The BMW bandits

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Peter Wicks has a thing for small cars, but he says choosing a BMW has become an expensive nightmare, characterised by appallingly bad customer service.

I HAVE a thing for cars. Maybe it's a midlife crisis thing, I dunno, but I particularly like small convertibles. If that makes me a wanker, well... I can live with that.

However, this blog is not about that. What it is about is the level of service one would expect when handing over large numbers of hard earned dollars.

My ride at the moment is the current BMW Z4 ― a great looking little car that goes like the clappers, and hangs onto the road like its tyres are coated with Supa Glue. However, it $130,000 isn't exactly cheap.

Still, after spending $130,000 you would be safe in the knowledge that they will look after you, and show you a level of service that you just don’t receive from the average Daewoo dealer, right? Well, you would be wrong, majorly wrong...

Within a month of picking my car up, it went back to the dealer twice as it was stalling for no reason; during this time I was without my new car for three days and given a Mini to drive around in.

This stalling issue turned out to be due to a magnet facing the wrong direction and I was pleased to have the car back once the magnet had been pointed in the right direction. This, however, was just the beginning of my dramas.

A couple of months later, a moment of madness overcame me and I decided I wanted to hear what drivel was being promoted as fact on 2GB. Going through the entertainment system, I wound up absolutely nowhere; I tried the AM band and there were no stations at all to be picked up. I tried FM, figuring I must have done something wrong― and was greeted by the familiar FM sounds of McDonalds commercials, the lame jokes of whacky morning DJ’s and ringtones promoted as songs. So once again, I tried the AM band ― and was again was greeted by the deafening sound of silence.

I gave BMW a call and was told to bring the car into a service centre yet again. I stood waiting for about an hour while five service guys pulled things apart and put them back together again and stood around scratching their chins with puzzled, vacant, looks on their faces. In the end, I was given a Mini again and sent on my way.

Three working days and one weekend later, I was told it it was all fixed and to come and pick my car up. So I hastily went back down to the dealer again.

I climbed in and tried the AM radio and, great, it worked ― a bit crackly in the underground car park, but working. I thanked them and drove up the ramp to leave. Hmmm, I thought, the crackly sound was still there, so I drove around the block, listening to the soothing sound of static the whole way. I changed the station, thinking that may be the issue and, well, at least the static disappeared ― unfortunately, though, so did all other reception and I sat in my car, once again, in deafening silence.

After waiting five days, my car was back in the dealer with the same problem within five minutes of picking it up. So I was given that lovely Mini again and sent on my way, feeling frustrated and more than a little pissed off.

This time, it was not until over a month later − after numerous phone calls, a couple of meetings, and a lot of grief − that I finally received my car back. In that time, the dealer had been forced to wait for approval for the new entertainment system to be installed under warranty by Germany and then to be shipped from Germany; as it was a new car, apparently there were no spares here. Germany would not allow for one to be taken from another car that was in stock, I was not an important enough customer, apparently, much better for me to wait for months.

Now, at last, my radio works fine and the stereo is actually a lot louder than it was originally. This is because it turns out the amplifier hadn’t been working before; now it does. Both the service department and I were oblivious to the fact I had been driving around with an amplifier that wasn't working.

Alas, though, the Bluetooth phone system that had worked well before was now totally unusable. I have had this looked at several times since by the service department, but to no avail. However, rather than go through the whole sorry saga of my car in service for weeks on end, I resigned myself to the fact that Daewoo can manage a Bluetooth kit that works, but BMW can't. With that in mind, I purchased myself a bluetooth headphone set for $79; it works well, unlike the one in the $130,000 car.

Wixxy's car, in its glory days.

The service manager at BMW Parramatta told me I was due compensation for my troubles and assured me he would let me know what they would do for me within a week. Well, I chased him for approximately a month, and never heard a peep back. I just gave up in the end.

