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Things related to cars

Ford delivers (via FedEx) excellent customer service

  • Auto

About a year ago, we were in the market for a new car. We wanted a roomy midsize car with good gas mileage, and lots of tech toys for me to play with. After much searching around, and too many test drives to count, we chose a new Ford Fusion Hybrid.

We don't drive so much that a hybrid makes economic sense, but I so despise Oregon's "can't pump your own gas" law that we went for the Fusion Hybrid's 47/47mpg rating (at the time we bought), and its expected 600ish mile range between fill-ups.

Our experience with the car has been nothing short of terrific—given I hadn't bought an American car in over 30 years, I've been very pleasantly surprised by the car's comfort, quietness, reliability and features. (More on our experiences with the car itself in a future post.)

Overall, our gas mileage has been great—we're usually around 40mpg in the city, and often over 47mpg on the highway. Our experience versus the EPA sticker didn't surprise us, as we've previously owned a hybrid (a Camry), and saw similar results. I also don't think I've ever hit the EPA numbers for any of my prior vehicles, hybrid or not. So while we weren't seeing 47/47, we weren't far off, and were quite happy with our mileage.

Which made the FedEx we received yesterday all that more surprising…

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Amazingly fast garage door opener

I posted this to Twitter a year or so ago…

Unfortunately, just after I posted it, Google decided that YouTube accounts also had to have Google Plus accounts, so I closed my YouTube account. So here's the video of those fast garage doors at our local Toyota shop.

These doors are tall, yet roll up in under a second; they come down nearly as quickly, too. The end result is that the service bay entrance area isn't exposed to the elements for any length of time at all.

These are a few of my favorite roads…

Last summer, we took our two girls on a 30-day, 4,000-mile trek around the western United States (here's the full route). The trip was made possible by my wife's employer, where everyone is given a multi-week sabattical after 10 years of service.

Our kids are relatively young for such a journey--just four and seven at the time of the trip. To make it bearable for them (and us!), we drove relatively short distances each day, and spent a mostly-driving-free week in Colorado in the middle of the trip. (More on the lessons we learned traveling for 30 days straight with two young kids in a future blog post...)

What was great about the trip, for the adults in the car at least, was that relatively little time was spent on interstate highways--only 1,200 of the 4,000 miles, and of those 1,200 miles, 900 of them were on the first three days and the last day of the trip. So most of the time, we were on state highways or even smaller backroads. These are the roads where you can really see the country, and get away from the crowds--many times we had the road completely to ourselves.

Given how much we enjoyed these roads, I thought I'd take a few minutes and share some of my favorites from the journey. (Click the small map image for the full Google Maps view (in a new window) of each road.)
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Customer (or non-customer!) service done right

  • Auto

The other evening, our Toyota Camry came home with a leaking back right tire--it was leaking so badly that my wife could hear it when she went to get our eldest out of her car seat. A quick visual inspection found the culprit; I could just see the flat head of what looked to be a steel construction staple embedded in the tread, and hear the air rushing out around the staple.

After figuring out how to get the spare and tools out of the trunk of the Camry--by far, the most convoluted such system I've run into; I'm glad I was working on it in the garage and not in a driving rainstorm at night by the side of the road--I put on the mini-donut spare and tossed the now nearly-flat full-sized tire in the trunk and called it an evening.

The next day, I was trying to figure out where to take the tire to have it repaired, when I remembered something from many years back: America's Tire (called Discount Tire in some areas of the country) had once repaired a flat for me for free--but that was nearly 15 years ago in another state. I remembered them telling me (at the time) that it was standard company policy to patch tires for free, even if you've never bought anything from the company. So my first thought was to return to America's Tire--but surely, such a generous policy couldn't have survived the cost-cutting and bottom-line-focus that's afflicted seemingly every company over the last 15 years, could it?

After driving a few miles to the local America's Tire outlet, I was thrilled to find that yes, in fact, their generous 'free tire repair' program was still in place. About the only requirement is that you provide your name and address, and some information about your car. They'll then repair the tire (if it's repairable; holes on the shoulder areas of tires are not repairable), mount it back on your car, and put the spare back in the trunk--all for free. What's really amazing about this is that the employees don't treat this free service as a hassle--they were professional and treated me very well, and at no time did I feel like they were upset that I was taking up their time with a free service. From the time I entered the store until I left about 20 minutes later, I was treated just like the customers there who were dropping $600+ on new tires.

To find such service in today's cost-reduction-era is rare enough. To find it delivered with excellent customer service and in a courteous manner is simply amazing. Granted, I've only taken advantage of this service twice in 15 years. But both times, I've had a great experience, and I think that's worth sharing. So if you find yourself with a flat tire, you might want to visit a local America's Tire (Discount Tire) at which to have it repaired. (I also use them when I need tires for our vehicles, but there is absolutely no requirement that you be a customer in order to have a tire repaired for free.)

