Tale of two automotive service departments

We own two cars: A Honda Odyssey and a BMW 325i. Kim hauls the kids around in the Honda and I pamper the crap out of the BMW during my 1 mile drive to the park and ride each day of the week. Then, on the weekends, I drive it like a bat out of hell.

I’ve had both cars long enough to experience the service departments at each local dealer. And they couldn’t be more different from each other.

I noticed a light out on the instrument panel of the Honda the same day the new transmission was installed. So I took it back to Hinshaw’s Honda to see if they could fix it (the light worked before I took it in for repairs). I waited over 30 minutes in the service area and finally went up to the desk to see if I should come back later. The guy said, “Oh I forgot about you…what did you need again?”

Eventually a service technician escorted me to my car where I showed him the light that was out and this conversation took place:

Honda tech: “Yep, a bulb is out. We’ll have to pull the dash to get to it”

Me: “Wow, pull the entire dash?”

Honda tech: “That’s the only way to get to it. Maybe next time you come in for an oil change. It will take a few hours”

Me: “So I can’t just pull the instrument panel off to reach the bulbs like I did with my BMW? I can feel four screws that should remove the panel”

Honda tech: “Well….it takes special tool to remove those”

Me: “Like a Torx screwdriver?”

Honda tech: (visibly annoyed) “Those will release the whole dash. Most people wouldn’t attempt that”

Me: “I’ll search for instructions on the Honda forums. Thanks for your help”

I got in my van and drove home in a very grumpy mood having wasted an hour of my Saturday morning dealing with people who assume I know nothing about my car.

And that is the biggest difference I’ve noticed between Honda and BMW service departments. BMW assumes I’m a smart owner and doesn’t treat me like an idiot, whereas the Honda dealer believes I’m barely qualified to pump my own gas.

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Honda Odyssey back in business

We bought a Honda Odyssey just over three years ago and have enjoyed it a lot. It holds the four kids, our dog and piles of kid related stuff that I don’t understand. I don’t understand why my three year old daughter needs three pillows, two dolls and a Nintendo DS to make a trip across town. But I’ll leave that blog post to Kim.

But over the past few months our Odyssey would shift abruptly from first into second gear. It become increasing worse until this past week when it would not engage 2nd gear at all from a cold start. I took it to an independent Honda specialist called Auburn City Import, who diagnosed a major problem with the transmission. Bad news. But the service manager informed me that Honda had issued a warranty extension on our transmission and it would be fully covered at the local Honda dealer. He told me to expect to be quizzed and basically hassled. I asked him who he would recommend I talk to at Hinshaw’s Honda and he gave me the name, John Matteson, who is a service advisor.


I called John and told him about the problem and asked when he could take a look at the van. I took it in the next morning and he quickly diagnosed the same problem Auburn City Import did. At this point I assumed that I’d be barraged with questions about how I had the van serviced, my driving habits and the like. But that never happened. John turned the monitor screen to me which displayed the transmission warranty extension sent to all Honda dealers and said, “We’ll take care it for you, no charge”. He ordered the transmission that day and installed it the next. We had some other maintenance performed at that time but the $5000 transmission replacement was done at no cost. I feel very lucky because we have 107,000 miles on our Odyssey and the recall is good up to only 109,000 miles. Had we taken another trip to Utah to see family we would have been outside the warranty extension restrictions.

I am very impressed with the high level of service John provided me and will return to Hinshaw’s the next time I’m in the market for a minivan. We took our van for a drive tonight and it’s much improved. It drives as well as it did nearly three years ago. I had the front brakes replaced too and it sure feels a lot more secure. I hope to get another couple of years out of it.

This specific problem affects the following Honda vehicles with automatic transmissions.

1999-2001 Honda Odyssey

2000-2001 Accord

2000-2001 Prelude

You can find the details of this Service Bulletin 02-061 at this link which opens a PDF.

