Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Our New Car - Final Chapter

I thought when they checked the Beemer out to me on Tuesday, I'd have it a day, maybe two. So, I resigned myself that I would just have to enjoy the little bit of driving time available, which was mostly back and forth to work.

So, as I pulled onto the highway to return to work that morning, there were no cars in the acceleration lane. I decided now was the time to see what a fully warmed-up, 3.5 liter BMW could do. I tromped down on the go-pedal and this thing took off faster than I expected. The traction control light was going crazy, trying the keep the rear wheels planted. I went from about 20, coming around the corner, to over 80 well before I needed to merge on the highway. Needless to say, I slowed down before need to get a ticket right away in this beast!

I took a real razzing at work when I drove up in the BMW, with comments like "Man, what are they paying those IT guys!?!" *grin*

When I went home that night, there was one spot on the journey where I could legally go from a standing stop up to 55mph, so I decided to see what the zero-to-60 time was like. As I started out, I let it get rolling slightly before tipping in the throttle, as I did not want to get the traction control humming again. By my reckoning, it was about 6 seconds. Not bad for a small, four-door sport sedan.

The stereo was wonderful, the instruments clear and easy to read, the seats were very comfy...I really could not find too many things I didn't like. However, I did notice one rather annoying thing. I wear glasses to drive, as my distance vision is such that I have trouble reading street signs until I'm too close to do anything about them! When I got my glasses, I got some that have magnetic "clip-on" sunglasses. I made sure the ones I got were polarized. That helps with sun glare, and works very well. However, when I had them on, I could not see the stereo display on the dash. I had to tip my head down and look over my glasses to see it. The auto climate control display was fine, I could see it very well however it was lower on the dash than the stereo display. The stereo one was at just the right angle that the polarization filtered it out, apparently. Certainly not a show-stopper, but disappointing nonetheless.

I drove it to work Wednesday...then Thursday...then Friday. I got the call from the sales manager on Friday afternoon saying the car wasn't ready yet, and they were thinking it would be Monday at the earliest. I told him I understood and that I would wait for his call the next week...but inside I was doing the happy dance! I had the Beemer for the weekend!

My parents came for a visit that weekend, so I got to chauffeur them around in the Beemer, and they were suitably impressed.

I got the call on Monday afternoon that the Buick was ready to be picked up. So, I left work a bit early to avoid the traffic. I picked up the Riv and said a tearful goodbye to my loaner. The sales manager handed me the invoice for the work as I was leaving and said he thought I would want a copy for my records. Almost $600...glad that was him and not me! The entire shifter linkage and the park-interlock solenoid had been replaced (the button now goes down all the time without incident!), and they put another cam position sensor on the car, thinking the first one was somehow faulty. On the drive home, the Riv behaved drama.

I had told ESM I would not let her drive an unreliable car, so I took the Riv to work on Tuesday. I drove along my commute that morning occasionally glancing at the "Check Engine" light. And everything was fine...until about twenty minutes into my thirty minute commute. Hello Mister Check Engine Light! GRRR!!

So, I got to work, went in and immediately called the sales manager at BMW...again. I was told he had the day off, however there was another manager that was familiar with the situation and would I like to speak with him? I said yes, please. When he came on, I briefly recapped the situation, adding that the check engine light was on...again. I could hear his face drop over the phone. He said that he wanted the car back as quickly as I could get it to him, as he wanted to get it back to the GM dealer ASAP. They spent money to fix it, and exactly as I would, they wanted their money's worth! I spoke with my boss, who apparently loves a good, ironic car story, and got permission to leave a little early for lunch and take the Riv back again.

The substitute sales manager was waiting for me. He said he had spoken with the original sales manager and that they would get the Riv back to me as soon as they could. He then asked if I needed a ride. I did need to get back to work, and smelling another loaner like a shark smelling blood, I said yes. He replied that all their normal loaners were out, but he would see what he could do. So, I sat down in the "lounge" to wait. After about twenty minutes, he came back with an extended test-drive agreement for me to sign, and they sent me off with a used pre-owned silver BMW 2006 325xi from their inventory. Certainly not a bad ride, but when you were expecting maybe a 5-series, it was a bit of a letdown!

