To the Casa-skeptics

To the casa-skeptics

Meet the “casa-skeptics”; the ones who always feel trepidation and anxiety every time he/she has to leave his/her treasured 4-wheel conveyance at the “casa” or official dealer just to do PMS [preventive maintenance service] on schedule. Could it be that their fears stem from an overworked imagination?

Horror stories of “casa” mismanagement, neglect and high charges, fed by years of hand-me-down instances of disasters, collusions, cover-ups and thefts that happen behind the “No customer access” closed roll-up doors of the service department? And then there's “bill shock”; when the charges cost far worse than their worse case scenarios. But it leaves them with no choice. In order not to void the warranty they reluctantly follow that, at least, the first 3 major service sessions of a brand new car must be done in the “casa”.


Reliable statistical basis for variables and triggers for these casa-skeptics are not exactly thick on the ground. Customer satisfaction for jobs done by the dealership's service department, always rank high under the car distributor and dealer's customer satisfaction review and survey. JD Power surveys and the like, track degrees of positive satisfaction, but they are not the right management tool to hunt for problems and defects, as these, at the most, are just indicative and not about problem-solving. This is not to say that these surveys are self-serving as independent customer service surveys track the positive side of customer satisfaction. What is needed is a survey that details customer dissatisfaction.

Problem is the average customer is not technically able to answer, in detail, why he/she is not satisfied. Without a doubt, though, the vast majority of owners are satisfied with simple and uncomplicated casa service [oil/filter change] and repairs [fuse/belt/bulb replace], stuff of the D-I-Y capable. But the dissatisfied few are able to disproportionately influence far more owners not to fully trust the “casa” than their small numbers suggest.

Short lived-bromance

This leads a big number of car owners to cease servicing at the casa the moment the free oil/labor and warranties expire. The general perception being that casa's charge more than independent lube shops and repair shops. Never mind if the official dealer has OEM parts and factory access to the diagnostic cloud. And never mind that the dealer invested in plant & factory approved equipment easily costing 100 times more than independent shops. This may well be the reason why dealer/distributor sponsored but paid-for extended warranties have not clicked over the past 25 years.

Some respect still

On the other hand, there is no doubt that, even among the casa-skeptics, brand name dealer service crews are ably trained and brought up to the distributor's standards, so the knowledge and skills is not lacking. Both dealers and distributors even organize intra-brand service “Olympics” or competitive play activities for their crew to show their mastered skills and honed diagnosis. These service staff are part of the branding and corporate image, hence special attention is paid to their uniforms and their attitudes. But if there is no doubt as to dealer ability, then, why do fears and these disastrous narratives continue to haunt?

Do you have faith in your car's 'casa'?

Mythology mixes with Methodology

Because of the difficulty of establishing a statistically reliable sample size, we opted to base our understanding on the collective experiences of trusted individuals. These are testimonies from those who directly experience the results of neglect or fraud of certain service dept. personnel or have opted out of having to deal with the casa ever. We cannot simply dismiss their testimonies as hearsay, even though hearsay today has become a common type of “evidence” that has fueled many a Senate, Congress or crusading journalist pursuit of some “just” advocacy, persecution or Pharisaical crucifixion.

Our criterion for trusting our unnamed sources, collected over several years and over several different situations is that 1. they have no rancor or revenge to seek satisfaction, nor are seeking to sue. 2. they have nothing to gain by sharing their experience, other than to warn others to take precautions. 3. the testimonies involved did not act against nature, reason, sense or type. 4. there is no element of slander nor untruth, and that we will not mention the names of the dealers, dealer personnel and brand.

Fair Warning

Theirs, as well us our purpose is to hopefully warn unsuspecting dealers and distributors that such motives and syndicated systems do exist and they should discreetly do their own quiet investigations or fortify their checks & balance systems to prevent these thefts, substitutions and cheating or dishonesty once they validate the modus operandi of these shop-floor syndicates.

The theft problem

Several of the cases related to us spanned many years and various brands in several cities. The most numerous were rackets involving the periodic oil change. The suspicion among our casa-skeptical sources went to the extent of making small marks on his engine's oil filter to find out if it will really be replaced. Sure enough, upon the return of his car, the filter was the same despite the charge for a new filter on the job order release for billing. Doubts were planted that the oil itself was not changed too. After that, our sources vowed never to go to the dealer anymore.

