The Good, the Bad and the Jeep
The real problem with service standards in South Africa is that they're often so useless, they can't even be consistently bad. If you think about it, getting good or bad service is easy to deal with - in the one case, you become a loyal customer, in the other you never frequent that store, restaurant or business again.
Where it gets really frustrating is when you get a hybrid of good and bad service, from different people in the same company. I had that recently with Daimler Chrysler in Canal Walk.
Five times, in around a month, a customer relations woman phoned me with a "courtesy call" to see if I was satisfied with the service I'd received. You'd think that by the fifth time, she'd have figured out that since I had to take my car back five times, the answer would be, "No, your service is shockingly bad." In fact, three out of the five times - and I must admit I found this funny - the answer was, I don't know, nobody's bothered giving my car back yet.
And the service was appalling, but not appalling enough. Here's the story. I take my Jeep in for a service, and ask them to check the steering, which is a bit stiff. Someone phones me back and tells me it's going to cost me R9 000 to replace my steering pump. That's a lot of money, but what can you do. I tell him go ahead, and spend the night wondering how I'm going to eat that month.
The next day he phones back, and says, "Sorry, it's only R3 500, I had my finger on the wrong line." Is that bad service, or good service? Either way, I'm relieved. I get the car back, and discover that the steering is much worse. It gives out entirely every now and then. So I take it back to Jeep.
To make a long, sad story unrealistically short, I'm currently on my sixth or seventh time of taking my car back, and they've replaced the pump twice. Only on the sixth time do I get offered a courtesy vehicle, and in the meantime the mechanics have put in excess of 500km on my car, trying to find the problem.
But none of this would bother me, if it wasn't for the fact that the Jeep mechanics thrice sent my car back without doing any work on it at all, telling me that they "can't find a problem".
It's insane. Do they think I'm some kind of crazy person, who gets my kicks from desperately trying to get a mechanic to listen to my problems? Do they think I'm deliberately sending my car back because I have a fear of being able to drive to work?
Daimler Chrysler, ask yourself - why would a man tell you his Jeep's steering doesn't work, if it wasn't true? He wants to spend money at Jeep because he feels sorry for car salesmen?
The final straw that broke this Jeep owner's suspension was when, around the fourth or fifth time of me insisting they take the car back, someone phoned me to say, "Wow, we put your car on the test system, and the dials were way off the charts! We had to bleed the whole system!"
I'm no mechanic, but come on - why couldn't you have checked your stupid dials before, instead of telling me that I was imagining the problem? What possible reason can there be for treating a customer like an idiot?
I see that Wheels24 asked Chrysler "Why are staff not knowledgeable enough to fix problems on Jeeps?" The answer was, "Chrysler South Africa has a very robust technical training program in place to ensure all Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge technicians are suitably qualified on maintenance, systems and diagnostic levels." Yes, that's lovely, well done. But will any of them actually graduate from this program any time soon, because I'd like my Jeep fixed?
Anyway... Eventually, I get an SMS saying I'm booked in for a service. On a day when I'm catching a 06:30 flight. I phone, they tell me "No problem, just leave your Jeep at Katanga Valet Parking, we'll pick it up there." Okay. Does mean I'll have to catch a taxi from the airport when I return, but okay.
I'm in Joburg, when I get a call. "Sir, we have a problem at the airport. You didn't pay for your parking." Regular readers of the occasional consumer columns I write will know that I'm a mild-mannered man. I'll always give people the chance to rectify mistakes, but this is going too far. I tell the guy to bill me for the damn parking, and that it would help if he'd told me I had to pay for parking.
"Our customers understand that these things aren't free, sir," he tells me. Ha ha! Our rapidly decreasing customers, I'm sure. Although in the end, I see he didn't bill me.
Oh, I could go on. They gave me a PT Cruiser convertible as a loan car, which in itself is a calculated insult. When they brought my Jeep back last week, they told me, again, that they couldn't find the problem. So now I have an untrustworthy Jeep that I'm not inclined to take into the bush, which means I might as well have a BMW X5 or some other piece of crap disguised as an off-road vehicle.
The funny thing is, I've written about Jeep's service levels before. When I tried to buy a Jeep, the service was so bad in Cape Town, I actually had to go buy it in Joburg. Do I need to drive my Jeep to Joburg to get it serviced? I hope not, and I trust a knowledgeable reader will point me to a place where I can get my services done, preferable a place that's not officially approved by Jeep.
Ah well, I thought, as I got into my returned Jeep. Jeep's service levels have now sunk as low as they can go. Not so, it turns out. When I turned on the car, the fuel light was on. Thanks for using all my diesel, guys. When I went to fill up, and tried to check the oil, the bonnet fell on my head. The hydraulics have mysteriously disappeared.
Amazing. Jeep have perfected After Sales Bad Service, a heretofore unknown branch of motor mechanics. As much as it breaks my heart, I might have to buy a Land Rover. At least there, you know the service will be consistently bad, and that I can live with.
Chris Roper once spent a year writing pro-Jeep columns for Drive Out magazine. He wishes to apologise to anyone who bought a Jeep because of his foolishness.