Audi S5 vs. BMW 335i

I love the exterior design of the Audi, especially from the side. The S5 has a 50 HP advantage over the 335i, but don’t underestimate what those engineers from Munich can do with a lighter weight engine.

In the end, the driver’s reaction coming out of the first curve in the BMW says it all.

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Latest BMW 3 Series vs. Infinity G35/37 Reviews

Car & Driver

1. BMW 328i vs Infinity G35 Sport

Conclusion: “The G35 scores points for comfort, capable moves, and thrust in surplus, but BMW still builds the best tools for driving”

Winner: BMW

2. BMW 328i vs. Infinity G35, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes Benz C300

Winner: BMW

Conclusion: “Once again, a 3 series rises to the top of a comparison test. It is simply the best executed, best conceived, and best sports sedan currently available for the price”

BMW 3 Series named to 2008 10 Best List for a record 16th straight year.


Road and Track

1. BMW 335i vs. Infinity G37

Winner: Tie

Conclusion: “It’s a simple choice, the 335i for the track, or the G37S for the Autobahn”


Automobile Magazine

1. BMW 335i vs. Infinity G37

Winner: BMW

Conclusion: “With its highly entertaining dynamic aptitudes, near-BMW speed, and hot appearance, the Infiniti G37S easily tops the value chart. Anyone seeking a passionate fling will be well served in this seat. Those more interested in a long-term relationship should dig several thousand dollars deeper into their wallets for the 335i”

BMW 3 Series and G35/37 named to 2008 Automobile All-Stars


Motor Trend

BMW 335i vs. Infinity G37

Conclusion: “More muscle and technology deliver BMW brilliance on a budget”

Winner: Infinity



BMW 335i vs. Infinity G35 Video Review

Conclusion: “In the end, the BMW 335i is a better drive….more intimate and more engaging driving experience. The real thing comes out on top”

Winner: BMW

Car & Driver Comparison: RS4 vs. C63 vs. M3

The Audi RS4. The Mercedes Benz C63. The BMW M3. The comparison tests from the German countryside.

Three great cars. But only one winner.

Link to comparison test at Car & Driver“this latest M3 offers the purest, least diluted, most involving, and best-in-class driver-and-machine relationship”

Link to comparison test at Motor Trend -“The BMW propeller points to your heart from the wheel hub. This is appropriate; BMWs are at their best when they play with your emotions, entice your senses”


The Volkswagon Car Tower

I’ve seen these pictures a while back but am still amazed each time I come across them. I initially saw this structure described as a robotic parking lot in Germany. But others have confirmed that’s it’s actually robotic storage facility owned by Volkswagon located in Wolfsburg, Germany. The 20 story car tower is fully robotic and probably half the fun in taking delivery of your new Volkswagon.

I’d like to visit the facility and first ask for a red Jetta…then change my mind to white…and then black…and then…

If you can read German there’s more information at the Autostadt website.



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is the iphone the BMW of phones?

Dave Winer says yes.

Have you ever driven a mid-to-high-end BMW? I have, recently, I test drove a 535i. The car feels as if it has a grip on the road, it’s got a confidence, it’s upright, and fast, and it maneuvers, but most important, it feels good to sit in one, and it feels even better to move one. Feels, feels, feels. We buy these things for the feeling. Same with Apple’s products.

Makes me want to test an iPhone for a while to see how it lives up to the comparison. But it does make sense on several levels. BMW, like Apple, has a small market share. Both make drool-worthy products. Both have obsessive fans to critique every small detail of their products. Both companies are arrogant. And both make products that cost more than many completive products.

If the iPhone is a BMW then my black Motorola Q is VW Jetta.

iphone_home = bmw_335i_tuning
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How’s is my driving?

Back when I used to watch David Letterman in the early 90’s, one of my favorite episodes showed him following a mattress delivery van around Manhattan. On the back of the van was one of those “How’s my Driving?” stickers with a phone number to call. Well, in typical Dave style, he called the number and gave a play by play description of the van’s movements to the operator. I recall him saying, “The van is pulling up to a red light. So far so good. What else do you want to know?”


