How time flies. In response to a question on TTAC this morning, I’m reposting the twelve-year-old story of how a “dealership approved” body shop collaborated with State Farm to vandalize and damage my first wife’s SRT-4. I’ll also add a few things that I didn’t mention at the time because the situation was still very much in process.
What I wrote in December of 2004:
This past March, my wife decided to abandon her 330i Sport for an SRT-4. She ordered it and it showed up in April with her name on the window sticker. We immediately set about doing Stage 3/Hotchkis/MannyZ suspension, corner balancing, Stage 2 w/toys, K&N intake, a stereo, some other electronics, all with an eye to making a trackday/driver’s ed car she would really enjoy. And when the car was finished it really exceeded expectations.
By September the car was perfect. It had nine coats of Zaino on it and it had never, ever seen a brush or sponge, or stayed the night outdoors. One day some local citizens decided to break into the car and steal the Alpine CDA-7897 out of the dash. They broke the window, ripped the bezel out of the subdash, and scratched the door and roof. Although the criminals were caught the next day (coming back for more, if you can believe it) the cops were unable to conclusively link them to my wife’s SRT. (No, I didn’t go beat their ass or kill their families, because this is real life and not a Charles Bronson movie.)
My stereo installer and I put the dash back together, had new window glass put in, and it was nearly perfect. Only problem: the stage 2 toys were broken. They worked, but the plastic holder in which the dials are set was cracked. So our insurance agent suggested we make a claim. He then stated that if we agreed to use the State Farm-suggested shop, that our satisfaction would be guaranteed.
Yes, I know I should have used the specialty shop, but let’s be honest: this car isn’t a Porsche or a Ferrari. How badly could somebody fuck up a Neon? We dropped the car off for the estimate. It was returned to us with the dash pulled apart. Gosh, thanks.
Seven weeks ago we dropped the car off for the paint and interior work. This is where it gets hilarious. The body shop and the dealership argued for four weeks over who had lost the parts out of the subdash. Then they bought a used subdash because State Farm wouldn’t pay for a new one. Then they had to paint the subdash. Then the paint bubbled. So they took the dash out and messed up some adhesive, so they had to call the adhesive guy. The adhesive cleaner discolored the subdash so the painter had to come back in, but he accidentally painted the adhesive. Meanwhile, the turbo toys still haven’t come in. So they go ahead and paint the car.
We went to pick up the car this past Saturday night. There was a horrible squealing noise coming from the suspension… so on a hunch I check the oil and the odometer. Yup, we’re down a quart and up 100+ miles. Gosh, I wonder if they took the car joyriding every day to lunch while they were fighting over the dash? The boost controller was turned to “3”, and the two neon light switches under the dash had been snapped off.
We refused to take the car. I went back today… and I examined the car, finding the following:
* The door which was painted has been dinged hard, chipping more paint off than the original thief did!
* The scratches on the roof weren’t painted and new ones have been added.
* Bird droppings had eaten into the paint in several areas.
* The whole car is heavily swirled, and rubbed past the clearcoat on the rear bumper.
* It looks like someone backed a white car into the right front bumper.
* There’s a discoloration in the fabric of the rear seat, like bleach was spilled on it.
* The service advisor made a big deal about showing me where the inner front fenders have been rubbed by the wheels, implying that we’d abused the car. Only problem: I bled the brakes two weeks before giving the dealership the car and noticed no damage at that time. Sweet.
In other words, nothing has been fixed correctly and additional damage has been done. And they’ve had the car nearly seven weeks at this point. Needless to say my wife is past the point of tears. The whole car needs a repaint, a new dash has to be purchased, a full mechanical checkup and repair will have to take place. Who’s going to pay for it? I suspect we will end up having to retain an attorney. So far, State Farm, the dealership, and the body shop (owned by the dealer) have been pointing fingers at each other.
Even if everything is done right, we’re still talking about a completely repainted car with a Carfax charge against it… good luck selling it. I ‘m signed up for One Lap this year so maybe I’ll drive it. It would be hard to screw it up any worse.
We’ve never allowed dealership body shops to touch our Bimmers, Jags, Rovers, or Porsches in the past. Now I know that holds true for our poor little Dodge as well. Learn from my mistakes. Demand a proper fix and hold the right people accountable… and cross your fingers for our little Neon!
I should clarify that “toys”, in the above story, refers to the outrageous Mopar “dial-a-boost” and intercooler spray kit that you could have fitted to the SRT-4. “Dial-a-boost” was the greatest idea ever. It should come back. A few days after I wrote the above, I met with the State Farm rep and the body shop manager at Byers Northwest Dodge to consider “solutions” to the problem.
The State Farm rep was a tall, attractive, hard-edged young woman who started attacking me and my story before I’d even sat down in the office. “Got any proof that these — what do you think they’re called? Swirls? — in the paint weren’t here before? Can you prove the mileage on turn-in? How do we know that the door wasn’t damaged when you brought it in?” She was so aggressive that the body shop manager started laughing. “What in the world could possibly fix this little disaster of yours?” she mocked.
“Simple,” I replied. “I want it sent to Dan Achbach and I want you to pay his bill.” Dan Achbach ran the only decent body shop in Columbus, the place that did all the exotics and high-value cars. I’d met him sixteen years earlier when I worked for David Hobbs. He wouldn’t be able to turn back the clock on the SRT-4, particularly not with regards to the mechanical abuse, but I thought he’d be able to undo some of the interior damage and I knew he could repaint the car properly.
My State Farm rep actually snorted when I made the request, making a hands-throwing-up motion to her new best friend seated behind the manager’s desk. After thirty minutes of fruitless discussion that had me feeling unpleasantly close to punching one of both of them, I settled for delivering a Little Golden Books speech on the value of integrity and I explained that I would do what I could to make sure that this incident cost them money.
I canceled my State Farm policies and I told the Internet about what had happened. Then I found a nice kid from Texas who wanted an affordable 2004 SRT-4 to use as a basis for his upgrades. As I recall, I sold him the car for $14,500 without the suspension stuff or the extra wheels. All in all it cost me about eight grand to own that car for thirteen months. Not pleasant.
There was an additional, unforeseen consequence to all of this. That boosted Neon was my first wife’s baby. She absolutely adored the car, loved modifying it, enjoyed every minute she drove it. The long saga of its vandalism and subsequent damage did something to her. It drained her enthusiasm. Not just for the SRT-4, but for cars in general. Something broke inside her. Now, twelve years later, she’s on her second C-Max. If you were to ask her, I think she’d tell you that she outgrew being a “car girl”. I would disagree. She didn’t outgrow that enthusiasm. It was stolen from her. It’s something I try to remember whenever I’m parenting my son. Enthusiasm, interest, care, concern. These things are fragile. Like exotic flowers. Hard to grow. Easy to crush. If your “good neighbor” is State Farm, you should consider keeping them out of your garden.