The honesty problem

A wider group of car owners also believe that they are being charged even if the oil was not actually changed. Their only evidence is that the Casa used a particular brand of oil that is not easy to find in stores in the local market, but can be found and bought from independent repair stores who are not authorized sellers of that brand, therefore a suspected fence. There is no evidence to support this except circumstance. Suspicion spread that the supplies department is in cahoots.

Pilfering the supplies out of the dealership, either through vehicles exiting dealer premises on-road test, which imply the collusion of the driver. Or through the big trash wheelie bin. Security procedures like pat-downs, trunk, under-seat, underbody inspections, and mandatory sewn pockets are SOP but only go as far as institutional Security guard training. Deeper forensics and skilled surveillance is the only way to catch any evidence in such suspicions.

Do you have faith in your car's 'casa'?

The rip-off problem

Theft aside, which are not really dealer inspired, another level of distrust is when it comes to replacement parts and their price. Many believe that dealer mark-ups are unreasonably high and they prefer to buy replacement parts through independent parts importers, it there are any available. Moreover, the manufacturers prefer dealing with a reduced item count by forcing parts replacement of whole assemblies.

Having grown up in a repair D-I-Y culture, most Filipino owners are not sold on this design philosophy of programmed obsolescence, regardless if the OECD countries accept replacement assemblies fail-safe as a fact of life. But with the green Scandi and Nordic countries preferring salvage, repair, and recycling over throw away replacement, their resistance might just validate the Filipino's stubbornness to prefer the repairable over the junkable. The casa-skeptics are not any more enamored if the Dealer practices “just-in-time-inventory” which means they do not have the parts in stock and will need to order from a huge warehouse in Singapore, parts shipped by sea cargo to the Port of Manila.

The collusion and incentive to steal problem

Sometimes customers are involved in corrupting dealer service personnel into stealing parts for them. For a contracted fee, the corrupt mechanic can provide parts stolen from another car owned by others. This is the reason why some casa's prevent customers from fraternizing with the local dealer's staff by posting signs and barring entry into the service department work zone.

Pilferage of consumables problem

Over our period of research, responders cited the common items that were charged to them but were not replaced which can easily be discovered if owner inspected; paper element filters, oil [if diesel engine, engine oil remains charcoal black if not changed], oil filters, air-con filters, spark plugs to name the more “popular” items.

The Hard sell problem

Other dealer come-ons that make the casa-skeptics suspicious are recommended parts replacement best-by-date, gently spieled with a subtle scare from the service advisor who will cajole the owner saying that if the owner doesn't wish to change part A, parts B, C, D, come XX,000kms. costing some huge amount, are flirting with the danger of premature failure. This adds to the budding customer suspicion that, on top of high dealer markups on the price of parts, the owner is being goaded to buy ASAP.

Do you have faith in your car's 'casa'?

The “pretend” services problem

Distrust and lack of faith in the local dealer do not only involve theft or cheating but also deal with “rackets”. These rackets are come-ons that offer a 30 or 50 point check-up, for a couple of thousand over the standard PMS charge, which is sometimes spurious. It will claim 16-point under body check-up consisting of tightening body bolts [this is only true for ladder frame chassis with a bolted-on cab], inspecting ball joints [to truly do this, they have to dismount the suspension and realign the front axle after putting it together again], sandpaper, cleaning fluid for cleaning brakes [only old fashioned drum brakes need this, disc brakes are self-cleaning – look at all that brake dust deposited on your alloy wheels], handbrake free play [really now? Only if customer complains], grease door hinges [not if its hinges ain't got grease nipples] and many more creative but unnecessary and inapplicable checks. One mechanic even quipped that 15 of the 30 check items can be done in a 15-second eye sweep “snapshot” right after the car is up on a lifter.

The neglected inspections problem

Strangely, the more significant check options are not even covered or offered, even if we think it should be part of the standard PMS. Things like Battery life left. Old Peugeots have onboard computers that tell you this but some dealer diagnostics can't even do this. Starter problems become obvious to seasoned drivers but are passed as “OK” by the diagnostic computer. Tire pressures and tire tread life span. Headlight aim. Washer fluids. Or items that owners will most likely neglect.

The diagnostic computer cloud problem

The distrust of the casa-skeptics reaches up to the integrity of the OEM diagnostic cloud, the “god” to whom the in-car computer confesses its sins and its sufferings. Customers ask a fair question: How can I trust the OEM diagnostics cloud when their recommendation is always to replace assemblies that costs huge amounts of money? Owners cannot trust a cloud that always seems to opt for the most expensive possible option which is to move high priced, slow-moving inventory.

