Monday, October 10, 2011

So there I was, stealing my own damn car back

I'm not saying god has it in for me, but it's starting to look suspicious.

After my house was flooded and gutted (old news, I won't rehash that) I've spent most of my non-work hours preparing and arranging for the rebuild.  It was on one of these trips to floodhouse that the unforeseen struck again.  (Unforeseen = GOD, maybe.  Struck = ouch! Damnit!)

We were driving (myself, wife and 2yr old daughter) in our 1yr old Santa Fe and stopped at a light.  It just happened to be directly in front of the dealership we bought it from last year.  It just happened not go again when the light turned green and wifey hit the gas again.  It gave us a threatening grinding sound, but no forward motion.  So there we were, waiting on a tow truck.  Once again out on the street, once again losing use of another major purchase.  Wife weeping, daughter confused, me pissed (and scowling suspiciously skyward).

After being towed to the sister dealership's service center (the one we broke down in front of was just a sales showroom) we found ourselves carless.  The then-helpful service manager, let's call him Crank -not his real name, but not that far away either- said they didn't provide loaners any more but offered us a rental and would only charge for 'a day or two'.  After losing most of their fleet to the flood they had very little left to offer us so we drove off in a mud splattered Mazda3.  It wasn't ideal for our needs, but it did go when you hit the gas so we took it.

The next weekend I'm in Wildwood, NJ, at the other end of the state for the yearly fighter fighter convention.  It's been planned for a while and we needed the break so we went.  My first morning down there I get a call from the service center.  The part and labor are covered by the warranty.  That's the high point; now follow me downhill.

I could use a license to kill right about now.
They don't stock that part because it 'never' breaks.

Nobody stocks it.  Anywhere.

It must be fabricated.


It will take 30 days.

"And you can't keep our car that long unless you pay full price."
"What?!  30 days at $35/day is over a thousand.  No way.  Not gonna hap-"
"Then bring it back today, or we're charging you for every day."
"I'm 200 miles away in Wildwood for the weekend!  I'm not trashing our vacation just like that.  You can't give people same-day notice.  And why does it take 30 days to get this @$#%& part?  Is it coming from Mars?"
"Korea, as I said."
"By mule?!"

I did not give up our weekend, and we had a blast.  I didn't even tell the wife all this until we were back.

Next day I called Hyundai USA and got them involved and though they couldn't/wouldn't promise reimbursement at the moment, they would contact Crank and try to mediate.  A few hours later I'm on the phone with him and I'm very direct. 
"I wasn't in a position to return your car on Friday, but I am today.  If you plan on charging me for all these days-" 
"No, no.  Don't worry about it.  We'll work something out.  Keep the car.  We'll work it out."

So I keep the car.  And deeper we go...

The next day I get a voicemail from somebody in service.  (It's day 10 now.)  "We got that part in today, and we can start on it now."

Not 30 days after all?  That's fantastic -if it's true.  I don't tell the wife pending confirmation.  I call service and get a nasal-voiced woman.  "No, your part's not in.  Sorry."  Reaaaaaalllly... 
"I received a voicemail saying it was.  Can you go to the service area and ask them, please?"
"No, I'm sorry.  I'm not located there.  This office is in a trailer outside the building."
"Yes, I've seen it.  You're directly outside of and right next to the service garage."
"I'm sorry I can't leave the trailer."
I call Crank directly and ask for the story.  He confirms that it is in and they're starting today.  They might finish by tonight, if not tomorrow.

Two days later I get a call saying it's done and I can pick it up.  Oh, and by the way the rental charge is $375.  What now?!  What happened to only charging for "a day or two" and "keep the car, we'll work it out"?  They don't have an answer on the phone for me.  I go there after work, around 7pm.  Crank is gone and service is closed.  Some sales guy opens the file and reads the strict instructions on not releasing my Santa Fe until $375 is paid for the Mazda3.  He sees my face and says "Please, I'm just the messenger here.  Why don't you talk to the night sales manager?  Right over here."

That guys turns out to be a dead ringer for the fat Russian in 'Borat'.  He opens the clear plastic envelope with the service paper, the rental paper and my keys.  He slides them all out, reads the papers and comes to the same conclusion.  I must have been smoldering like a tanker fire because he looked scared.  I look down at my keys on the desk.  They're right there.  He sees me looking.  After an awkward moment he leans forward and covers them with the papers "Why don't you talk to Crank tomorrow?" 
"He's going to try to add another day on this bill." 
"He won't, I promise!  Just talk to him, please."
I leave without my car.  It's being held hostage.  Ransom: $375

It's about to get ugly.