I have to say, eventually though, after I named him in a previous post on my blog, Wixxyleaks, he did come back to me and I eventually received a free service. Alas, this did not fix my bluetooth or repair my impression about the quality of BMW's customer service.

Approximately a year ago, I needed to change my tyres ― something I thought would be reasonably routine, even for my car. Alas, with BMW, there is no such thing as routine ― unless routine disappointment counts.

The tyres themselves were quite pricey, as they are low profile run flats ― $650 a tyre. These tyres also only last around 30,000kms and cannot be rotated to extend life, but that is not my issue ― I expected the tyres to be expensive.

Upon removing the tyres, it turned out my rear rims had about 4 cracks in each wheel and would definitely need repairing. Seems the rims don't really like Australian road conditions, as our roads are not quite as smooth as the autobahn's of Germany.

Anyway, the tyre place sent my rims away to be welded at a cost of $500. In the meantime, my tyres were picked up and disposed of at the tip along with the store's other old tyres.

The rim repairer called the tyre store the next day and said that this cracking is a common problem with BMW rims and should be claimed on BMW's warranty. So, I once again contacted BMW with a broken car that was undrivable to seek some customer care.

I was told by BMW that I would need to take the car to them, exactly as it had been when the damage occurred. Unfortunately, this would mean getting the tyres back from the tip somehow, putting them back on car, then having the car towed to the dealer, so that they could hold onto the car for a few days to run tests. After these tests, they would make up their mind regarding the warranty claim, and I could have the car towed back to the tyre shop to have the new tyres put on.

This, of course, was so far beyond ridiculous, I decided to pay the $500 and cop it on the chin.

However, it is worth remembering that the reason BMW needed to check my rims before approving a warranty claim, they told me, was to check that I had not driven on the tyres whilst they were flat. Also, they needed to see for themselves that the rims were cracked.

But in order to do this, all they really need is the rims and my car key. The rims, to see the cracks, obviously; and my key, as it stores information from the computer ― there is a chip inside the key, apparently, that stores the previous few days data. Given that the Z4 computer warns you if the air is low in your tyres, there would have been a record on my key of any warning about a flat tyre. If there was no warning showing on there, then that would have meant that I did not drive on flat tyres. Alternatively, if I did indeed unwittingly drive on flat tyres, then surely the computer warning system is faulty for not alerting me. Either way, it is a warranty issue and having my car towed back and forth is unnecessary, as the physical presence of the car would be required to check on any of this.

Trivett Classic BMW (BMW Parramatta) was awarded BMW Dealer of the Year in 2010. Perhaps standards have slipped.

BMW would not send someone out to look at the wheels, as they do not put reps on the road, apparently. The 15 kilometres someone from the dealership would need to travel to see them for themselves was also too far, it seems.

That left me stuck between the familiar rock and a place that is not so soft.

To cut a long dramatic story short, I got my wheels back welded, had the new tyres put on and chalked it up as (yet another) bad experience.

Two weeks later, my back wheels cracked even worse ― unfortunately while I was a six hour drive away from home. Luckily, a rural BMW dealer took pity on me and gave me 2 wheels that had the same rolling diameter so I could continue to drive, as my original ones were now totally useless.

I am still driving on these spare wheels from another model of car.

Since then, I learnt that in order to have less stress in my life, I needed to find an independent mechanic that had the sheer bravery to try and service a BMW. Fortunately I found such a dealer, and have enjoyed stress free motoring since.

Until now.

You see, a couple of weeks ago I had to have the tyres on the old spare wheels changed. Unfortunately the tyre dealer had a lot of trouble removing one of the wheels, and totally sheared the metal on the lock-nut key flat. This meant that the lock-nut key was useless and the wheel was stuck on.

4 hours later the job was finished; they had welded another bolt to the lock-nut to remove it.

The week before last, my car was due for another service and I had it booked in with my local mechanic. However, this time my front brake pads needed changing also ― meaning the front wheels would have to be removed. Of course, these have the same lock-nuts for which I now have a useless key.

