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NEWS: November 15, 2010 - My car has finally been returned to me - but I do not have satisfaction.

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"The BMW Saga"



On May 31, Memorial Day weekend of 2010, my 2009 BMW Z4 was hit and run parked on a street in North Hollywood.  I was camping at the time, and returned on Monday afternoon to find my car smashed on the rear driver's-side corner by a speeding drunken idiot at 3am who didn't even slow down.  I'd had the car for seven months.

The car was hit at an angle as the drunk drifted out of his lane...
It pushed the front of my car into a station wagon parked front of it hard
enough to crumple the steel of this mighty 70's Chevy...

...and also pushing the passenger side wheel against the immovable curb,
folding the entire wheel assembly underneath the car.
I called BMW immediately.  This was my second BMW, and I had always received terrific customer service from them in all regards.  True to the form that I expected they had a tow truck there in twenty minutes on a holiday, and they towed my perversely damaged car to a BMW approved mechanic.

It was so badly hit that it took them the better part of half
an hour to just get the car on to the flat bed truck.
The offender was driving a silver Saturn.  I cleverly surmised this from the vague evidence that the impact left scattered on the ground...

... as well as the note that was left on my car window from two different witnesses.  Apparently the moron had smashed his car so badly that it was not driveable, so he limped it to a nearby side street and ran away.  The witnesses called the police, filed a report, got the VIN and plate number of the car, and by the time I found it, my head swimming with disbelief, the Saturn had already been towed by the cops and I had five very kind people that offered their names and phone numbers for whenever legal action was taken.

Under the circumstances it couldn't have been better.  My insurance covered me for 30 days of car rental, and the car was being serviced by a reputable BMW mechanic.  There was a little delay in getting everything sorted with the insurance, and to compensate State Farm extended my car rental by five days.  This did not happen without a bit of a fight, but my fight with State Farm is outside the scope of this article, perhaps I'll review my dealings with them at another time.

It took about three weeks for repairs to really get rolling due to some insurance/mechanic hubbub, but once we got on track I heard for the first time the phrase that would eat away at my soul for the rest of this saga: "the parts will take about eight-to-ten business days to arrive from Germany".

I'm a fairly mechanically oriented guy, and I can completely understand that in a vehicle with thousands of working parts that no one would be able to make a perfect list of parts upon initial examination, and once you start digging in to it you are bound to find new problems deeper inside - but each cycle of this ended up with "eight-to-ten business days from Germany".  This was both cosmetic and mechanical damage, and every week through every stage of the repair process they found something new that needed to be replaced.  Week after week...

"Eight-to-ten business days from Germany".

This went on for three months.

Three.  Months.

My rental went from a Chrysler 300 with Satellite Radio to a Chevy Cobalt that I have to unlock with a key in the driver's door (no keyholes anywhere else).  Of course my rental insurance ran out long ago, so I've been paying for this rental car as well as my BMW lease for three months, and the Cobalt is more expensive than the Z4.  Every week it was supposed to be done "next week", which disallowed me from finding a better deal for long term car rental, and every week getting my hopes up that I could get back into my car.

The mechanic's hands were completely tied 80% of this delay because they were waiting for parts from the manufacturer.

"Eight-to-ten business days from Germany".

Finally, when the car was completed, the next step in the process was to send the car to a BMW dealership for them to certify the car and I was told it would be there for a week at the longest.  It ended up being at Center BMW in Van Nuys for a week before anyone even looked at it, and when they finally did, they found a part that needed to be replaced.

"Eight-to-ten business days from Germany".

Another two weeks pass, they receive the part and are just about to release it when...  they find another part, an obscure brake sensor, that is failing.  It turns out that my car is the first car in the world to have this part need to be replaced, and even BMW had to go to their third party manufacturer to have them make and send another one.  This would take a week to get fabricated and send to BMW in Germany, and then...  yes... you guessed it...

"Eight-to-ten business days from Germany".  No way to expidite shipping.

This puts the completion mark for a car that went in to the shop on June 1 to be approximately mid-October.  By the time we are done it will have cost me nearly $3000 in lease payments for a car that I can't drive, and $2000 in car rental.  Not to mention the ridiculous hassle and constant phone calls.  It would take less time to buy a house or declare bankruptcy.

By now you are probably wondering what has happened with the actual person the caused this damage - whose fault this ultimately is and whose insurance should be covering my rental and all other expenses resulting from his lack of good judgement.  From his reaction at the scene of the crime, however, I didn't hold out much hope that he was insured.  When I found out from State Farm, who of course was researching this case as it is costing them a lot of money, that the car was registered to a Ms. Sanchez in Indio California (a small desert town on the outskirts of civilization), my hope dwindled further.  I called the lawyer that had been retained by State Farm for a progress report, but Ms. Sanchez claimed that she had sold the car to a man a few months previous and she would request the DMV records to prove this.  Getting these records from the DMV would take at least two months - during which time State Farm cannot pursue any action until they are clear on who actually owns the car.  At this point I am expecting to never hear about that end of things again.

