Tyred

Alternative titles for this post included ‘Not very Smart’ and ‘Fscking Mercedes-Benz!’ Just so you’re warned.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that my current car is a Smart Roadster Coupé (link may not work – blame the D-C marketing department if it fails). It has its faults but I basically consider it to be cracking fun, surprisingly practical, and environmentally less awful than most alternatives that have more than two wheels. I would not, however, recommend the thing for one basic reason – the local dealer.

To be fair, Leeds (where I bought the car) and Perth (where its first service was done) were OK. Not great, but OK. However, neither is exactly convenient, since I live in Glasgow. And Smart of Glasgow, the local Mercedes-Benz dealer… suck. In my experience they’ve been awful, and it’s high time I blogged about them.

Earlier in the year, while I was in the middle of Mechannibals, I had to take the thing in for warranty work to solve a water leak. I never blogged the outcome of that, which was that after a fortnight or so I collected the car… and they’d done precisely nothing to it. The roof seals were the same, the rain-damaged rear carpet unchanged (and even more mouldy): they hadn’t even washed it. The only discernible difference was a random bit of loose plastic tucked under the handbrake, the origin and purpose of which was mysterious.

A second visit ensued, initially estimated at a week but eventually taking five weeks to get right, under the personal supervision of the workshop manager and the head of the service department. A loan car was available (and occasionally taken, though as luck would have it I was mostly away from home with a company car). Not once was I called back when promised. Though as it happened the inconvenience wasn’t great, I was singularly unimpressed with their ‘generous’ (sic) free tank of fuel. The full story’s a bit longer, of course, but basically: they sucked. The leak was fixed, but it wasn’t dealt with well, and we never did find out what the random bit of plastic was.

So I fully intended to have the second service, due now, done in Perth. Unfortunately I picked up a nasty puncture in the near-side rear last week. Ouch. Expensive, and driving up to Perth this weekend didn’t seem such a good idea with a nail through the sidewall. The dealer’s price for a new tyre was within a hair of Kwik-Fit’s, so on Friday it went in to Glasgow for the service plus tyre. They called at five or so and rather brusquely said it was ready. Well, I was in studio, so I picked it up today.

Or rather, I tried to. Once I’d found some tissue to wipe the dirty great handprint off the roof and clean some grease off the door handle, I walked around the car. They’d splashed some water at it rather ineffectually and, mysteriously, changed all the tyre dust caps for bling metal ones that will get nicked before I’ve even parked at home. And there’s a new tyre… on the near-side front. The rear tyre was almost flat, and still had a nail sticking out of it. Umm… what the heck?

So I storm back in again – for those who don’t know me, it takes a lot to make me ‘storm’ anywhere, but I was seething at this – and demand an explanation. Not for the first time I see one of the service staff blanch as they realise somebody – possibly them – has screwed up. First they try to blame me for specifying the wrong wheel. Bad move. “The authorisation I signed,” I say gently, as if to a small child, “specifies near-side rear. And I did sign it, unlike the last time you screwed up when I specifically didn’t authorise any of the work you carried out.” I’m not sure it’s possible for somebody who’s already blanched to discolour further, but this chap tried hard. The history of my car is well-known to the dealership’s service staff, since most of them have been involved at some point.

All becomes a little more clear when they manage to fish out the tyre that should have been disposed of, but hasn’t been because it’s a weekend – there’s a dirty great screw through the shoulder. OK, fair enough, they’ve spotted something I hadn’t: amazingly, the tyre hadn’t deflated at all. The dealer staff seem somewhat relieved that this exonerates them. But hang on, I point out, the ‘B’ service is supposed to include a full examination of the tyres for pressures and tread depth, right? How come they missed the dirty great nail that’s still in the side of the rear tyre, and the fact that it’s visibly more than a little flat? Again with the grey faces. They passed a car as ‘inspected’ when it’s clearly not safe to drive.

Meanwhile, the shoulder-screwed front might be repairable but in my book it’s a hairy thing to do in that sort of location. I dislike taking risks with primary components, and a high-speed blowout is more risk than I’m willing to take. So sure, I’m peeved that I’ll have to shell out for a second tyre – but what ticks me off here is that the dealer has to order the thing in, and therefore I won’t get the car back until probably Tuesday. Had they rung me on Friday, rather than apparently assuming I can’t tell one end of the car from the other, this could have been avoided.

So, that’s three visits to Mercedes-Benz Glasgow, and at least as many screw-ups. Once this current sorry chapter is over I shall not, of course, ever take the car there again. More specifically, I find it hard to believe that I’ll ever buy another Mercedes or Smart. The cars are great – the support is disastrous.

The contrast with BMW and Mini couldn’t be greater. In almost three years of Mini ownership I can’t recall any transaction with any BMW dealer that wasn’t at least pleasant; the majority left me surprised and more than happy. It’s not that they bent over backwards to do the right thing – they simply did the right thing as a matter of routine, which is far more impressive. The customer service had the air of quality one expects from BMW’s reputation; Mercedes’ does not.

I love the Smart Roadster, but I wish I’d bought another Mini.

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