Upon completing college, I joined the Treasury Department. (No, I didn’t.) But I did help them bolster the once-proud, then-crumbling pillars of the American Economy: too-big-to-fail banks and car companies.
Concretely, I bought a Ford Focus.
I’d read Consumer Reports, of course, so I knew that Honda and Toyota produced more reliable versions of the same thing. But hey, I thought, in these trying times – in this, the dreary aftermath of the Great Recession – why not “Buy American”? Why not stand together? At its best, I continued boldly, stupidly, commerce should not only be economic, but social as well.
Of course, real life isn’t a Ford commercial. A few months later, I began to notice problems. My car would shake, shudder, and produce a horrible grinding sound as you picked up speed. When you accelerated onto a freeway, it would terrifyingly stall, making any merger a perilous, panic-inducing maneuver.
Like any good Millennial, an expression I despise but insert here to fulfill the Internet-mandated quota (1 of 2), I hopped online to see what the deal was. It turned out a lot of people were having these problems. So many, in fact, that it seemed downright irresponsible for Ford to push this car out of the factory.
I wasn’t concerned, though, at least initially. Now, don’t dwell too much on that statement, because like all human beings who are 12% younger than our current selves, I happened at this time to be an idiot. I expected the beautiful gears of justice to begin turning, to sort out the issue. Surely, there would be a recall, or Ford would acknowledge the problem, or something.
Nope. Nothing but a really top-notch commitment to silence.
“Sorry, but isn’t this all very naive?”
I don’t completely lack self-awareness, and frankly, I resent the accusation, Bold Italicized Font. I realize this post has all the worldliness of a space parakeet hopping out of his cage for the first time, surveying the universe, realizing it’s kind of a downer, and then saying “Nope” before hopping back in.
In my more paranoid moments, I admit I’ve theorized that if this problem had happened to, say, a Korean automaker, the recall would have happened already. That the only reason Ford has been able to shirk its federally-mandated responsibility to make a vehicle that won’t kill you is because the bureaucrat enforcing that mandate doesn’t want to get his golf buddy into trouble. Because the line between the American government and the American automaker is too blurry to be of any real use to consumers.
No matter how probable that might be, it’s too dark a thought to think if you want to keep existing in this particular dimension. So if it helps, I comforted myself by noting that the American subsidiary of my hypothetical Korean automaker surely employs a similarly important golf buddy.
“Alright, alright, stop being so dramatic. Just deal with it. Life is tough.”
Another good point, but you know, were I a more ambitious writer, and not just some dude complaining about his car’s transmission on The Internet, I would point out that yes, absolutely, life is tough, but we don’t need to make it tougher for one another. That our lack of empathy online is holding us back by encouraging us to fiercely but impotently attack our perceptions of one another instead of these entrenched, insidious, miserable institutions. That this all might be representative of a larger, much more serious problem.
But I am just a dude complaining about his car’s transmission on The Internet, and anyway, I, of course, did try to fix this problem by dealing with Ford. It’s gone about how you would expect:
- First, during my routine check-ins, I could never get Ford to acknowledge the problem.
- When they finally did acknowledge the problem (which happened not-so-mysteriously around the time I received a letter regarding a class-action lawsuit), they let me schedule an appointment, wherein they promised me two things: (A) My car would be fixed over a 3-day period; and (B) I would receive a rental car for my trouble.
- When I arrived that day, I learned that (A) wouldn’t happen because “the guy who fixes this problem isn’t in on Saturdays,” (so why let me schedule the appointment on a Saturday?) and also because they needed to run “diagnostics” first.
- I then learned that (B) wouldn’t happen because “diagnostics” take a day, whereas the original appointment was scheduled for three days. (Rentals, you see, can only be given for appointments lasting longer than a day). When I explained that that seemed like Ford’s problem, and I had planned my day around receiving a car, one of the gentlemen helping me said, “Sorry. The girls who schedule these appointments really don’t know what they’re doing.”
- Ford: Pioneers in sexism-driven customer service.
