehicle rates are low enough and your credit is good enough. So do the math.
Service Manager – This person is responsible for making sure the service department is profitable. They are there to ensure the General Manager’s policies are followed and to try to resolve customer issues that are brought to their attention.
Service Advisor(SA) – They are the first person and normally the only person you deal with when you take your vehicle for service. They enter the info about your vehicle into the computer, do a walk-around to make note of any dings/scratches etc so they are not pinged for it if you see something when you get the vehicle back. This person is the one you give all the details to about what the issue is that you have brought your vehicle in for. All the information entered into the computer system is forever tied to your vehicle’s VIN. As a result all of your service history is also kept in your account at Ramtrucks.com “owners”.
Service Technician – Putting it simply, they are paid to fix whatever it is that you said was wrong with the Ram. However, not all dealerships pay the techs for troubleshooting. In fact none of the places I worked at paid for troubleshooting. But shops/dealerships do charge for troubleshooting. Techs are normally paid by book time. For an experienced tech this can be a money maker. For a new tech, not so much. Example: If the book says a job should take an hour and the tech gets it done in a half hour, he/she still gets paid for one hour. The opposite is true; if the job should take one hour and it takes two hours, the tech just lost one hour of pay.
General Manager – He/she sets policy for the dealership. They are responsible for all operations and usually have to answer to the owner or some form of higher up. They are also there to resolve customer issues that the Customer cannot get resolved with the managers of the departments they are having a problem with. I have never had a GM refuse to resolve a problem that I brought to them after trying to resolve it at a lower level.
Warranties: (No warranty offers or promises or in any manner your truck will be replaced if you’re not happy with it, they only say they will keep working to fix it. However, if a problem has existed for an extended period of time and the dealer has in good faith tried to fix it, they can with your approval try to get the manufacturer to approve replacing the truck. In fact the dealer may do this on their own.)
Factory Initial – This is a bumper to bumper warranty but don’t fool yourself, there are exclusions. Things like abuse, mods, etc give the dealership/manufacturer wiggle room to use if they choose to. I’m not saying not to do mods, just be aware of this potential.
Extended – These come in a variety of packages, all have limits of what they will cover and all but one have limits on how long they last and for how many miles. Most dealers will offer their extended warranty which covers a specific list of things for specific time and mileage. Some of these warranties also are not accepted outside that dealer’s network of dealerships/shops. For example the warranty offered by Larry Miller was worthless outside the Larry Miller corporate shops as was found by doing a search on the internet. Lastly there is the Chrysler Maximum Care warranty. This is a bumper to bumper warranty, sometimes called an “exclusionary” warranty. It is available up to and including lifetime with unlimited miles. But regardless of which warranty you get, read it carefully, understand your rights, what is and isn’t covered under the warranty and how warranty claims are processed.
Assistance Outside the Dealership:
BBB – Historically most of us have considered the BBB the place to go to when determining whether a business is reputable. Or go to the BBB to resolve a problem with a business. Recent reports a few months ago on the news showed that in an investigation the BBB was caught rating businesses based on how much or whether they pay the BBB. As to whether the BBB is a good place to go to resolve issues, the report did not go into that. But based on what I saw, I am inclined to believe the BBB is not what it either used to be or purported to be.
Attorney General – This is a tough call. Some have very stringent restrictions on what kind of issue they will tackle as well as stringent guidelines on what kind of evidence you must provide.
Media – This varies by the media outlet you go to. Some are really interested in tackling local businesses that are not acting in a reputable manner, while others will simply ignore you. One thing to keep in mind is that if you go this route you will be going public with your issue and if you have not crossed all your “t”s and dotted all you “I”s, the dealership will make you look like a total fool in public.