The four-wheel-drive of that car was excellent, however the 2.5-liter engine was definitely not in the same class as the 335 I drove first. The only other equipment in the silver one that the black 335 didn't have was seat heaters. The Riv has those as well, and boy will they spoil you in a hurry! It is SOOO nice to go out, get in, turn the seat heater on, and have your backside nice and toasty before you even get out of the driveway. Luxury!

That was Tuesday. On FRIDAY, which means it has now been two weeks since we signed the papers on the Riv, I got the call that it was ready. The original sales manager told me that GM, after performing many ancient, dark rituals on the car, finally exorcised what they thought was the demon. The wiring from the engine management computer to the sensor had a break in it somewhere, but one that would only intermittently show up. So they replaced all the wiring to the sensor. They had then driven the car repeatedly, and not had any issues with it.

Wanting to surprise ESM, I left a message on the home phone that I was going to be late coming home from work...with a generic "IT troubles" excuse. I went to the BMW dealer and picked up the car. The sales manager and I shook hands, again, and he said he was very confident they had solved the mystery, and then grinned and said he looked forward to NOT seeing me again for a bit! I thanked him for all he had done for us, and it sounds cheesy I know, told him that he had definitely earned a customer for as long as I lived in Denver. He thanked me and waved as I drove off in the Riv.

ESM and I drove the CRAP out of the Riv that weekend! We wanted to make sure the problems did not return. I am very happy to report that as of today, the "Check Engine" light has stayed off for more than two weeks! *knock wood* Now that doesn't mean the car doesn't have a few minor issues I still need to fix...the one ignition key is still a bit dodgy, the power antenna somehow got bent while GM had the car so it won't go up and down very far, just little things like that.

Overall we are very happy with the car. ESM loves the supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood, and I've seen her dip her toes into that power several times! She tells me that after driving the Riv for two weeks, she will never again allow me to purchase her a car without all of the following:

* A sunroof
* Seat heaters
* CD player
* Automatic transmission
* Cool looks

Well, I guess I better start saving for her next car now... *grin*

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Our New Car - Part 2

I put on the bottom of the last post this would go up on Saturday…I don’t know why I typed Saturday when I meant Friday! Anyway, here is part 2.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny, but with a definite chill in the air after having snowed lightly overnight. ESM and I got ready, and I drove the Buick back to the dealership, with Susan following behind in the Mazda, just in case.

Now, I have to make something clear to you, dear readers. We have not been dealing with your ordinary, run of the mill car dealership. No...this, my friends, is a BMW dealership. The place looks for all the world like a high-end spa. Fine furniture, modern decor, a twelve-foot long fireplace made from stainless steel with the flames seeming to emanate from a bed of ground glass. And liberally spread around are cars that can easily run into the six-figures.

And the dealership does not employ your ordinary car salesmen-types, these are non-commissioned “sales associates”, wearing expensive suits, who make the same money whether they sell a $5,000 car or a $50,000 car. This all makes for a somewhat different car-buying experience.

You may now be asking yourselves, if this is such a hoity-toity outfit, what are they doing with a 12-year old Buick Riviera that sells for less than half of any of the other used pre-owned cars on their lot? A good question. One which I asked the sales manager about, during one of our early visits. His response...this was such a unique car, given the low miles (69,000 and change), the single previous owner of the car and the (allegedly) excellent shape the car was in. He said they felt the car would sell very well given the price (around $5,000). I really couldn't argue with that logic.

So, I pull up to the service entrance, the garage door rolls up in front of me, and I pull into what has to be the nicest inside service bay I have ever seen. Remember how I said it had snowed lightly overnight? Well, all the cars coming in for service had a little bit of slush on them. There was a guy, riding one of those Zamboni-like concrete cleaning machines, going up and down the service bay cleaning up the drips from all the cars. Constantly. Heaven forbid someone step out of their Beemer into a little puddle of muddy water!

A very courteous attendant met me as I got out, and I explained that I was there to see Andrew, and that the sales manager had set up the appointment. She told me she would go let Andrew know, and handed me a clipboard with a quick form to fill out with my contact info. By the time I had finished, a gentleman in a smart green sweater-vest and khakis walked up and introduced himself as Andrew, the head of the service department! He said he would take the car back immediately, get it on their diagnostic computer and find out what the error code was. I explained about the shifter button not working as well, and he said they would be happy to take a quick look at that too.

