Have you ever experienced misery? No, I’m not talking about Kathy Bates in the Steven King movie type of misery. Or the I’m miserable so let me make everyone else around me miserable kind of misery. Im talking about going through a Las Vegas summer with no air conditioning kind of misery. Hell, basically.
One day last summer I went to work with a cool breeze blowing through my hair. When I drove home from work hours later, I was in hell. HOT AIR was blowing out the vents. I briefly thought, no biggie – the car still runs. I can go without AC. Less than a week later I admitted to myself – I couldn’t. Every time I drove my car I was nauseous, couldn’t think straight, and was generally pissed off. It’s miserable to drive around in Las Vegas with no AC.
I broke down and took my car to Pep Boys. I reasoned – It’s a well-known chain. I probably just need freon. I should be in and out in a jiffy. $120 max. My car was taken in quickly and within a half hour the mechanic summoned me to the desk.
I start, “It needs Freon, right? About 120 bucks?”
“Ooo no,” he laughs. “Your compressor is shot. You need a whole new AC system. $1500.”
While he’s delivering this news, there’s a Black mechanic peeping out from behind him with a look on his face that read, “Is she gon’ fall for this?”
I tell them to pull my car around front and thank them for their advice. I drive off a little discouraged at my dilemma. But then about a mile down the road glistening like the North Star was a bright yellow building with a sign that said “We Do AC.” This seemed like the perfect place to get a second opinion. I took my car in, and it was deja vu.
Jose runs a diagnostic on my car and comes out with the same news: “Compressor’s busted. Everything needs to be replaced. $1500.”
Now I’m thinking – could two mechanics who know nothing of each other pull the same diagnosis and price out of a hat?? Maybe this is an accurate rate after all. I thank him for his time and let him know I’m not ready to fork over that much right now. He stops me with the magic phrase, “we have financing! 90 days same as cash. If you pay it off in 3 months – no interest.” He invites me over to his computer to fill out the application.
Intuition. Gut instinct. Red warning flags. All of it starts flashing like a neon light. It’s probably not wise to fill out anything on his computer. But then I reasoned with myself – Nadia, we invite people to fill out applications on our computers at work all day long. No one’s stealing their identity. This is common practice. I filled out the application.
When it was time for me to submit, the mechanic looked over my shoulder and said, “Whoa! I’ve never seen anyone approved for that much! Would you like some tires also?”
“Not right now. I’m just trying to get the AC fixed.”
He tells me it will take a couple days to get the parts and he can do the job the following week. If I don’t want the work done, give him a call and let him know.
Sounds fair. I went home and told Facebook about my day. A friend texted me and said, “That sounds awful high. Reach out to my mechanic and see what he can do.”
Eh, a third opinion can’t hurt. I called up the shop and they gave me a quote over the phone. “Ooh an AC Kit is very expensive. That’s going to run about $7-800.”
My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Nearly HALF the price!! Despite my glee I threw some disappointment in my voice, “Oooh yea that’s very expensive. When can you fix it?” He says he can fit me in following week. I booked the appointment and quickly hung up so I could call Jose back.
“Hi Jose! This is Nadia. I decided not to have the work done after all.”
To my surprise, Jose turned angry and started screaming, “What! I already ordered the parts!”
“Well call an un-order the parts.”
“You walked out of here without paying the $50 diagnostic fee! I’ve already charged you for that. And they are going to charge you a restocking fee!”
“How can they charge me a restocking fee for parts they haven’t even shipped yet? And how can you charge me anything when you don’t have my signature authorizing a charge?” He said again I’ve already been charged so I hung up the phone and called the finance company.
I gave them my info and asked if there was a $50 charge on my account. They tell me no – there is actually a charge for $1500 for work that the mechanic did. Since the work was already completed the payment was being released to the mechanic. I told the representative that the work had not been done and asked how they can authorize a payment without anything signed by me. She stated that a receipt was sent in by the company and they need to call the company for them to authorize the reversal. “Well what if they don’t?” I ask. “Let’s just try to get in touch with them first and get their version of events.” She put me on hold while she tried to reach someone on the other line.
They got in touch with someone at the company who stated Jose was gone and a manager would be in at 9am the next day. The finance company rep returned and advised that I go first thing in the morning to straighten this out.
The next morning I woke up bright and early and headed to the shop. I parked down the street and dialed the finance company. I wanted to put a representative on the line before I go in the building. I got a new rep but they read the extensive notes of the incident and we were ready for the showdown.
I walked in and saw a mechanic named Martin. He claimed he didn’t speak English but managed to muster out, “Jose no here, bad heart.” Here we go, I think to myself. The finance company heard this and decided to call the numbers they had on file. They got in touch with a woman named Jackie who refused to give them a good number for Jose. Another shutdown. I take a seat and continue chatting with the finance company representative. Once Martin realized I’m not leaving, he called someone and then relayed to me that a manager would be in at 9:30. All of a sudden his English started to perk up.
It was obvious that I was getting the run around so the rep stated that she would expedite my claim to another office for investigation. I hung up with her but decided to hang around just to see if a manager actually showed up. Well he did. And he looked just like that big Russian guy that tried to beat up Rocky back in the day. I was a little intimidated – but I’m right in this situation and refused to walk out until this situation got resolved. I steeled my nerves and approached him.
He was upset that he got called in on his day off. Turns out this caused quite the commotion at the home office and they called him in from another location. I told him what happened and he asked clarifying questions.
“Did he give you an application?” No.
“Did he give you a copy of the terms?” No.
“Did he give you a printout of the diagnostic?” No.
I point to a note pad by their phone and said he wrote two dollar amounts on that notepad – one if I paid in cash, and another if I used the financing.
The manager started searching around the loose papers and found a diagnostic printout for my car. The problem was ALL the copies were there. He pulled out the forms and asked, “Have you ever seen this?”
“No,” I say.
“You were supposed to get the white copy and we keep the yellow.”
“Well he must have filled that out after I left because I never got anything.”
I started to search my email account on my phone and could not believe my eyes. Sent the previous evening was an email from the finance company … with a receipt attached! After I left the mechanic shop, Jose went back into my account and authorized a receipt using my email address and an electronic signature as if he were me! THAT’S how the finance company was able to release the money. And that is also why I hate electronic signatures. They are easily forged.
The manager got on the phone and called his headquarters. My Spanish isn’t great but I understood “muy mal” which he said several times during the conversation. He broke from Spanish and asked me, “Did he work on the AC at all?” I shook my head no and replied, “He said he wouldn’t have the parts for a couple days.”
“The receipt says he tinted the windows, did he at least do that?” I pointed to my car where my tint is obviously peeling and responded, “Does it look like it?”
The manager put his head in his hand and went back to his Spanish conversation with the home office. More “muy mals” were mentioned. When he hung up he apologized profusely and said Jose would likely be fired. He assured me they would call the finance company and reverse all the charges.
As I got to my car the manager came running out after me with the office phone in his hand. His boss from the home office wanted to personally apologize to me and offered to have me bring my car to another location to have the AC fixed at a discount.
My response in short … Nah.
I ended up taking my car to the shop recommended by my friend and my hair has been blowing in cool breeze ever since.
Moral(s) of the story:
- Always go with your gut instinct. You have instinct for a reason.
- Avoid doing electronic signatures if you can. In this digital age that can be tough, but pen to paper (or at least stylus to keypad) is safer.
- Women should always be cautious when going to a mechanic alone.