The most frustrating part of this is that there has been no one to complain to, no one I could point a finger at and demand satisfaction.

There was little that I could do to blame the mechanic: if they don't have the parts, they can't fix the car.  I can't blame State Farm for not extending my rental coverage through this whole process; it's not their fault that the repairs took so long.  I was trapped.  All I could do was eat it.

For twice the money I was paying including the lease and rental, I had gone from this:

To this:

And there was nothing I could do about it.

But once it went Center BMW and sat there for five weeks waiting on parts from their own company I was over it.  Something needed to be done.  The mechanic was a third party, and even though they were ordering the parts directly from BMW it seemed like they were doing everything they could.  Once the car landed at BMW proper, however - the delays became absurd.  They could have built me a brand new car in the time it's taken them to get these parts ordered, and the ordering of one part at a time became ridiculous.

Moreover, no one seemed to care or acknowledge this, or the money that each delay costs me.  This was BMW, a car company that has always leaned on the idea that buying a BMW meant that you were joining a family, one that would take care of you and all your driving needs.  They sell themselves as a company that sets themselves apart from other auto manufacturers - they sell you a lifestyle.  It was time to do something and take this up the ladder to see if they would actually stand by the impression that declare so emphatically when you are there to buy a car.

I searched as hard as I could to find the email addresses or phone numbers for anyone in the executive branch of BMW USA, hoping I could find someone with some kind of power that might be able to listen to my case.  My directive at this point was very simple: I wanted BMW to let me out of my lease agreement for this Z4 and get me into a new car in exchange for the money I spent due to their fumble.  I had no desire to leave the BMW family, I like their cars, but the reality is that I got a high-performance sports car and was willing to pay a premium for that luxury - and now this car has been in a major collision and it simply will never drive the same way again.  I know that I signed an agreement to have this car for 30 months, but it's no longer the same car, and just because BMW runs some certification tests doesn't mean that it's going to be good as new.

The reason that that this process has taken such an unacceptably long time is something I place firmly in the breakdown of BMW's ability to get parts timely to their own people.  I could swallow two months, even three at the absolute outside - but this situation has now evolved into the absurd, and BMW is responsible for 100% of the delay over the last six weeks.

I failed to find any contact information for anyone with any real power, like many corporations these days it has been intentionally hidden from their customers, so I found the "Priority Email" link to the BMW USA Customer Care, and sent in the following email:

Subject: Other

ModelYear: 2009
MfgNme: BMW
ModelNme: Z4 sDrive30i

ContactBy: email 
Comments: Hi, i have been a BMW owner for quite a while, and I am currently on my second car with you.  On memorial day of last year my car was hit and run on the street in North Hollywood - doing $20,000 in damage.  I called the BMW SOS button, you guys sent a tow truck, and took it to their shop where the extensive work could be done to fix the car back to BMW standards.

Through no fault of the auto shop, it has been nearly FOUR MONTHS, and my car is not done, yet.  The actual work was done nearly a month ago, and since then it has been at the BMW dealer in Van Nuys waiting for parts to complete the inspection for nearly 4 weeks. 

The time at the repair shop, as well as the time it has sat at the dealer, has been almost ENTIRELY due to BMW not being able to get parts for this car in any other form than "5-9 Business Days", which has been the refrain of this catastrophe.

Four months of lease payments, four months of car rental, and considerable time and hassle has started to make me an extremely unhappy customer, and it makes me question whether or not I should continue on the BMW path for any future vehicles.  As of now, I want to get rid of the Z4 as quickly as possible and go to Mercedes or Audi - who hopefully would not take so long to repair a car.

When I got my first BMW I was told that I was joining a family, and for the first several years I was absolutely delighted - until the going got tough.  Since then there has been nothing but walls put up in my way, answers of "no" to my every request to try and rectify this situation, and not a single ounce of flexibility or apparent effort to help my situation.  My car was hit on the street while I wasn't even in town, and by the time this is over I will have spent more than $4000 in personal costs that are not being covered by insurance - and the majority of it due to delays in getting requested parts from BMW.  I've been paying for a BMW, and for the last two months I've been driving a Chevy Cobalt that is costing me more than the Z4.

I work in feature film post production, and through this process all of my colleagues in three major studios have been hearing this situation escalate from frustrating, to irritating, and now to downright incompetence.  I'm sure you can agree that my colleagues in the film industry are potential BMW customers, and it would give me great pleasure to be able to tell them that it got a little hairy but ultimately BMW made this right.

I would like to request the direct email addresses of your customer service managers at BMW USA, as well as the president and vice presidents of your corporation so that I can lodge a formal written complaint.

I also kindly request that you do not simply forward the text of this email to your manager, but that you ask them to contact me directly so that I might send a properly formatted letter stating my situation in hopes that someone in Corporate might deem me important enough to help me make this situation right, as I have gotten less than no help from the dealers.

