Don’t trust the car dealer

nissan_pathfinder In April 2003, I bought a new Nissan Pathfinder from the local dealer, Staten Island Nissan. I also purchased a seven-year extended service plan. Since I typically keep my cars for 7+ years, I figured it’s a worthy investment (as I got a very good price on the car and 1.9% financing).

Fast-forward to July 2007. The car is just over four years old, and has just over 30,000 miles, when I hear a rattling sound. A quick look underneath shows that the muffler and tailpipe have separated from the catalytic converter; the rattling sound is the sound of the metal muffler and tailpipe swaying underneath my car.

Recognizing that an exhaust system which decides to separate itself from the rest of the car is not normal behavior for a four-year-old car, I take it to the service center at the dealer I purchased it from for diagnostics and the annual New York State-required vehicle inspection.

A few hours after dropping off the car, I get a call from the dealer, where I am told that I need a whole new exhaust system (cost: $1,200) and nothing is covered under the warranty or the extended service contract. After a fruitless debate about the reasoning for this (I’ve owned five cars for 4+ years and this is the first one that’s needed a whole exhaust system after four years), I gave up, and decided to call Nissan Consumer Affairs.

Before calling, I did my homework. Reading the details of the extended service plan, I found that numerous exhaust parts are covered. During the conversation with Nissan Consumer Affairs, I enjoyed stimulating dialog such as this:

Nissan: “Sir, I see you have the Service Gold extended plan – that’s the best plan we offer.”
Me: “Then why will you not service what’s clearly broken on my car?”
Nissan: “Sorry, sir, the dealer makes these decisions.”
Me: “What recourse do I have if the dealer is just trying to rip me off?”
Nissan: “Sir, our dealers are all Nissan certified and [bla bla bla]…”

After 30 minutes, I convinced the chap I was speaking with to escalate my case to a “Regional Case Manager” (or something like that). I was told I’d get a call back in 24 hours.

After waiting 24 hours plus three days without getting a return phone call, I called Nissan Consumer Affairs again. Upon providing my information, I was told the case manager already looked into my case. I asked why he didn’t call me with details; they said they’ll send an “internal message” to him requesting he calls me. They also gave me his phone number, which I called; of course, voice mail responded, and I left a message.

Another three days passed without hearing from anyone at Nissan, so I called again, leaving a blistering message for the case manager. Incredibly, I heard back from him in about two hours. The conversation went something like this:

Nissan: “Sorry, the dealer made the determination that the work needed is not covered under the warranty.”
Me: “So you’re telling me that it’s perfectly acceptable to Nissan for their vehicles to require the customer to purchase a $1,200 exhaust system after just four years of ownership?”
Nissan: “Sir, I’m sorry but it’s not covered under the warranty or the extended service plan.”

Nissan (NOT)Realizing I’m getting nowhere, I decide to speak with the Service Manager at the the service center where I brought my car originally. I left a message for him, and … he never called me back.

I decide to take an alternate approach: I take my car to the local mechanic (who I know and trust) and explain the situation. He looks under my car and gives me an estimate… for $193.00, parts and labor. When I tell him the dealer quoted me $1,200, he said, “They’re trying to sell you a whole exhaust system that you don’t need.”

Am I surprised? Not in the least. Now that I have all this information, here’s my next steps:

  1. Have my local mechanic fix my car for over $1,000 less than quoted by the dealer.
  2. Cancel my extended service plan and get a refund.
  3. File a complaint with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. You see, the dealer performed a safety and emissions inspection on my car at the same time they recognized that I need an entire exhaust system. My vehicle passed their inspection. I can’t imagine how a car with a disconnected exhaust system and a dangling tailpipe can pass a safety and emissions inspection.

The lessons I learned from this are:

  • Never buy an extended warranty. You lose all your consumer rights, as you are required to use a dealer-authorized service center for all repairs — whether or not they are under warranty. For example, if you have your brakes serviced at an independent repair shop, then take your car to the dealer for brake work, they will not cover any brake work that would otherwise be covered under the extended warranty because you previously had your brakes serviced by an unauthorized service center. How do I know this? They told me.
  • Before buying a new car, talk to the service manager. All new cars come with a manufacturer’s warranty, so you will most likely be dealing with the manufacturer’s service people at some point. You can buy a car in one day in the sales office, but for the next three years, your relationship is with the service center, so be sure you are comfortable with them.

When I have an update, I’ll be sure to let you know. Thanks for listening to my rant!

5 thoughts on “Don’t trust the car dealer”

  • Warranty Insider says:

    I feel for your situation but your rant is misplaced. The exhaust system is not covered under the original warranty nor any extended warranty. Your gripe is with a dishonest dealer. FInd someplace else to service your vehicle.

  • If the dealer was honest with me up-front, telling me it’s a $200 repair that’s not covered, I wouldn’t have a problem — just like I had no problem finally paying $200 for the repairs (to someone other than the dealer). My issue with Nissan covered these issues:

    1. Claiming I needed an entire exhaust system on a 4-year old, well-maintained car, and claiming that ALL of that is “routine wear-and-tear not covered under any warranties or maintenance contracts”. (This is despite the fact that some components of the exhaust system are covered, including the catalytic converter and converter tubes, among others.)
    2. Failure to respond to my repeated phone calls.
    3. Failure to follow state inspection guidelines by passing a vehicle’s inspection when it clearly should not have passed.
    4. Claiming that repairs needed were six times the actual cost of needed repairs.

    Nissan had numerous chances to make this right;

    1. They could have been honest about the original service needs.
    2. They could have returned my inquiries in the timeframe they provided.
    3. They could have followed proper inspection guidelines.

    They chose to do none, and I will choose not to be a customer of theirs any more.

  • The dealer wanting to replace the entire exhaust is not as unfounded as you may think. All manufacturers make exhaust systems differently, so it’s hard to say. If it’s say a bolted flange that broke, as far as the dealer is concerned there’s no way to fix this short of replacing the entire thing. See, the dealer is not allowed to modify a broken part and can only replace with OEM parts. This would be a 20 minute fix for any exhaust shop. They can either weld a new flange, cut the remnants off and connect it with a slip on clamp, or the hacks will just weld it all together in one piece.

    But I do agree, most dealers are rip offs.

  • Justin — thanks for the perspective. I agree: “most dealers are rip-offs.” I was amazed walking into my dealer’s shop one day to read a sign: LABOR RATE: $95/HOUR. That’s over $125k a year — for 30 hours a week for 48 weeks a year. Nice work if you can get it. They will no longer get it from me. I have no problem paying for service — but a mainstream auto mechanic doesn’t warrant a six-figure salary based on a normal work schedule. 🙂

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