Dodge/Chrysler – Going to this level should be your first stop if you cannot get satisfaction after exhausting all the levels of help at the dealership. Keep in mind that if you go this route chances are you will never talk to who you want to talk to, Engineer, Executive, etc. At most you’ll get to communicate with a Customer Service Manager who will try to relate what you tell them to the department that needs to address the issue. If it’s a technical issue that means Engineering and chances are they are already working on it and won’t be real happy to be hearing about it from Customer Service because now they have to stop what they’re doing and give a detailed report to their boss who will give a detailed report to their boss who will give a detailed report to Customer Service who will eventually get back to you with a synopsis of what the detailed reports said. Or Customer Service will contact the dealership who will tell them exactly what they told you. Then Customer Service will contact you telling you they have contacted the dealership on your behalf and will keep you apprised of the progress as they find out more information. Seem like a vicious circle? It is. That is the function of Customer Service. Make the customer feel like their issue is being worked without really stirring the pot within the company in the process. It is the same in the Telecom industry. We Engineers never talked with the customers unless we called them. Sadly it would have saved a lot of effort if we could have so that we could get a detailed explanation of the issue from the customer’s perspective.
Service – (There is no such thing as 100% of all vehicles or anything else being perfect or fault free, but the manufacturers have been getting much better over the years.) Obviously this is where you take your Ram to get work done whether it is normal service like an oil change or a repair. Interestingly some people have great relationships with their Service Advisor and Tech. They have a dedicated SA and Tech that works on their Ram. While others say bring donuts for the Techs. I think those all are great. However, this will not help if you are not informed about how a service department operates and how you as the consumer have input and rights regarding your vehicle’s service. The Customer has a key role here. He/she must give the Service Advisor an accurate description of what is wrong. This does not mean you tell them what to fix. Describe the symptoms, the noises, the drivability issues, whatever is actually happening and let the Tech diagnose the problem. If it is something that needs to be experienced with a drive, ask the SA to go with you or ask to have a Tech go with you so you can show them the problem. The Customer MUST read in detail what the SA has put on the repair order before signing it. If it is not exactly what you told them (short hand etc), get it corrected before signing it. If you don’t, it is YOUR fault the repair did not get done correctly, not the SA’s and not the Tech’s. If you have done your part correctly and the repair does not fix the problem, nicely bring it to the SA’s attention and give details. If need be ask the SA to get the Tech involved in the discussion. It could be the Tech did not understand the original issue. Techs like to fix things it’s why they do what they do. If you still cannot get satisfaction, your next stop is the Service Manager. Calmly describe the issue. Tell them who you’ve dealt with and give them some time to do their thing. Getting excited, abrasive, rude, etc will only get exactly that in return. If you work in an environment where you either work with customers directly or supervise those that do, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Next, if the Service Manager cannot resolve the issue, it’s time to go see the General Manager and nobody else (not your Salesperson, Sales Manager, Business Manager). Again, be calm and give details of the problem and what you steps you have taken to resolve the issue. Regardless of what level you are at when trying to resolve an issue it is critical that you give complete details and accept that it takes time to resolve things. This is especially so when the technical problem is such that the local dealership must get the Engineer’s at Dodge involved. The dealerships have a direct link/email system with the Engineering department. This is not a fast thing. Some issues can be duplicated on more than one vehicle and this is really a great thing because it gives the Engineers something to work with. They can then duplicate it in their labs and find the solution and likely issue a recall to fix the problem fleet wide.
Warranty Repairs – While this is part of Service, it needs its own section. This is where knowing exactly what your warranty covers or doesn’t cover is critical. In fact if you are bringing your vehicle in for warranty repair, bring the warranty paperwork with you. If the SA tells you that after troubleshooting they have determined that the repair is not covered by the warranty and will cost x hundreds of dollars, you will obviously not be happy. Tell him/her that you need to think about it for a few minutes and take that time to calm down. Then go back in and nicely ask them to show you exactly what the problem is and exactly why it is not covered by the warranty. Then show them your copy of the warranty and have them show you on it the same things. If in fact the repair should be covered calmly explain to them the warranty says it is covered and show them why. If they won’t budge, now it’s time to start going up the management chain, one step at a time. However, if they are able to show you that the repair in fact is not covered, now you have to decide whether to go ahead with the repair there or have someone else repair it. Keep in mind that if a repair is not covered by warranty you will likely have to pay for troubleshooting time.
