When a car dealer crashes your car

There is a storm brewing on Reddit today, where Andrew Ragnauth has posted about a Honda dealership in Brampton, Ontario which crashed his car while it was in for service. An employee of Family Honda was driving the car out of the shop, when it was hit by another employee who was speeding in a new car.

Rather than dealing with this specific case at the moment, it makes more sense to talk about what actually happens in a case like this.

First off, most car dealerships in Canada employ somewhere between 50-200 people. Naturally, there are a wide range of driving abilities. In the course of a normal day in the dealership, there are literally hundreds of vehicles moved, in tight parking lots and inside buildings. It is a reality that despite how careful dealership staff are, that the occasional vehicle will be damaged. That sucks for everyone involved, but it is the way it is. Add in customers who are driving onto the lot and you have yet another element for consideration.

I can tell you from experience that one of the worst phone calls a dealership manager can make is the one to tell a customer that their car has been damaged. It is however a call that has to be made more often than anyone would like. How that call is handled, on both sides of the call, can make the difference between a difficult situation that is resolved and a nightmare.

Understanding the situation and the reasons behind what is happening can make life easier for the consumer.

“I want that guy fired!”
In the instance where a customer’s car was damaged by an employee and not another customer, this is often the first words out of an irate customer’s mouth. In case you have missed it, we have things called labour laws. A company can’t just fire someone whenever they make a mistake. It just doesn’t work that way. Nor is it any of the consumer’s business what remedial actions are taken in dealing with the employee. Sorry, it isn’t going to happen and nor should it.

“They won’t fix my car”
This one most likely comes down to broken communications and a misunderstanding of the situation. I can hear the conversation now, as the service advisor says “I’ll need your insurance information” and the consumer helicoptering because he heard “we are not fixing your car.” In any incident I have dealt with over the years, that was not the case, but that is what was heard.

The insurance discussion
This one is primarily for Ontario residents, as I have only worked here. We live with no fault insurance, which means that regardless of who caused the accident, the cost of repairs to a vehicle are covered by the insurer for that vehicle. If there are unusual circumstances, as in the car was damaged at a dealership, then the insurer has a process to be reimbursed by the dealership’s insurance company behind the scenes.

If you weren’t driving, a claim like this does not increase your rates. This concept is difficult for many to understand and so they take it out on dealership staff. Not only is that unfair to the staff, it is often bad behaviour.

Why don’t they just cover it under the dealer’s garage policy?
Yes, car dealerships carry a lot of insurance. They have to. That being said, the deductible on those policies can vary wildly based on a number of variables. Most deductibles are $5,000 but some are as high as 20 grand. It is very rare that a repair goes to a garage policy. This is usually reserved for a total loss.

I’m calling the manufacturer!
Most new car dealerships in Canada are franchise stores. The manufacturer considers this type of incident to be between the dealer and its customer. Manufacturers usually will not get involved in any way.

I want compensation!
I truly believe that we as a society have become very bad consumers. We equate quality customer service to price. We believe that we are owed something. If a vehicle is damaged while in the dealer’s care, the dealer owes the customer an apology, good service and a properly repaired vehicle. That is all.

I want a new car!
See above. The only time I have ever seen a car replaced after being damaged at a shop was when it was hit badly by another vehicle while on a road test. Fortunately, the technician who was driving was not at fault and nor was he hurt. That vehicle was replaced with the same make and model, but with fewer miles and more options. The customer’s insurance company made a deal with the dealership to buy the car at cost. The customer was happy.

How should a dealer address the situation.
I have been on this side of the fence so many times over the years that I have lost count. When dealing with the owner of a vehicle that has been damaged in your shop, it is most important to be genuinely apologetic and understand that your customer is going to be understandably upset. Be honest. Explain what happened and explain how you are going to rectify the problem. Be prepared for your customer to miss some of the details of the insurance situation and be ready to explain it again. Chose your words carefully. Loan them a replacement vehicle and do everything in your power to eliminate inconvenience and stress.

How should the consumer respond?
After the initial shock, understand that this situation is among the most stressful one that your service advisor or manager ever has to deal with. Nobody and I mean nobody, in any dealership wants to damage a customer’s car. Despite what you might think, most dealer employees truly do care. When dealing with a stressful situation however, sometimes people can have a hard time communicating as effectively as they normally do. That is not your problem, but it is reality. It will make your life easier if you remain calm and listen. Ask thoughtful questions. Don’t fly off the handle and freak out, as it won’t get your car fixed faster.

If, on the odd occasion that the manager you are dealing with does not follow my advice above, you should move up the chain of command. Usually, a dealership will have sales and service managers. In a larger dealership, the service manager may have a boss called a fixed operations manager, who oversees parts and service. Above him will be the general manager, who wrangles all of the manager. Above the GM, things can get a bit murky depending on the store. In some cases, the actual owner might be your last stop, but these days, most dealers are owned by dealer groups who might have several more levels of management.

My advice is to deal with the service manager first. If you go straight to the top and end up being told no, then it is no. If you are not satisfied with the service manager’s answers, then you can hopefully reason with the next level manager, who might be less emotionally attached to your concerns.

When all else fails…..
The social media approach has been known to work to a certain extent, but your mileage may vary.

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