Subtitle: Shaking the Tree Until Something Falls Out
It should have been the simplest of transactions, about as ordinary as sending in your box tops for the old secret decoder ring when you were a kid. Not. I had my last oil change certificate in hand from my car service contract, but the dealership did not honor any service certificates anymore. The clerk told me that they had been stuck with a $1000 bill and a company that did not pay them, so their policy ever since was to take customer payment only, leaving it up to the customer to mail in their receipt with certificate to get their reimbursement.
OK, I could understand their feeling about being stuck with unpaid bills. So we made set up a date for the oil change for my VW. My appointment was for April 21. I brought the car in, they changed my oil, I paid, I got my receipt. The visit went pretty smoothly except that I spilled coffee on myself while in their waiting room. Perhaps it was an omen, perhaps not.
I mailed the receipt and certificate promptly to the company address in Florida. This was after checking the address on the website (jmagroup.com) first, in case it had changed since my last dealing with them. Yep, the PO Box was the same, and they kindly included a physical address on the website, too.
So I wait about two or three weeks with nothing in the mail to me and began to get a bit antsy. I called the company. What was the status of my claim? I was told that they would probably put the checks in the mail at the end of the month. That would be the end of May. Sigh. Well, OK. They must run the bookkeeping department like some insurance companies, holding checks till the end of the month to get the max value from interest on their bank accounts.
So I wait a few more weeks and still nothing comes in the mail for me. I really, really need this check. I send an email inquiring about the status of my claim, giving my account number and the back half of my VIN number, both of which they kindly printed inside the coupon book. No reply.
By now I am getting kinda aggravated. You do not want to aggravate me. Trust me on that.
I ask an advocate I know if she would call these guys for me and ask what was going on. She says sure, so I come in the next day and I pull out the coupon book with the phone number printed out. I actually have three phone numbers, so I highlight the claims number for her to dial.
We get a clerk on the phone who is having trouble finding my contract number. The clerk tells my advocate that she cannot locate a service contract number for the number we keep repeating to her.
The clerk lets my advocate talk to a higher-up. We repeat the service contract number a couple more times for him. He tells the advocate that the account expired in February.
He asks to talk to me, so the advocate hands the phone to me. He tells me that there are two different kinds of contracts; one service contract expired in February, and that they cannot find a coupon book number under my name. He finally says he sees a note that the coupon book expired five years ago.
Five years ago? I tell him that cannot be true because I have been using the coupons on a regular basis and none of the dealerships ever told me that the coupons were expired. (There is no expiration date printed on the coupons.)
We go back and forth about this with him telling me that the coupon book is expired, and me telling him that that is ridiculous. I told him I had called a couple times asking about the status of my claim, and he seemed to not know that. I said that I would probably have to make a complaint to Better Business Bureau because I did not know what else I had to do to get reimbursement.
He huffed that the coupon book was expired and that he was not giving me the runaround, but he was trying to do what he could as a good-faith effort.
Eventually he looks up something on another file and says, we sent out a check on May 6. I said I never received any check and that was why I called a couple times now. He asked again if I ever got it, and I said no sir. The upshot was that he took my phone number and said he would call back in about a half hour after calling someone at the dealership where I had the oil change performed.
So I kill some time while waiting, picking up a free state highway map and some other items offered by the office.
He calls back and I learn that the check had gone to the dealership. He had instructed the dealership to cut me a check for the cost of the oil change. I was to go the front office and ask for Sarah, who would process the check for me.
After hanging up, I look at the advocate, and blurt out, “Shake a tree until something falls out!” Yeah, she says, sometimes you have to be persistent as heck.
I call the number for Sarah, and get the front desk. Sarah has gone to lunch and will be back in about one hour. I kill some time and then mosey over to the dealership and ask for Sarah. She is still at lunch, so I nonchalantly tell the receptionist that I will just wait for her. I pick out a magazine and settle down in a chair, determined to wait this out. I waited nearly two months for this check, and a few minutes will not kill me.
A few minutes later the receptionist appears to say that Sarah can print the check but that the person who needs to sign the check will not be there until later in the afternoon. I ask how late they are open (6 pm) and when she thinks that the check will be ready. I give her my name and phone number. At this point I am thinking that they might say anything to get me to leave and I will never hear from them again.
I go the library for awhile. About 2:30 or so my cellphone rings. The check is ready for you to pick up, just come by the receptionist's desk and she will have it there. Oh, OK, I say, trying to sound nonchalant, I can be there about 3:30 or so, thank you very much.
Well at last I got my check and deposited it immediately in my account.
In other news I also learned from one of the clerks at the JMA Group that Pep Boys has a national account and has to accept the service coupons. Some cities also have some other local provider of car service, so you might have to call the company to check that out.
I am probably not going to ever be in market for a new car again, so this may be a moot issue. But I would have think twice or three times whether I would ever buy a coupon service contract again. The main reason I did so at the time I bought the car was to insure against price increases. But most dealers charged me the difference between what the coupon covered ($55 for an oil change, a mere $80 for the 40,000 mile checkup) and what the current price scale was for the service. If I had known that I could take the car to Pep Boys, I would have done so. There is no Pep Boys in the small town I am in now, so that is not an option.
I know that most advisors tell you not to spend money on a service contract. But they never explain why they think it is a bad deal. Well, now you know that there are definite pitfalls to watch for if you do buy one. I can only hope that this article will help a few people out there get their money's worth if they already have one.
[ I won this small battle, but I still have a couple bigger battles in the works. Wish me luck! ]