Many silos in the cloud

In a way, the cloud suffers from a silo mentality as it is one-way god-to-minion communication. Critical diagnostic feedback from seasoned mechanics, which is not in god's “test book” will “not compute”. Surprise temporary fixes or emergency get-home-safely repairs can show the cloud that there are other paths to diagnose a problem. Yet the cloud will always recommend to take the sick vehicle immediately off the road even if it is just a faulty tire pressure sensor. The cloud suffers from “silo” mentality and is simply digital in thinking. It really cannot perform out-of-the-box analysis which negates any out-of-the-box situations that should broaden god's knowledge.

Neglected simple solutions

A most recent example is the injection pump of a popular SUV. Dealers were told by the cloud to blame the fuel, whether Euro 4 or not, but all the other rival SUVs had no such problem. Then smart independent mechanics found a cure in a small bypass pipe, easily costing a few hundred rather than the 60k for a casa supplied pump assembly. This can work in converse, when the casa knows a little secret, like what happened to a popular compact car with variable valve timing. Unknown to non-casa mechanics, changing a head gasket [post-overheating] on this popular 16-valve means reading 2 different timing marks on the camshaft. Miss one and the car will never exceed 80km/h. Until an intrepid independent discovered this, the casa had its hands full for cars being rectified because it was repaired elsewhere.

Same algorithm as humans

Also, the diagnostic computer and its master cloud – no doubt encoded by human experts - can only diagnose repairs one-step-at-time. If it cannot locate the core cause of the problem, it will recommend a series of replacement of proximate parts until the dealer gets it right. Which is not different from a seasoned mechanic doing guesswork and trial and error parts replacement. This usually runs up a huge bill and long staycations at the casa.

Do you have faith in your car's 'casa'?

History says?

More than a hundred twenty years ago, just about the time when the automobile and road network covered most of the first few motorized countries [US and Western Europe], frequent maintenance was necessary because lubricants, filters, roads, tires, nut-bolts, steel, hoses, etc. were not as long-lasting as today. Instead of a large network of casa's, the local blacksmith and the drug store that also had the license to dispense gasoline, pitched in to form a rudimentary casa network.

For repairs, the carmakers made them easy to fix whether by farmer-owner or cross country salesman. Despite this rudimentary PMS, cars like the Ford Model A, B, and T and the Citroen 2CV lasted for several generations. Contrast that with today where specialization with complex and proprietary systems rule leaving it to conglomerates and globalization to enforce the throw-away and one-size-fits-all mentality but absolutely NOT user-friendly in the fixing.

Like the Vatican's Curia

No doubt the car manufacturers would like to solve 100% of every customer's problems with their casa. But like large organizations, i.e. Vatican Curia, there are several narrow interest groups that will conflict and hi-jack or way-lay any contrary agenda. The malady called NIMBY [not in my backyard] easily infects in such situations. The accounting will not allow huge expenses for deeper research since the complaints do not really impact sales, even if it impacts profits that can be made if casas were trusted with more custom. Marketing will not allow admission of fault or incompetence vs. rival parts makers or independent repair shops.

Engineering will find it hard to admit that their design failed in actual use. A lot of product and process improvement ideas are lost to having too many silos in the organization. We are not advocating that the diagnostic cloud process other matters besides diagnostic advice, but there should be another path for out of box solutions to be presented and at least studied, and if worthy, submitted to the god of the diagnostic cloud.

Small, low hanging fruit

At the dealer level, the theft problem is the easiest to deal with. Dealers are decent folk and shoulder the whole bill for customers/victims of thefts and fraud. We do not believe that these service staffs are underpaid nor undertrained. The motive to steal can afflict even well fed and paid employees because the probability of getting caught is next to nil. Even without motive, there is an opportunity.

Better security verification and tracking of parts releases from the warehouse to the used-oil bin might be in order. If it is difficult to steal/cheat, thieves/cheaters will find something else or someone else to target. Rackets as promos? Perhaps the brand HQ should discourage this as it does damage to the brand, a bigger cost than the custom it can bring in.

Casa-loyal: Trust overcomes even price advantage

If the price gap of OEM service and OEM parts vs. replacement and independent repair shops is narrower, there is no reason that the casa-skeptics will not even try to trust the casa again. A lot of the problems we listed are borne by the bad blood and suspicions that built up through the years, now that the number of dealer service shops and occasions for service has multiplied ten-fold. This fear of casa problem is a problem that can be solved by approaching the problem likened to many headed-hydra; small incremental improvements in processes rather than the product, needing a lot of time to recover trust among the doubting casa-skeptics and turn them into casa-loyal.