So thanks, America's Tire, for bucking the cost-cutting trend, and for providing a free service in a courteous and professional manner.

Ten things to do in the next twenty years

Over the weekend, I was thinking a bit about the next 20 years, and things I'd like to accomplish within that timeframe. Nothing practical like "preparing for retirement" or "funding the girls' college accounts" or even "remembering to mow the lawn weekly." No, it's always more interesting to think of the fun things one might be able to do in the future.

So here's my list, focused on those things I think would be the most fun or most interesting. As with lists of this type, there's a good chance that well over half my list will remain unaccomplished--family, work responsibilities, and economic realities always seem to get in the way of our dreams. However, I will do my best to check off at least some of these items while working within the confines of reality.
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The dealer does the right thing

  • Auto

Here's the promised update to the bad auto service call. I took the car back to the dealer last Friday to look at. I was glad I happened to have taken a picture of the passenger seat after purchasing the car--I printed that, as well as new pictures I took of the damaged area, and took printouts with me. The hole in the seat wasn't even an issue; he saw clearly that it was new based on the photos, and they gave me no grief. On the stain, he asked me how I knew it was from the service, as it could have happened any time. I then ran my finger through it, and showed him the still-moist residue that came up with it. That was the end of that; they agreed to repair the seat for no charge.

Repairing perforated leather is far from simple, from what I understand. Our dealer outsources such repairs to a company that comes in once a week, so the car went back to the dealer this morning. When I picked the car up this afternoon, I was duly impressed--although I can see where the repair was made, it really takes a big photograph to make it obvious. From any distance at all, it looks completely normal. Compare the images below; the one on the left is the damaged post-service shot; the one on the right was taken tonight, about 20 minutes ago.

after-small  after-big

Certainly at that size, the repair is invisible. Click the image on the right, though (caution - huge image!), and you can see the fix. It's not nearly that obvious in reality; the flash and close up really bring it out. I was amazed they were able to repair it that well--especially given the age of the leather seats. They also cleaned it up quite nicely. If I look very closely, I can see just a small bit of remaining discoloration, but nothing like what was there before, and there's no more residue when I run my finger across the area.

So thank you, Beaverton Toyota, for doing the right thing, and doing it well. The fact that they have a to/from free shuttle service made taking the car back about as painless as possible, too. Fun fact: the shuttles (Toyota Sienna minivans) serve a 10-mile radius, and they have two of them. Through September, they've racked up a total of 65,000 miles doing nothing but short local-hop round trips!

When good service goes bad…

  • Auto

Don't you just hate it when you get unexpected surprises after having a vehicle serviced? Consider for a moment my MCV (that'd be short for Midlife Crisis Vehicle), a 13-year old Toyota MR2 Turbo. I owned a couple of these cars earlier in my single-guy existence, and I recently found an amazingly pristine 1994 example at a reasonable cost. After some discussion with my wife, she OK'd the purchase, and I've had it in the garage for a couple of months now. For a car with 100K miles on it, it's in great shape--no dents, door dings, rust, or interior damage. Looking at it, you'd never guess the vintage or the mileage; the previous owners were meticulous in their care, it seems. About the only thing wrong with it was the airbag warning light on the dash was constantly lit.

So I finally made an appointment with our local dealer to get that problem fixed, and to do some other routine maintenance activities (I had them give the car a good once over, as it was its first trip to service under my ownership). They had the car for two days, waiting on a part to fix the airbag problem; they called me tonight and let me know everything was done and running fine.

Just before closing, I got to the dealership, paid the bill (ouch), and started driving the car home. As promised, it was running fine, and all seemed good. It was then I noticed that the previously-pristine interior was no longer. The passenger seat, whose leather was in showroom condition, now sported an oily stain and a puncture wound! Below, the image on the left is the "before" shot; on the right, the "after" shot I took tonight. Click either image for the large version, which will make the damage plainly apparent.

before-small  after-small

The "before" image is a bit blurry, as I wasn't intentionally shooting the passenger seat when I took those pictures. Still, it's plain to see that there wasn't a puncture in the leather, and it's somewhat obvious that there's no stain in the "before" shots.

Needless to say, I'm quite irked with the dealer at the moment. I called and left a polite but firm message with my service advisor, who had seen and commented on the quality of the interior when I dropped the car off. Hopefully they'll do the right thing tomorrow and agree to have the seat repaired or replaced as necessary. I realize the car is nothing but a physical object, but when I pay someone to provide a service, I clearly don't expect that they will damage other things in the process of handling whatever the original scope of work covered. To me, that screams of a lack of attention to detail, and it makes me quite scared about what other "little things" they may have overlooked in working on the car.

No real moral to this story, other than to always carefully inspect your vehicles after a service stop--preferably with the service advisor at your side, making sure things are as you expect them. I'll post an update (not that any of you necessarily care, but I feel better venting about this kind of thing! :) ) once I hear back from the dealer tomorrow. Grrrrrr.