I had a screamer on the phone, a line four deep at the service desk, and Lothar was nowhere to be found. As far as I’m concerned, the German reputation for discipline is as overblown as their pricey beer. They’ve been coasting for years. Hell, most of the cars on the lot were cranked out south of the border in Puebla. It being Friday, I figured our Teutonic technician was at his girlfriend’s place in Port Chester, sleeping off a night of salsa dancing.
When the phone rang again, I handed it to Larry Junior, the dealer’s son, who had just strolled in with his cruller and coffee. LJ, as he prefers to be called, is the nominal head of Sales and Service, though he has no knack for either. His only talent, if you want to call it that, is an ability to find nonexistent problems. He’ll pace around the service bays, sniffing out a faulty transmission on a car in for an oil change or a worn-out universal joint on a job that should call for no more than a new fanbelt. A real trouble-shooter, if you know what I mean. Of course, these issues just happen to be on vehicles still under warranty. After all, the customer is less apt to complain about a whopping service ticket when the manufacturer is paying.
When I got a heated call from a guy who bought a New Beetle for his teenage daughter, I made inquiries. Was it really possible that a piston rod, the gas line and the catalytic converter could crap out on a car with less than 10k on the odometer?
LJ looked up from the game of Omaha high-low poker on his computer. “Don’t make ‘em like they used to,” he said.
“Come on, LJ. I’m not some putz out tire-kickin’.”
“The customer is always right,” he said, “but sometimes he needs to be told what right is.”
I didn’t say anything right then.
Didn’t need to.
I imagine he got the message 20 minutes later, when Lothar informed him that the new kid, Rodrigo, had seen me driving off the lot in the ‘85 Westfalia that served as the courtesy van...