Two weeks ago, I had two cars towed away on consecutive days. It wasn’t a good week. The first car was a cherished 21 year old sports car I’ve owned for 14 years and the alternator had finally given up the ghost. No problem with that. The second was a brand new BMW 420D M Sport Plus that I had just paid an awful lot of money for just a few weeks earlier. Oh well, they would fix it for me wouldn’t they?
Well actually it turned out, they wouldn’t….
To: BMW UK by email to email@example.com and copied to Stratstone BMW Hull by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Customer Relations,
I’ve spent an obscene amount of money at Stratstone Hull over the years. A substantial six figure sum in fact. I’ve bought three fully pimped Mini Cooper S cabrios for Mrs. High-Maintenance (she likes to tick all the boxes on the optional extras list) and a 3 series, a 5 series and, most recently, a 4 series for myself. You might be forgiven for thinking that I would be a valued customer. You would think that they would make an effort to look after me.
Not a bit of it.
Not only do they not give a damn about my custom, but they are also serially incompetent at every turn. Allow me to provide a few examples:
When I bought my 3 series, an ex-demonstrator 325D, Stratstone BMW Hull managed to register the vehicle to someone else entirely. The guy lived in the next village and shared the same surname. Being and ex-demo car, the road tax didn’t have long to run but they hadn’t told me this and I obviously didn’t get the reminder so the first I heard about Stratstone’s cock-up was a £1,000 fine slapped on my windscreen in the station car park for unpaid road tax.
The next car was the 5 series. Another ex-demonstrator. It came from dealer down South somewhere. I had viewed an ‘identical’ jet black 520 at Stratstone in Hull and signed up based on what I had seen. A week later, my car had arrived and I went to collect it.
It was dark blue.
The paperwork was complete, the loan in effect, the car was mine. They very first thing I had said to the salesman was “No white or blue cars” (Mrs High-Maintenance has a history of crashing white ones). I ended up with a blue one.
I hated it.
Which brings us to the 4 series.
Surely, they couldn’t wrap a third sale round their necks could they?
Of course they could!
The 4 series was a pre-registered car. Stratstone had fallen short of their sales targets for 2016 and so in the last couple of days of the year, they had purchased and registered a multi-storey car park full of 420s to hit their number and earn their BMW bonus. Most of them had the M Sport Plus upgrade which is what I was after. And in jet black of course. I had waited 4 years to get a black car.
I have to say that I was delighted when I collected the vehicle. First, it was the right colour. Second, it actually looked very pretty indeed. Nice alloys. Those fancy blue brake calipers and matching blue contrast stitching on the leather sports seats. It only had 9 miles on the clock. I was so pleased I even posted it on Facebook!
All my BMWs have worn the same cherished number plate and when the V5 arrived two weeks later (with the correct name and address this time) I dug out my retention certificate and went onto the DVLA website to put the plate on my new car. The DVLA site immediately responded with “You are not authorised to put this registration on this vehicle”.
“Why ever not?” said I. The computer didn’t reply.
I tried again.
I just sat there scratching my head. I figured that Stratstone were probably going to be in the mix somewhere. What had they f@@@ed up this time?
Then it occurred to me. Have the morons let me drive away in an untaxed vehicle??!! I clicked on the ‘Check if a Vehicle is Taxed’ button. There it was. I had been driving around in an untaxed and thus uninsured vehicle for two weeks. I had been breaking the law and had I been involved in an accident I would have been in a whole heap of trouble. And it wouldn’t have been my fault. Then there was the small matter of another £1,000 fine which might drop through the letter box.
So I called Stratstone and the salesman soon realised his error. His pre-delivery checklist was missing a tick. He apologised of course – he didn’t really have a lot of choice. I had assumed that, despite the changes in road tax regulations, BMW would have taxed the car in my name before I was allowed to drive off in it. Apparently, they do so, but the buyer gets to pay for it before he takes the car.
Not this time. Stratstone had managed to make a complete pig’s ear of three consecutive sales to me.
So, it took a few days for the DVLA website to recognise the taxed status of the car and I eventually got the plate transferred.
Two weeks ago (Sunday 2nd July 2017) my ‘other’ car broke. I have a very beautiful 21 year old sports car which is the second love of my life. We have been together for 14 years. The ancient alternator had finally given up the ghost and so I called the AA to tow the car to a specialist garage in Leeds to fit a new one. It was sad to see the old girl on a tow truck but I couldn’t be upset or angry – the car was 21 years old after all and things do break after 21 years of faithful, breakdown-free motoring.
The following day, my brand new BMW 420D M Sport Plus also broke.
Things aren’t supposed to break after 8 weeks.
I was driving home from work along the M62 when the engine started to splutter occasionally. It felt like a mis-fire, or perhaps a touch on the brakes. Very odd, I thought. Within half a mile, occasionally turned into often. I checked the dashboard. No warning lights. I pulled into the inside lane so I could get off the road safely if necessary.
It was necessary.
The car then started to judder violently and then a “Drive Train Warning – you may continue your journey” or similar appeared for about a second, then the car just died and I freewheeled silently to the hard shoulder. Clearly, I couldn’t continue my journey. If I tried to re-start the car, it might do some very serious damage (and then Stratstone would say it was my fault).
I was in a vulnerable position so I did what I was supposed to do and left the car and clambered over to stand amongst the nettles and brambles behind the crash barrier. From there, I called BMW Assistance.