We went through the doors into the building and right inside, across from the CONCIERGE DESK (if I'm lyin', I'm dyin'!), were several chairs. So we sat down to wait. After we had sat there for a bit, the attendant who met me at the car came by us. She suddenly stopped, looked at us funny, then smiled and said, "You don't have to wait here. You can go out in the showroom and wait there...the chairs are much more comfortable and we'll come find you!" She graciously walked with us out to the showroom, asking if they could get us water or coffee... I felt like such a bumpkin! In my defense, I'm not used to car dealers like this! These people are SERIOUS about making sure you are comfortable. I guess that comes from the clientele they cater to. *grin*

After waiting about thirty minutes, Andrew came back and said the error code was for the cam position sensor...again. He couldn't understand why this was happening after they replaced it, but obviously there must be something else wrong. He said the shifter button problem was a result of the linkage just being "worn out," and that the linkages are a common problem on those cars. He said he wanted to confer with the sales manager who had been helping us first, but he wanted to keep the car and take it to a GM dealership, to make sure the job was done with all the right tools and equipment. Sounds like a good plan.

We then met with the sales manager, and said we had thought further about our decision to return the car and that we really wanted to see what was wrong before we went to the trouble to reverse the sale. He was relieved, and said he would do everything in his power to make sure we were happy with the Buick and all the issues we found were repaired to our satisfaction.

Now at this point, I found myself a little out of my comfort zone as far as car buying is concerned. A dealer saying he doesn't care what it takes, that he just wants us to be happy? WTF? So, feeling a bit overwhelmed, I told him I appreciated all he was doing for us, but I knew they must be close to losing money on this deal. He shrugged his shoulders and said with a smile of utter sincerity, "Most deals we make money, sometimes we don't." At this point I begin looking around for the 'Candid Camera' crew to jump out and Allen Funt to say "Gotcha!"

After Andrew and the sales manager spoke briefly, they came back and said they were indeed going to keep the car for a few days and take it to GM to be fixed. In the meantime, they would give us a loaner to drive until they could get the Buick back. A loaner? Really? I asked ESM to make sure we only wrote them a check for $5,000... This just kept getting weirder and weirder.

So, what do you suppose they checked out to us as a loaner, in a BMW dealership? Can you say, 'B M W'? I knew you could! They gave us a 2008 black four-door 335i, with just over 16,000 miles on the odometer. Now, I've driven some nice cars in my day, but this was the first time I'd driven a BMW. Three words:!!! ESM and I discussed who should have the loaner...and somewhat to my surprise, she said I should have it. She explained that she did not feel comfortable parking it in the school parking lot at night when she went to class, and felt it would be safer if I parked it at my work instead. Given the $40,000+ replacement cost and, of course, always wanting to be the gentleman, I was happy to oblige! So, ESM took the Mazda and returned home, and I took the BMW and went on to work.

Next time, this roller-coaster ride of a story continues. See you on Sunday!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Our New Car - Part 1

Well, the car-buying experience did not go quite as planned. We did eventually get the car, we just took a somewhat circuitous route to get there.

When we took the car out for the final test drive before we agreed to purchase it, the "Check Engine" light came on. I pointed it out to the sales manager we were working with, and he said they would put it into their shop and see what was wrong. We offered to put down a deposit to secure the car, with the provision that the repairs went forward as planned. This was the Saturday before Presidents Day, so that Monday was a holiday. We heard back on Tuesday that the error code showed the cam position sensor was faulty. The sales manager said they would simply replace the sensor. They called back on Wednesday and said the car was ready. Due to our schedules being full, we set a date for Saturday morning to sign the papers and buy the car.

We showed up at the dealer bright and early on Saturday, signed the paperwork, wrote them a check for the difference and drove our new baby home. The drive home was uneventful, other than remembering how different a true American car is to drive, compared to my Mazda.

Since we still had my wife's old car in the garage, I parked the Buick in the driveway behind it. That evening, I went out to swap cars around as the forecast called for snow, and I did not want it to snow on the new car. So, I went out, put my key in the ignition, and it wouldn't turn. I messed with it for a few seconds, and got it to turn and start the car. Then I went to shift it into reverse to back out of the driveway. The shifter knob would not go down. I couldn't get the car out of park. So, again, I messed with it for a few minutes and could not get it to work. Frustrated, I shut it off and went inside to ponder my next move.

