A blog experiment by Brad Mills.


I brake for Christmas

I know it's Christmas Eve, and we're all supposed to be filled with goodwill and cheer and all that happy horseshit. And I am, in a way. But I just want to get this one little thing off my chest.

Over the last week or two I've noticed a grinding sound coming from my front tires. I know this sound means "time to replace the brakes," so last Tuesday I called the Honda place to make a service appointment. My car was due for its 60,000 mile service anyway so it worked out pretty well, letting me get both things taken care of at once. The dude who answered the phone asked me if I was sure I needed brakes. I told him yes, I was pretty sure about that, as it sounded like someone had poured a few buckets of gravel into my tires. So he set up the appointment and on we went.

Let me add for the record I love my Honda. From a quality perspective, it's the best car I've ever had. Mom had a Honda for years, and eventually she passed it on to my brother Ryan, who drove it until it fell apart. I hope to do the same with mine. Since I put fewer than 10,000 miles on it per year, I expect (hope?) that will be around 2025 or so. At the time I got it, the sales manager at the Honda dealer was my next door neighbor — so not only did I get a good car, I got a pretty good deal on it.

So I dropped my car off at the dealer yesterday morning. I'm of the opinion that service technicians at a car dealer have received specialized training and thus have a deeper level of knowledge with their brand and any quirks it may have. I like that. I also like seeing if my old neighbor is still there. He's no longer my neighbor, but when we see each other we exchange pleasantries and chat a bit. I didn't have time for any of that yesterday, though, so I hopped on the courtesy van and rode in to work after leaving my car and keys.

The courtesy van took a long time to pick me up at the waiting area, by the way — like forty minutes. Normally it only takes five, if that. And, the driver took the longest possible route to my office he could, dropping two other passengers off first. Looking back, I probably should have seen this as a bad sign.

After being at work for seven hours and having not heard any updates on my vehicle — again, a marked change from the norm I've seen from this place, which normally keeps the customer very informed — I decided enough was enough and called the Honda service department. "Oh yeah, I think it's done, but they want to talk to you." Normally that means, "We found a problem which needs some kind of approval from you before we proceed further." Great.

The problem in this case was ruined rotors, which I suspected was the case and was exactly why I'd made the service appointment to begin with. "We don't have the rotors in stock, so we'll have to order the parts and we won't be able to get it done until next week."

Uh, what?

I informed the gentleman that I'd made the appointment specifically for a brake job, had been asked at the time if I was sure that was what I needed, and confirmed that it was — and from that, assumed that they'd had plenty of prior knowledge about what parts would be needed to complete the job and had ordered same. He said he'd double-check with the "parts man" and call me back. Yes, please, do that.

Forty minutes later, we're getting dangerously close to the end of the normal work day and no phone call. So, I called again. "No, we don't have those rotors in stock, sorry about that." I explained that this was my car, I needed it with fully functional brakes, and I had every expectation that it would be done today since that was what I'd been promised. And it's not like I drive a Maserati or anything. "You mean to tell me there is nowhere in this city where you can get brake rotors for a 2002 Civic? NAPA? Advance Auto?"

"Uh, didn't think about that. Let me see if I can run one of our guys up to NAPA and I'll call you back." Yeah, bullshit, like all the other times you've called me back today.

The Honda service department closes at 5:00 and I suspected they were closed on Christmas Eve (an accurate suspicion, as it turns out), and by this time it's well after 4:00. So I bummed a ride to the dealer, ready to drop names, perhaps raise a tiny bit of hell, and demand they provide me a demo vehicle in the interim. Less than a mile away, my phone rang: "We just got your car down off the rack, we found some rotors at NAPA, and you're ready to go." A veritable Christmas miracle!

But here's something interesting. If NAPA sells Honda brake rotors, it means those parts aren't special or magical in any way. It means they don't have to have the Honda brand name stamped on them. It probably means they sell lots of other Honda parts too. And it probably means that any ordinary mechanic can probably do the attachment and installation thereof. It definitely means I'm going to be searching for a reliable ordinary mechanic in the next few months or so who can do those kinds of things.

Honda tends to send out "How was our service?" rating cards after a service appointment... can't wait to get this one.

And for the record, guys... NAPA is pronounced like a real word, and it rhymes with the place that sends people up into space. It's not spelled out en-ay-pee-ay.

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