These days one doesn’t have to look far to find similar “How’s my driving?” stickers or feedback cards. Many restaurants now include a feedback card with the check. Last time I bought a car I received a “How did the dealer treat you” postcard I was supposed to fill out. I never filled it out so they called me to ask how I was treated. I recently purchased a furnace and a few days later I received a survey in the mail asking how pleased I was with the installer. At the last company I worked for, we received an update on the monthly average of survey scores. When the average was over 9 we acted like we were the next 37 Signals. When we dipped under 8 we were the next Pets.com. Everybody wants to know how they are doing these days.

But one of the more interesting feedback signs I’ve come across is the one found on the soda cooler at my work. Right there on the glass door is the name and picture of the individual who refills the cooler each evening. I assume he fills it during the evening because I never see him during the day. Right there next to his picture are the words, “How am I doing?” and then an email address.

I wonder if many people are so happy or unhappy with the free sodas that they take the time to send email to an alias? If so, who are these people? I’m curious to know if anyone reads the feedback so I’m going to send one of the following feedback:

    1. I couldn’t be happier with the way our cooler is filled. All the right flavors organized like the cupboards in Sleeping with the Enemy.

    2. Generally good job but Diet Coke cans could be pulled closer to front of case.

    3. No Mellow Yellow? What a crock!

    4. Ran out of chocolate milk again. Room for improvement.

I don’t mind companies who genuinely want to improve their business by gathering feedback. But it’s easy to see right through those who are only concerned about the score. These companies badger the crap out of customers to get a number when only the right number will do. What is the difference between a 7 and 9 anyway? To me the number means absolutely nothing without descriptive feedback. In fact, keeping a running score seems about as useful as McDonald’s telling us how many hamburgers they’ve sold. To the guy deciding whether to pony up two bucks for a Big Mac, is there any difference between having sold 80 billion vs.90 billion?

At my current company the survey results only go up to 9 which is hilarious. We’ve told ourselves that nobody can realistically earn a 10 so we we lower the high score to 9. So I guess 9 is the new 10.

Are you employees more concerned about coaching the right number out of your clients or actually taking care of your clients?

Griot’s Garage

I’ve been reading about a line of car care products called Griot’s Garage for a while now but had never visited their store until today. Their products receive a lot of praise on the BMW groups and I noticed that BMW Northwest had many of their products for sale the last time I paid them a visit.

My friend, who might be an even bigger car nut than I am, came down this morning in his new black Audi S4. We drove to Griot’s Garage in Fife to pickup a few supplies and look around. As we pulled into the parking lot we noticed at least 30 BMWs outside. There was a lone Porsche GT3 parked all by itself as if to put some distance between it and the Bavarians.

We parked and stepped inside to the the coolest garage I’ve ever seen. Griot’s is really just a large warehouse they’ve turned into a car nuts dream. There were 3 or 4 major areas where Griot’s employees where demoing their various products to Puget Sound BMW Car Club Members. One young man was explaining the differences between wax, polish and sealant. Another guy was showing people how to use an orbital. And the cars they were using to demo the products were some of the rarest BMWs around. I saw a red M3 with the license plate, M3. I saw several M5 and 6 series as well, but at least half the cars were various 3 series models. It made me wish I had driven my 325i, although my friends S4 is an incredible car, even if he drives it like you’d expect someone to drive a Ford Crown Victoria.

After looking at the cars we went into the store and bought a few items. I bought a Hand Polish and Wax Kit that includes clay, polish, quick shine and wax along with a number of applicators and towels to do the job. Their products are not cheap. But after using them on both our cars this afternoon I tell you they are worth every penny. Unlike some cheaper polishes, you only need to use a small amount of Griot’s to get fantastic results.

One more thing that stood out about the visit: The Griot’s employees looked like they were having the time of their lives. There we all so very kind and helpful. It was an impressive operation and a very fun day spent with my friend.

If you’re interested in Griot’s Garage products you can request a catalog from here.