This particular car has a center console-mounted shifter with the release button on top. After spending some time online looking at diagrams on how to unhook the shift linkage and manually put the car in reverse, I decided to go give it one last try before breaking out the tools. However, this time I took ESM's set of keys (the one with the key fob remote) instead of mine. I put the key in the ignition, did not have any trouble starting it, and as if by magic the car shifted into gear with no drama. I became convinced at that point that the different keys were the issue. You see, GM cars of that era had the anti-theft keys with the small electrical contacts on them. So, I assumed it must be a problem with that key not registering with the car correctly. Easy enough, I'll ask the dealer to replace my key. I finished swapping the cars around and went off to bed.

The next morning (Sunday), we took the car on some errands we needed to run, and during our outing the "Check Engine" light came on again! When we purchased the car, they dealer we bought it from gave us a 30-day, 1,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 48-hour, no-questions-asked return policy. ESM and I were now pondering the prospect of returning the car and finding something else. After some discussion, we decided it was better to first call the dealer on Monday and see what they would do before we made any further decision. It had to wait until Monday, as Colorado is one of those backward places where someone still thinks that letting car dealers be open on Sunday will somehow lead to the complete breakdown of our society.

ESM and I decided to switch cars temporarily, as her commute to school was much farther than mine to work, and I did not like the idea of her being possibly stranded on the other side of town, at night. So, I drove the new car to work on Monday. As I walked out to the garage that morning, a new thought occurred to me. They had filled the car with gas before we took it. Did they maybe not tighten down the gas cap? That can cause the "Check Engine" to come on sometimes. It couldn't hurt to make sure. So I did that, and sure enough, the light went off when I started it. YAY! Maybe that's all it was.

It was not. Not by a long shot.

When I took the car out at noon to grab a bite of lunch, the light came back on again, and re-seating the gas cap did not help this time. So, I called the sales manager at the dealer...again...and told them the light was on...again. He apologized profusely, and asked me to bring the car back to them the next day and they would "make it right." I then asked about the 48-hour return and if the time limit would reset after the repairs were made? He reassured me and said not to worry about the 48-hour time limit...they would take the car back at any point if they couldn't fix these issues to our satisfaction. Oh-kay... He then made an appointment for me to meet with a shop technician named Andrew at 9am the next day. I arranged with my boss to have some time off to take the car back the next morning, and went back to work.

As I went to go home that night, with ESMs keys, which had worked fine previously, the problem with the shifter knob returned. I could not get it out of park...again. Grand, now I'm going to be stuck at work. As I was not completely enthralled with that idea, I began futzing about with the shifter knob. I was pressing it in different ways, towards the sides, in the middle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle...then, as I had both thumbs pressing down hard on the button, it suddenly went down and I was able to shift! Ok, think...if it won't come out of reverse for some reason, I need a plan. I put the car into reverse, and because the parking lot was empty by now, I backed straight back across the aisle into another parking spot, just in case. However, you don't need the button to shift from reverse into drive, typical of most automatics. So, I was able to shift into drive, take the car home and get it into the garage.

I came into the house, fuming...called the sales manager and told him I had had enough and in all good conscience I could not keep a car that had all this wrong with it. To his credit, the sales manager was very calm and said he was disappointed, but could certainly understand my frustration. He explained he came in to work at 10am the next morning, and I should come see him then and we would sign the paperwork to reverse the sale.

As soon as I hung up the phone, ESM and I began discussing what our next move was. Did we want to start car shopping again? What was going to be our approach this time? We went online and started looking again, but all we were finding was four-door grocery-getters in our price range. ESM had told me as we started looking the first time, she did NOT want another boring car! She wanted something sporty, stylish, exciting. These four-door sedans were definitely NOT exciting.

The more we talked about the issue, the more one point began to stand out above everything else...we just really liked the Buick. We had a very hard time thinking about giving it up, and starting over again. After much debate (and stomping of feet and gnashing of teeth), we decided to keep the appointment with Andrew the technician at 9am and see what was wrong before we gave the car back...

Don't miss the next, topsy-turvy installment of our continuing story on Saturday!