I have loved my BMW experience up until this point, and I very much hope to say in the near future that I was as well taken care of in a pinch as I was promised when I signed my lease.  I am looking forward to explaining to everyone that BMW stands by their customers.

Thank you for your attention,
Joshua Logan

I felt that this was an accurate description of my problem, and all I wanted was for someone to tell me who to talk with so that I could plea my case and see if BMW was willing to help balance this situation.

Shortly thereafter I received a call from Stefan Spenthoff, who I learned later was not just a Customer Care drone but an actual Customer Care Senior manager.  I was pleased by this response, and even though I had not gotten out of the Customer Care branch as I had asked, or been given any contact information for anyone up the ladder, the response time and urgency was appropriate to the tone of my letter.

Stefan was very friendly and professional, but once I had stated my case he basically told me that the only time the manufacturer would be able to do anything was if there was a mechanical defect with the car.  Obviously there was no defect, and because of this he stated that there was really nothing he could do to help me.  All matters about the lease would have to go through BMW Financial Services.  I again tried to get him to sympathize with me, even laying down a light threat that it is the manufacturer who has caused all the delays, and if the manufacturer was not willing to work with me I would never give BMW  my business again, or recommend to anyone to do the same.  He didn't seem to care much about this, and just said, "so what you are saying is that you want to get out of your lease?".  He completely missed the point.  He said the best that he could do was to put in a request that the part be expedited - which I had already been told had been requested and denied by Center BMW.

I knew it was futile, but I made the requisite call to BMW Financial Services to at least see what their options were.  The woman that I spoke with was polite and professional, but told me that the only way out of the contract was to pay off the remaining lease payments ($11,000+), or to go to a service that allowed people to trade leases.  Upon asking who I could talk with about an extenuating circumstance that might make them consider being a little more flexible (after all I wanted to continue my business with BMW for now and in the future - I just didn't want that car any more) and denying me a reasonable request to at least speak to someone that could help me would cost them a lifetime of business from me, she replied that I should speak with Customer Care.  Who I had just spoken with.  I asked her to connect me to the highest manager in the Customer Care department, and that turned out to be Stefan.

I was trapped in a loop that I could not get out of.  Customer Care wants me to talk with Financial Services, and Financial Services wants me to talk with Customer Care.  I was being denied the one thing that I had directly asked for, which was to just speak with someone who can bridge this gap, let me know that I am valued customer and that my case and business was important enough for them to at least hear my story.

Additionally, after I had spoken with Stefan the first time, I received an email asking me to take a confidential survey about my experience with their customer service department, which I dutifully and fairly filled out.  I did not slam Stefan, he was doing his job to the best of his ability, but I found the experience on the whole to be completely unsatisfactory.  At the end of the survey it asked whether I would like to be contacted by BMW to discuss my problem.  I answered "Yes", to this question, but stipulated that I would only like to speak with a representative that could actually help me with my problem.  I have not heard from them.

I sent another email to Stefan asking to speak with his supervisor directly as I wanted to amplify my complaint and move this situation up the ladder.

He called me back the next day and left me a message saying that if I was wanting to remove myself from the vehicle that the Manufacturer would not be able to help me with that, but that if I wanted to discuss the matter further with him or if I wanted him to check into the status of the missing part, to please give him a call back.  Again, this was not what I had asked for.

I don't think that it is unreasonable to ask to speak to someone that can actually help me, but I've now hit dead ends on both cases, and I have nowhere to go once again.  BMW has structured their company in such a way that the people that can make a difference are not in touch with the customers, and to this date I haven't received so much as a single apology from Center BMW or from BMW USA that this has cost me so much time and money.  I've not gotten a single shred of concern for my business, that either I or at the very least my money is important to them, or an inch of flexibility outside their corporate standards and practices.  Once again I'm being treated like a squeaky number that this multinational corporation could care less about.  Their auto support methods are calculated to put on the impression that they care about you, but really it's just a sales tactic until they get you signed.

Once I veered from the confines of the black and white contract I was hung up to dry.  Personally, I don't want to do business with a company that doesn't care whether or not they have your business once you are locked into a contract with them.  Set them up, knock them down, and those at the top who never have to deal with their actual customers can rake in the cash.

BMW - Cold As Ice
I am looking forward to putting my car up on Lease Traders and getting rid of both it and my relationship with the BMW Corporation.  This move has cost them many tens-of-thousands of dollars over the course of my future driving career.  If I had felt even for a moment that BMW cared and might be willing to help me in my individual situation and not just perform to the letter of the contract they would win me as a lifetime customer.  Instead they have chosen a path that will cost them money and reputation at least amongst those that I tell the story to - and I work in feature film post production.  That's a lot of potential BMW's.

My disappointment is palpable.

As of this writing I still hold out hope that BMW will come through for me, and I look forward to telling everyone that they did - if they do.  For now, I am not holding out much hope.

Help me, BMW - that is all that I ask.

Updates to this story will be in the main Blog.  Thanks for reading.

J Logan, Customer Service Avenger