I recently had my car serviced for an intermittent, weird noise-- it's 3 years old and just started making a weird clutch noise over the past few months. My experience was pretty average (read: mildly frustrating) and my response to a Honda phone survey resulted in a disappointed voicemail from David, the service advisor I worked with, and an email from Honda asking for a lengthier fill-in-the-blanks survey. Here's what I wrote in response to that survey email, word-for-word, typos and all:

I should clarify that the "didn't take my issue seriously enough" comment was what the phone survey representative wrote to summarize the below diatribe. David stressed in his phone call that he did take my issue seriously, which I guess is true, but is beside the point. I finally have distilled my main point down to "they could have done more, and earned my money, but didn't, and made me feel frustrated/dissatisfied as a result."

On Mon, Apr 12, 2010 at 9:14 PM, Will Bradley wrote:

I'm unable to accurately fill out this survey in a meaningful way. The service advisor, David, called me in response to a phone survey I took, asking why I'd answered some questions with a rating of less than 5, any why I'd logged a comment that it "didn't seem like they took my issue seriously enough." He implied that any rating less than all 5's would negatively impact his career.

If I recall correctly, a "5" was "Excellent" -- if a friend asks me how good the best experience I've ever gotten from a mechanic or auto dealership, I will answer "pretty good." If Honda is expecting customers to answer "excellent" -- in other words, excelling or exceeding all expectations -- they will need to reinvent the auto industry, with vertical integration and a top-to-bottom ethic of "quality first." Dealerships are never ultimately motivated by excellence, they're always motivated by cost-saving. As middlemen their margins are slim, and customer satisfaction takes a back seat to profitability. An actual manufacturer like Honda would be in a better situation to ensure satisfaction, but I digress.

This issue is not big enough for David to lose his job or lose money over, but it is big enough that I feel Tempe Honda or American Honda should use it as an example of how to improve their service. Honda should not take my 3 or 4 rating ("Good" and "Very Good" respectively, which is already a compliment compared to service that I'd call "okay") and send it back to David saying he, quote, "failed miserably." Can he and the service department do better? Yes. Did they do horribly? No.

The issue I have with the service I've recently received by Tempe Honda is that I have a disturbing humming noise happening when I engage the clutch slowly, when the engine is cold, and also a metal pop/click noise when depressing the clutch rapidly at any temperature. These problems can be difficult to diagnose because they are intermittent, frequently faint, dependent on cold weather (I live in a desert) and usually happens when there is friction on the clutch (i.e. quick clutch action will not produce symptoms.) I understand that it is difficult to diagnose and possibly nothing to worry about, but as someone who is incredibly loyal to Hondas and very "in tune" with my car which I've owned since it was brand new in May 2007, I am disturbed by the sudden appearance of these two clutch-related problems. A quick Google search shows that there are others with this same problem, and apparently there's a service advisory on something related.

I took my car in a few months ago, shortly after the noises started, but the noise was faint. David (the service advisor) appeared skeptical and after many attempts at demonstrating the issues he suggested leaving the car overnight. I did, despite the inconvenience, but they reported they could not reproduce the noise. When I received the car the next morning, I was able to demonstrate the noise very faintly, but David and the technician dismissed them as brake noise. I doubted their diagnosis but left, keeping an ear out for what the issue might be. After more driving, I determined that the issue had nothing to do with wheel rotation, and only happened when engaging the clutch. Additionally I determined that I could reproduce the humming noise more reliably if I engaged from a stop or low speed in 2nd gear instead of 1st-- more load on the clutch, therefore more of the friction/humming noise. It was still entirely cold-dependent though, and a couple miles of driving would silence the noise.

I confidently took the car in a few weeks ago, but the car again wouldn't produce the noise on demand except very faintly in isolated situations which the technician couldn't hear. I again left the car overnight after lengthy almost-argumentative discussions with the lead service engineer and David about the existence, diagnosis, and severity of the problem, but they again were unable to reproduce the noise overnight. When I picked up the car in the morning and left the dealership, the car immediately made the noise (as usual-- it makes the noise nearly every morning as well as any time the engine is cold) but was pressed for time and my relationship with David and the service department was strained-- they weren't able to reproduce the noise and therefore regretting being unable to help me. My insistence that they should be able to reproduce it (when the engine is cold) and that it was loud enough to make heads turn was only met with irritation (which I understand-- I manage a computer service department-- but there are always options and they weren't offering any, instead acting as though I was being unreasonable for expecting them to do more than dismiss the problem as undiagnosable.)

I wanted to get the issue repaired before my 3-year warranty was up, but David suggested that the applicable warranties were 3 years or 30,000 miles, whichever came first. A search online has people suggesting that there is a 6 year, 60,000 mile warranty that applies to this issue, but regardless I just want to get the issue fixed. David said he wanted to save me money by not putting my car in for service for a problem that wasn't properly diagnosed (which I understand and am grateful for) but let the conversation stop there. The problem still hasn't been solved or, I feel, properly addressed. The service technicians have had two opportunities to fix the problem and were unable to reproduce it, and were content to return my car to me undiagnosed. David suggested that I bring my car in while it's making the noise, so they can diagnose it, but I realized that this will never happen-- the dealership is more than a few miles away, the engine will always be hot upon arrival, and leaving the car overnight at the dealership has thus far been a waste of time and rental car money.

So long story short, my experience with Tempe Honda, David, and the rest of the service department was not "Excellent" for this particular issue. It was "okay." Their service usually seems "very good" for routine things, but I feel that I'd be better off putting it up on jack stands in my garage and tinkering with it myself for any actual problem I have with my car. David and the service department do seem to appreciate the seriousness of my situation, but they were not concerned or involved enough to proactively suggest things that might aid them in diagnosing or fixing the problem-- for example, keeping my car for longer (I offered and continue to offer to pay for the rental car as long as my car is fixed in the end) or asking my advice for how to reproduce the issue instead of returning the car "on time" but not fixed, and dismissing my experience with the car as less important than their ability to reproduce the problem.

I had similar issues with Showcase Honda, where I bought my car-- it had an issue with heat affecting the GPS voice recognition microphone in my brand-new car, and I was only able to solve it after 2+ visits, some of them overnight.

I feel the underlying problem here is that as a customer I primarily interact with salespeople ("service advisors") who don't actually perform the work nor do they appear to work closely with the service technicians. I'm a computer service technician who knows plenty of auto technicians, and I feel that a "good" auto technician will care deeply about solving a problem presented to them and ask me probing questions so they better understand and are able to fix the problem-- they will not be content with returning the car to me without progress being made. Unfortunately the exact opposite is my experience with Showcase Honda and Tempe Honda. I will likely take my business to an independent technician who demonstrates deep knowledge and care for his craft, and will personally work with me and talk with me on a detailed technical level, even if it costs more. My time is more valuable than repeated trips to the shop are worth, and I feel the root cause is the disconnect between the salespeople and service technicians (or just technicians who don't care, probably due to the culture of their workplace.)