BMW Assistance decided that what I needed was some really nice classical music. Personally, I prefer a bit of U2, but I suppose it was supposed to calm me down (and believe me, I needed calming down!). What wasn’t very calming was the fact that the classical music was not replaced by a human being. Eventually, I got sick of Mozart and hung up.
God bless BMW!
I called the AA again. “Hi, it’s me again. You towed away my car yesterday. Well, I’ve got another for you to tow. Yes, I know, two in two days – amazing. Really funny.” Then I called Mrs. High-Maintenance and let her know that she may as well give my dinner to the cat. The AA had told me that I was likely to be in the nettle patch for at least another hour and a half.
Finally, my tow truck man arrived. “Wow. Another 4 series! Bet it’s an X-Drive isn’t it?” “How did you guess?” I said. “”Oh, we’re towing loads of these at the moment. Reckon there’s a recall coming soon. If it’s a drive train warning, better just get it on the truck, it won’t be going anywhere.”
“Can you get the towing eye? It’s in the toolkit in the boot.” So I opened the boot, and the toolkit and, guess what? Those numpties at Stratstone had nicked the tools! Really, the toolkit was empty.
That’s when I had the sense of humour failure. The crash barrier got a good kicking.
I asked Mr. Tow to take the car and I to Stratstone BMW in Hull. By now of course, the place was closed and I couldn’t strangle anybody so I asked Mr. Tow to unload the car so it blocked the doors into the dealership. Childish I know, but I needed to make a gesture of some kind. Unfortunately, the ram raid bollards were up so we couldn’t get near enough and we had to leave the car in the street outside. Before Mrs High-Maintenance drove me home, I wrapped the BMW key in a fairly rude little note and posted it through the letterbox. My note included my first request for the general manger of the Stratstone dealership to give me a call. I say first because he ignored it. He also ignored the second one, and the third, which was in writing.
Had he called me, you wouldn’t be reading this letter but evidently, spending a six figure sum with Stratstone, enduring countless Stratstone cock-ups and spending the best part of two hours stranded in the nettles beside an expired but brand new Stratstone BMW isn’t enough to qualify me for five minutes of his precious time. He must be very important indeed. Or perhaps he is just extremely rude.
We then came to the matter of a courtesy vehicle. Now, as it happens, I didn’t need one for the day after the tow (the Tuesday) because I had to go and collect my sports car and bring it home, but I did need one from the Wednesday onwards. I was told that Enterprise would drop one off that evening.
You’ve guessed haven’t you. It didn’t show up. It arrived 24 hours late.
Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since Stratstone took possession of my broken car. Have they fixed it? Of course not. In fact, they haven’t got a Scooby-Doo what’s wrong with it and they tell me that the boffins at BMW have even been helping too – but to no avail. We are no further forward than on the day it was towed.
They have sent me a ‘Health Check’ which showed that, despite the car being only 8 weeks old, one of the tyres had lost 2mm of tread on one edge, suggesting that the geometry hadn’t been checked before I was sold the car. Indeed, the lack of tax, the state of the tyres and the complete absence of a toolkit suggested to me that no pre-delivery inspection had been carried out at all. It looked like they had just got the car out of the multi-storey and given it a quick wash before sending me on my way.
They subsequently sent me a video to prove that the document they had sent previously was complete rubbish. They actually filmed a technician measuring the tread depths and sent it to me. The suspect tyre was now miraculously OK. Why they had sent a Health Check document with totally false data is anybody’s guess.
Or maybe they swapped the tyre. Who knows. To be honest, I don’t even care any more.
I just want my car back – in PERFECT WORKING ORDER.
Or I want a new one. Brand new. And identical (except for the mysterious fault).
And very black.
Or it will be lawyers at dawn.
So what happened?
Well, not a lot for a few days. Stratstone continued to assure me that they were working diligently on the car, fitting new parts that subsequently failed to cure the problem. The workshop manager called me every 48 hours or so to repeat the same ‘no progress’ report.
Then they spotted the letter on DCR and realised that I hadn’t been joking about making them famous.
Finally, the dealer principal picked up the phone and assured me that my car and I were now his absolute number one top priority bar none (and I’m pretty sure he meant it). He also confessed to acute embarrassment about the ‘driving away with no road tax’ incident though shrugged off responsibility for the earlier cock-ups as these were before his time.
He also explained that the engine management system had now resorted to telling them to replace parts that weren’t even fitted on the car. That told them that the EMS had a bad case of dementia and so a new main computer had been ordered from Munich and was on its way to Hull. I was assured that if this didn’t work, they would help me to reject the vehicle and obtain a new one.
It didn’t prove necessary (at least not yet). The car was finally returned to me 23 days after it was towed to Stratstone. It was driven to my home by the dealer principal himself.
I have never seen a shinier or more immaculate vehicle in my life. It positively gleamed and dazzled. I could have eaten my dinner off any part of it. It was utterly spotless. A scene of crime officer couldn’t have found even a partial fingerprint.
On the back seat was a large bunch of flowers for Mrs High-Maintenance (no idea what she had done to deserve that but it was a nice gesture) and a bottle of champagne, presumably to toast the return of my long-lost BMW.
Strangely, the bonnet had been replaced. Mr Principal told me it had had some very serious stone chips that went right through the paint. They had re-sprayed it but it wasn’t perfect so he had arranged a new bonnet.
I suspect they dropped a spanner on it.
No matter, it is the same colour as the rest of the car.
And very shiny.
So is it working?
Well, yes – so far – it is.
If that changes, you’ll be the first to know!