Caveats: Most of you already know that I do my own work on my 2003 4Runner. So this tale is not about me, but was told to me from a trusted source.
A lady I know took her car to the local Mercedes Benz stealership for the sole purpose of getting a new key. The key was promised to her by the stealership that sold her the car, but they insisted that she had to do the legwork of getting it done since it was a competitor’s stealership. No honor among thieves.
1. Ask the service manager. He punts and says, you buy the key from the parts department.
2. Parts department says, we only order the metal key blank, then you go to the service department to schedule getting the fob activated. This is an important step because the metal key cannot be used to start the car. The fob IS the key.
3. An hour later, key blank ordered, go back to service department. Different service manager says, Oh, you don’t need an appointment and we can order the key for you from here. But you need to order a fob too. Well, thanks for letting me wait in the parts line for an hour.
4. Oh, look, there are 3 outstanding recalls for that car, we will do those for you when you come in for the key activation. All free.
5. On the day of the activation, she takes the car in, collects the “parts” and meets service manager for the activation. They get started. While she waits, a conga line of alternate service managers approach her one at a time to show her repair estimates for all the other things they think she needs. A total of $6,000 in repairs. The first says, “you need new tires”. The second says “your 100K mile service is due”, The third says, “those brakes are looking pretty thin”. The car had 77K miles on it. The tires were all “passing”, not failing. The brakes had plenty of life left in them. The fourth manager, “you have an oil leak”. She says, “that sounds bad, where is it”? They say, we don’t know, but if you pay us $378 diagnostic fee, we will find out and tell you. Each manager describes the problems as critical safety failures that must be addressed right away or she would die painfully, probably on the way home. Fifth manager, pulls her into an office, “Ma’am, we discovered another critical safety feature and we shouldn’t even let you leave with it like this. Your motor mounts need replacing. Right away. Before we even finish this sentence. or… Death. Painful death”.
6. Since she wasn’t born yesterday, she refused all the managers wanting to service her checking account. Then she goes to pay for the key. $99 for the key blank. $200 for cutting the key blank and activating the fob. $485 for a new fob. This is why you can find people on the internet repairing old fobs instead of buying new ones from Mercedes. The gouge is huge.
7. But wait. There’s more. $65 hazardous waste disposal fee. $2 digital service fee. $19 shop fee. She had them detail what all those were for and got them dropped from her bill. The waste fee was for the oil change she wasn’t getting, but somehow, totally by accident, that fee stayed on her bill. She argued it down to an $8 fee. When she questioned that, she was told the fob came in a plastic package and that was the disposal fee for that. She told them she would take the packaging with her. $0 fee.
This sort of thing infuriates me. For high end cars, like MB, one would expect a certain level of price gouge in return for the quality and expertise in repair. There is also an expectation that the customers will NOT be treated like an old cow on a second hand milking machine. Some reasonable level of superior treatment is expected in return for the big payout of a quality luxury car. This stealership was offering none of that. Long wait times, the conga line of service managers, and the attempt to mark up everything, as well as parts and service departments not even talking to each other about a simple key activation are things you might expect from the Chevy stealership in upstate NY where the stealership owner is related to the local crime family.
I suspect, MB is a victim of their own success as a brand. People who buy such cars, keep them while they are new and shiny, then get a new one. New cars don’t need lots of repairs and service. Quality cars need even less. Stealerships make most of their profits in the service bays, not the sales floor. The MB stealership had all the signs of a business that was starving to death. Fewer employees leading to longer wait times. They didn’t even have a courtesy driver but would “call you an Uber”. But they had 5 different service managers all trying to upsell everything on the car from tires to wiper blades as if they were paid by commission and this was the only big fish who had been in all week.
I have been considering some end of life arrangements of my own. For the 4runner, not for me personally. Eventually, it will need replacement with something newer and once again I will have the “fun” of going into a stealership. Stories like this make me wonder if I just might hold off for another 50K miles.