Buying Your Ram: (This is the fun part or at least should be of dealing with the dealership.)
Picking Your Ram – Do your homework before even going to the lot unless you have the backbone to just look and leave. Or go when they’re closed. Homework to me consists of going to the manufacturer’s website and click on “build your own”. Play with all the various vehicles and the options available. You can see what offers like rebates are available (sometimes the local dealer has even more offers/rebates available too). After you have selected the model and options you want spend some time on the homepage to understand how your vehicle needs to be configured (motor, gearing, wheels, etc) to do what you have in mind for it. Don’t just go by what you will be using it for now, but think into the future because you’ll have the vehicle for a long time in most cases. Also go to www.kbb.com
and find out what your trade is worth. Keep in mind there is no such thing as a trade that is in “excellent condition” when you take it to the dealer. If you really want the maximum out of your old vehicle, sell it yourself if you can.
Shopping – This takes real backbone. Go to the different lots and see what they have in their inventory vs what you selected on the web. All new vehicles have a price on them, but that is not what you’ll pay for it, if you’re smart. The reason for the backbone is that it can be very hard not to fall in love and sign on the dotted line.
It’s Time to Buy – Ok, you’ve done your Homework, Shopping, and have a reasonable idea what your trade is worth. You’ve selected the dealer you want to do business with. If you’ve done everything right, you don’t need the most experienced Salesperson and in many cases it can be really beneficial to have the new one helping you. They’ll bend over backward to make a sale. If they don’t have the vehicle you want on the lot, ask them to check around with other dealers. Sometimes the sales folks will give you a strange look like “how’d he/she know we can do that?” and other times they’ll get right on it. If you’ve got the time order one exactly how you want it.
Making the Deal – You’ve selected the vehicle and now it’s time to make an offer. Before you do, ask the Salesperson what their bottom line is on the truck, don’t even offer any information on what you want to spend or even the fact that you want to trade in your old vehicle. Now that you have their bottom line number, give them your offer (this is where I like to toss in things like spray in bed-liner, class IV hitch, or anything the truck if already on the lot doesn’t have on it that I want), again do not mention the trade. This can go back and forth a few times and you’ll likely settle in the middle. Now tell them about your trade and what you want for it (if you don’t owe anything on it) or what you must have for it (if you owe on it). If you owe more for your trade than it is worth, you can either come up with the difference in cash or it will be added to the price of the Ram.
Financing and Everything Else – Now that the deal is made its time to go see the Business Manager/Finance person. These folks talk fast, so slow the whole thing down. Do NOT let them push you through the process. If you want to read something in detail, do so. If they offer you a particular financing because you get a rebate, like GMAC was offering on the 2010’s, go for it even if the interest rate is higher than what you would like. One caution here though, if you’re local bank does not have great refinancing programs or your credit is such that it is unlikely you’ll be able to refinance the truck, get the lowest interest rate you can get. Length of loan also is a determining factor in interest rate and can drastically change your monthly payment. Also remember ALL loans can be paid off early with no penalty. You will also be offered the Extended Warranty and various other products by the Business Manager. The only Extended Warranty that is worthwhile is the Chrysler Maximum Care warranty. If you are told they do not sell the extended warranty you want you can force the issue and usually get it or you can wait until your manufacturer’s warranty is near expiration and buy one. This is also where you will get a “we owe” or “you owe” document for anything the dealer needs to do like the liner or you need to do like get them the spare set of keys for your trade, etc.
Taking Delivery – Congrats, you now have your new or new to you Ram. It will likely have been put through the detail shop while you were finishing up the paperwork. Take a good walk around it and if anything is not exactly how it was written either on the sales contract or on the window sticker, bring it up right then. It’s always a good practice to do this before you sign the deal so consider walking down to the vehicle before you see the business manager. There is no such thing as “it had the wrong window sticker on it”. The sticker has the VIN on it and written/printed based on the build sheet for that VIN, in the case of new vehicles.
more to follow