Here I sit — actually, here I recline — recuperating from mid-December spinal surgery, with my laptop where the name suggests it was meant to be. Call me dedicated. The new family dog, a blue-eyed Husky pup, is curled up and sleeping peacefully nearby. Aside from rather a lot of boredom and the distinctly difficult task of writing while semi-prone, all is right with the world. Or soon will be.
Since I have some time on my hands, I looked back through my inbox for the last few months and that led me to a little folder I keep — messages from readers who want me to intervene on their behalf because they’ve been victimized in some way. At least that’s how they describe their plight. Maybe it’s a ‘lemon’ of a truck, possibly a contract dispute, sometimes a fight with some bureaucracy or other.
Knowing only one side of the story — there are always two — there’s not much I can do even if I had the time. And I definitely do not have the time to dig out the other side’s version of things. Every once in a while things are different, but that’s a rare treat.
More often than not, these cases involve a truck or, especially in these last few years, an engine that doesn’t like its emissions-control equipment.
Everyone’s suffered the frustration of owning a lemon. At some point or other, we’ve all bought a washing machine, a camera, or even a dog that just never seems able to escape the shop — or the vet’s exam room — for longer than a month or whatever. It can be one of life’s biggest trials.
But an expensive dog that turns out to have a weak ticker is one thing, a lemon truck quite another. Now we’re talking livelihoods, mortgage payments, food on the table. When a trucking business is based on just one or a few machines, and those money-makers turn out to be a lemon, the result can obviously be catastrophic.
So, what can you do? It’s clear that Canadian courts aren’t your best friends here. The Better Business Bureau probably isn’t up to this task either. That said, I do have some experience in such ugly matters, and a few ideas about how to deal with them. Actually, your strategy should start before you buy the truck…
Shop for the dealer as well as the truck. Trucks are all pretty good these days, but there can be big variations between dealers.
Know what your warranty covers and doesn’t cover.
Establish a relationship with your dealer’s service department before you need it. Start before you take delivery of the truck.
Keep meticulous records of work done on your truck, of its fuel economy, and even of the odd noises you may hear.
Insist that all work orders be properly written, including mileage, the nature of the fault, the work done, and details of all parts replaced.
Try to stay reasonable if a disagreement arises with the service writer. Talk to the mechanic if you can, and certainly the service manager. Maybe call another dealer and ask ‘what if’ questions.
If the dispute can’t be resolved in the shop, go back to the salesperson who sold you the truck and ask for help. If there’s no satisfaction there, go higher, to the sales manager or to the dealer principal. Be persistent but not rude.
If your relationship with the dealer has soured irretrievably, get on the phone and call the manufacturer’s head office. It may take several calls to find and talk to the right person, but don’t give up.
Write a letter to that person as well, copying the dealer principal and service manager, but don’t attach 72 pages of disputed invoices and the like. Make your point, provide a crisp point-form summary of what’s been going on, and ask for timely resolution of your complaint. Ask for a phone call as acknowledgement.
Don’t threaten to sue unless every possible option has been explored — and you actually have the financial resources to do it. Don’t go there unless all your options are gone, because the only winners will be lawyers.
I think the people who have the most trouble finding satisfaction are those who can’t make their case in a clear, organized way and those who don’t work the telephone very effectively. Realize you won’t hit pay dirt on your first call, so be patient, but persistent, and keep a dated log of every communication.