My wife and I own a 1995 Ford Taurus, which we bought used, and a 2004 Ford Freestar, which we bought new, from Framingham Ford, in Framingham, MA. Framingham Ford has lived up to all the negative stereotypes associated with car dealerships. We will certainly never do business with them again. Furthermore, because of the experiences we’ve had with them, combined with the overall (lack of) quality in the two Ford vehicles we’ve owned, we hope to never own another Ford vehicle.
The trouble started when we negotiated the price of the Freestar. Ford had a factory rebate program going, which meant that several thousand dollars were knocked off the price up-front. We essentially agreed to pay the retail price of the van minus the factory rebate. Shortly after we bought the van, I realized that the dealership was going to get reimbursed by Ford for the entire rebate, which means that as far as they were concerned, we’d bought the van for full price. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I said to myself. “I could surely have gotten them to knock several thousand more off the price if only I’d been thinking things through at the time. They don’t really expect to make anywhere close to the retail price when selling to someone who’s driving a hard bargain.”
Yes, I was stupid, but after I got past thinking about how stupid I was to pay several thousand more for the van than I should have, the next question in my mind was, “Why does it have to be this way? Why do car dealerships, Ford and others, sell cars in a way which actively takes advantage of people? Why can’t they all just sell cars at a reasonable price? Wouldn’t everyone be better off if the price on the sticker were a real, reasonable, firm price, so that the dealership makes a reasonable profit and the customer doesn’t have a lingering suspicion that he’s been shafted?” I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask this question, nor will I be the last, but I’d really like to know — is there a good reason why car sales in this country work this way? Is there any company which sells new cars in the US which doesn’t act this way? I heard a rumor years ago that one of the hallmarks of buying a Saturn was that none of the Saturn dealerships haggle — the price you see is the price you get. Is that true? Does anybody else work this way?
Once we’d agreed on the price, the next sign that Framingham Ford was going to live up to all the negative stereotypes was when I was reviewing the final paperwork before signing it and found the infamous “paperwork fee,” this one for $115, snuck in near the bottom. Admittedly, I was a fool not to negotiate a better price, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to fall for the old “paperwork fee” scam. We dickered back and forth for quite a while about this stupid fee. Our saleseman pulled in at least two other people, including his boss, to explain to us how everybody paid this fee and it just didn’t make sense for us to be making such a big fuss about it. In the end, I said, “Look, if it’s so important to you that I pay this fee, then simply lower the price you’re charging me for the car by $115, and we’ll both be happy.” They readily agreed to this, and the paperwork was reprinted and signed with the new, lower price, but with the paperwork fee intact. We should have walked out of the dealership and gone somewhere else, but of course they’re trained exceedingly well to prevent customers from doing that, and my wife and I just didn’t want to waste any more time on finding a van.
Fast forward to last week, when I took the van to Totten Pond Shell, the service station I use for maintenance (Incidentally, they’re fast, honest and friendly, and I heartily recommend them. If you decide to use them, tell them I sent you; I get a $20 service credit for referring new customers! 🙂 ). The head mechanic told me when I picked up the van that they hadn’t bothered to rotate the tires because two of them needed to be replaced soon — one has a bubble in the sidewall and the other has a crack in the sidewall. Since all four tires are OEM Michelin tires which came with the van, and we’ve put less than 20,000 miles on it, both of the tires should still be under warranty, so I called Framingham Ford to arrange to get them replaced. They refused to honor the manufacturer’s warranty on the tires and informed me that I would have to go somewhere else. I said, “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that even though I bought this van from you with these exact tires on it, you won’t handle warranty service on the tires?” The service “advisor” on the other end of the line confirmed that my understanding was correct.
Later that day, I just happened to be reading the Scheduled Maintenance Guide which came with the van, and I found this text in it:
When your tires need to be replaced, consider visiting your Ford or Lincoln Mercury dealership for name-brand tires and people who know your vehicle. And if your Ford or Lincoln-Mercury dealership sells the name-brand tire, they can also honor the tire manufacturer’s warranty.
I called Framingham Ford back and asked them if they sell new Michelin tires for Ford vehicles, and they confirmed that they did. I then faxed them this letter. Yes, I was playing the role of demanding, pain-in-the-ass customer. Yes, I was making demands which I was fairly certain they would fail to meet. But were my demands unreasonable? Was it unreasonable for me to be pissed and act that way, given that they’d refused to honor the warranty on tires they sell, contrary to Ford’s corporate policy and doubtlessly also contrary to their contract with Michelin? No, I don’t think I was being unreasonable. Looking at it another way, as Jeffrey Gitomer points out in his wonderful book, Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, Customer Loyalty Is Priceless, every angry customer is an opportunity to create a happy customer. If Framingham Ford had viewed by angry letter as an opportunity to acknowledge that they screwed up and do whatever it takes to make it right, they would have made me happy and quite possibly earned future business from me.
Instead, true to form, they waited over four hours to call me back, late enough in the day that it was impossible for them to do anything to solve my problem that day as I’d asked. The guy who called me was rude and argumentative. He acknowledged that his service department could, in fact, honor the warranty on my tires, but he never apologized for the fact that they refused to do so when I’d called to ask about it. He again tried to convince me that I’d be better off going somewhere else to get the tires replaced. While remaining argumentative throughout the call, he repeatedly asked me, “Are you going to be argumentative or are you going to work with me?” In the end, I told him I really had no idea how I wanted to proceed with him or even whether I wanted to proceed at all, and he told me to call him back when I knew what I wanted to do.
Instead, I sent this letter to Ford’s corporate customer relations center. If they bother to respond, I’ll post their response here.
I could tell you about all the little things that have gone wrong with the Freestar that shouldn’t have, but I won’t bother. Suffice it to say that the quality of Ford’s vehicles seems only marginally better than the quality of their customer service.
We knew when we bought the Taurus, and later when we bought the Freestar, that Ford has a reputation for mediocre quality. We bought them anyway, for various reasons which aren’t worth going into. What we didn’t know was just how terrible Ford’s customer service is. Ford has squandered the opportunity to turn us into loyal Ford customers and has instead guaranteed that Ford vehicles will be the absolute last ones we consider for any future automobile purchase.
So, who should we look at instead? Yes, I’m interested in quality, but that seems less important to me right now than customer service? Which dealerships treat their customers with respect? Which dealerships price their vehicles openly and honestly, so that customers don’t feel dirty after negotiating for a new car? Which dealerships treat their customers with respect and competence after the sale? Are the only dealerships which do this the ones which sell cars that my wife and I can’t afford?