Thinking ahead, I asked the mechanic to check out the sourcing of a lock-nut key. This, however, proved futile for the mechanic. Being the glutton for punishment that I obviously am, I thought I'd have a shot myself and dialled BMW’s head office.

I was transferred through to the spare parts department at Artarmon, who assured me they could help, they had every lock-nut key in stock. Around $6 in road tolls and a half hour drive later, I pulled up in the driveway at Artarmon to purchase my key.

Showing the manager my car, I was dismayed to hear him say:
"Oh, you have the new lock-nuts, we can’t get those".

What a surprise...

Apparently, BMW stock all the old ones, but none for the current models; how clever and convenient.

The only solution, apparently, was to order in a new set of four lock-nuts with a key to suit. However, I pointed out to them, that would not help me to remove my front wheels. To do this, I was told, I would need to book in with a dealer and pay for them to undo the two bolts.

Instead of this, I thought I'd ring head office again, as I needed something done within two days as my car was booked in.

I was told that Justin, at the Artarmon service centre, would remove the bolts for me the next day.

How to remove a BMW lock-nut.

The next day, I headed over to Artarmon again and, handing my keys, to Justin was pleased to hear it would only take a few minutes.

An hour later, Justin returned looking far from pleased. I was told that he couldn't remove their own lock-nuts, and they would need to weld a bolt to them to remove them, he told me this was likely to damage my wheels, leaving me with two more wheels to replace.

Dismayed, I left, returning soon after to return Justin's phone which he had left in my car.

Once again, I contacted BMW head office; I was told somebody would return my call within half an hour.

About three hours later, I was called by possibly the rudest and most arrogant person I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with. I cannot remember his name, nor can I find the bit of paper I scribbled his name onto, or else I would happily name and shame him. Let's just call him Mr Arrogant.

Mr Arrogant was ringing to tell me that if I went back to Artarmon, for what would now be the fourth time in two days, Justin would remove the offending bolts. I explained that Justin had told me that he would likely damage my wheels but was told by Mr Arrogant that he had contacted Justin himself and was assured this was not the case as Justin had a “special tool”.

When I asked why Justin didn't use that “special tool” of his when I was there earlier, I was left with a puzzled silence. Needless to say, Mr Arrogant’s call was ten wasted minutes of my life that I will never get back.

I have only dealt with two people from BMW’s customer relations department. Both have been painful experiences, I am sure that BMW send their staff to the Brandis & Abetz school of personality development. Frankly, I would have a better chance negotiating a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, drunk and in drag, than I would of negotiating a reasonable response out of BMW’s customer relations department.

In the end, my mechanic took the wheels off himself, with the help of two other bolts, a welder, and a fair whack of elbow grease.

So, my car is back on the road, with no thanks to BMW. It still has two mismatched wheels on the back and, although BMW have offered to replace one wheel, I will still have to purchase another wheel as well as purchase another two tyres. The last time I spent $1,300 on tyres, my wheels lasted only a couple of weeks.

The moral of this story is, if you, or anyone you know, is thinking of buying a car ― do not consider BMW in any way, shape or form; you will get better service and reliability from a push bike dealer.

And don’t go thinking I copped a dodgy dealer; the dealer I was going to, and purchased my car from is Trivett Classic BMW in Parramatta. They were the proud winners of BMW’s 2010 Dealership Of The Year award. So if this type of treatment is the best BMW have to offer, then I hate to think of the service levels at its other dealers.

My advice, if you want a German car, is to purchase from a manufacturer that looks after its customers ― Audi, Volkswagon, Porsche, or Mercedes. Any car from any country, and at any price, will give you better service standards than BMW.

I am now taking this up with the Department Of Fair Trading. I hope BMW are forced to address the issues they should have fixed long ago. I believe they have a duty to honour their warranty, even if they don't.

If, by some fluke of nature, BMW have a change of heart and help me out, I will let you know, but I'm ain't gonna be holding my breath.

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