- So I walked to the closest rental agency, rented my own car, went about my day, and came back to learn that the “diagnostics” had finally and definitively shown that my car needed fixing. However, they couldn’t do it now because “the part is on back-order for a month, but we’ll get back to you.” Of course, “The part is on back-order for a month, but we’ll get back to you” is the automotive equivalent of another decaying American Institution’s favorite nothingism: “Sorry for the delay — we’re going to get you off the ground here in about 30 minutes.”
- Two months went by. No call. When I called, a Ford representative said, “Hey, I’m going to take down your number and have an ‘ Advisor’ call you.”
- An Advisor never called me. I had to call back, again and again, over a period of a few months, to finally get the appointment scheduled.
- Done! My car’s transmission is finally fixed! At least, that’s what they told me.
- Ah, but wait: Some months later, I’m driving on a shoulder-less expressway on my way home from work. My car freaks out and shudders to an abrupt, horrifying stop, causing cars to swerve mercifully around me, their horns blaring and high beams flashing. To reiterate: This car is less than 3 years old, and Ford told me it was fixed.
- When I took the car back to Ford and mentioned its most recent attempt on my life, they said: “Ah, there’s another transmission problem that sometimes happens with these. We’ll fix that now.”
- To put it more plainly: They knew of a second, extremely common transmission problem (a faulty Transmission Control Module) but waited until after this incident to fix it, despite all of the earlier opportunities to do so. Speculating: It is almost as if they were following a standard protocol instituted by the Ford Mothership to ensure that fixing these transmissions takes as long as possible. To get you off your warranty and out of the “liability” portion of their balance sheet ASAP. (Again, speculating!)
They claim this is the end of it, and I hope it is. In the meantime, I’ve sold the car and urge anyone reading this never to give them your money.
Returning to an earlier point about worldliness: I realize every single person can produce a bullet point list similar to mine, at least about something. When you weigh all of this against the infinite and incomprehensible gaping maw of the universe, none of it matters anyway. I don’t blame a single person I interacted with above. They’re all just people trying to get by in the broken system Ford has built: They really don’t know when the part’s coming in; they really can’t give rental cars for day-long appointments. My point isn’t to complain about this as though I were The Exact Center of the Universe, but to get to a broader point about why this is all so, so dumb.
You see, I don’t care that I had to do a bunch of things I don’t want to do (i.e., Human Existence). I care because my micro-level frustrations are a silly thing to have happened even if you’re approaching this problem purely from a macro/business-level. The Focus is popular among — wait for it — Millennial (2 of 2) buyers, folks who are just beginning to develop life-long economic relationships with places, people, and, yes, brands. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be a lifelong Ford customer, and now I’m going to be a lifelong Ford detractor. In the long-run, my direct continued business probably outweighs whatever near-term cost they would have borne to fix my problem, but if not, I’ve already convinced my girlfriend, her parents, and a few others folks to never step foot on a Ford lot. If I had been treated like a person, I would have forgiven the inconvenience(s): Things happen, and truthfully, I just wanted my damn car fixed. Instead, I was treated like a name on a list of class action plaintiffs. Our social transaction had become economic.
Frankly, I had no plans to write this post. However, after that early appointment, when Ford promised to fix my car but just ran “diagnostics” instead, they sent me this:
“On behalf of Ford, we would like to thank you for having your 2013 FORD FOCUS serviced at <$NAME_OF_DEALERSHIP>. We want to ensure that your service experience met or exceeded your expectations. Providing feedback on your service experience at help to support our continuous improvement efforts.”
And — I dunno — I cracked. I didn’t get to have my car serviced, so the email was operating from a fundamentally flawed view of reality; I never heard from an “Advisor,” a term that was never defined; and now they’re asking me to do work to tell you what’s wrong? This email should be in the Tone Deaf Olympics. But you asked for feedback, Ford, and here it is.
And hey, I know it was an automated email, and that no human was behind it, but maybe — just maybe — that’s indicative of the Ford Motor Company’s broader problem.