I get Crank on the phone the next day and we debate back and forth and it's getting tense.
"You said you'd charge for a day or two."
"No, I said I'd knock a few days off.  It's 13 days and I'm only charging for 10."
"You said we'd work it out.  This isn't working it out.  This is you picking a number you like and handing me the bill."
"I never said that.  Look, you're lucky I'm only charging you for 10 days.  Bring the rental back and get your car."
"I'm not paying $375.  You said we'd work something out, so let's do that."
"That's the charge.  I'm in business to rent cars here, I told you there are no loaners.  You either bring our rental back or I'll call the police and report it as stolen!"

Now it's ugly.  NOW IT'S ON.

He's threatening to call the police?  I actually call the police.  I get a detective from the local precinct on the phone, tell the whole story as honestly as I can because I need a solid answer based on the facts.  He tells me that unless they have a lien or part ownership on the Santa Fe, or there's an unpaid bill on that car, that they have no legal right to withhold my keys -even if there's an unpaid bill on a different car.  This confirms my own suspicions, which I earlier ran by a senior counsel at my law firm who also agreed.  The detective said "If they give you a problem, you can call us and we'll send a car over."
"I don't want to call 911 for this, right?"
"Well, you can if you have to.  If it gets hairy."

So I make up my mind.  I'm on my way in their car to get my car.  I've got a plan.  A plan that could go horribly wrong fast.  I dial the precinct one more time and hang up before it rings.  Now they're the latest on my cell's "most recently called".  Maybe I'll only have time for two keystrokes if it gets hairy.  I'm not paying them $375.  I just need to get my hands on my keys.  That's 80% of it.  And get out again, that's 180% of it.

I've got a plan. 
I've got my words lined up. 
I've got my timing down.
I've got 5 minutes until I'm there.
I've got more butterflies in my gut than there were Japanese torpedo bombers over Pearl Harbor.

I get in there and walk through their creepy abandoned first floor.  It was lost in the flood, only half rebuilt and left sparsely lit.  I pass through quickly and go up the wide spiral staircase to the battlegroun- I mean the second floor.

It's brightly lit, many people around; staff, salesmen, car buyers.
My mouth is dry, desert dry.  Drier than any martini ever shaken not stirred.
I breeze past the night secretary and head for the men's room.  I need water.
There's a water cooler there with a stack of those mini dunce caps they call cups.
I down about five.  I knew Crank would be gone by now, that's why I came extra late.  But 'Borat' is there and he waddles over to chat.  Wonderful.  "I read your contract and I'm sorry to say there is no loaner provision."  I only smile and nod.  I don't know how many words I've got and I'm not going to waste any on him.  I go in the rest room.  It's a one-at-a-time.  Quick splash on the face and I'm out.  If he goes in then I have to move fast; he already knows the story so I'm better off with him off the floor.  I leave and he goes in.  Perfect.

Quick march across the floor to the night secretary.  Wouldn't you know, she doesn't know where the late pick-up file is.  I need the staff to be a little ignorant of the situation for this to work, but not that ignorant.  It's at her feet.  I point it out.

I know how the next part will go from the night before.  She must fetch a salesman who would have the authority to release cars.  He's going to tired, bored and hiding his annoyance.  He's going to be surprised at there being a rental form behind the expected service form.  And he is all of the above.

He takes out the paperwork with one hand but keeps hold of the clear plastic envelope still holding the all-important keys to my Santa Fe in the other.  That's no good, but I wait for him to see there's two forms and not the usual one.  It takes him a moment to get there, I see his brow crinkle a little.  He puts the envelope down so he can hold one paper in each and peruse both at once.  Perfect.

"It looks like you owe $375 here and-" And here we go.
"No, that's wrong.  The Santa Fe is under warranty and there's no charge.  See that there, zero."
"There is a charge on the Mazda which is in dispute.  I'll settle that with Crank later.  These (holding the Mazda keys at eye level between us) are your keys.  Your car is now returned.  These (and I pick up the clear plastic envelope, tilt it and slide Fe's keys into my waiting palm.  I remember the soft swoosh as they slid down the plastic and the little tinkle as they landed) are mine." 
I put them firmly in my pocket.  Awesome.  80% there.
"Uh, um, just wait a minute, I need to check it on the computer."  He walks towards a glass office.  I'd like to bolt the other way but that would be so obvious.  I march after him instead.  He bars the way at the door.  "You can't come in here.  There's, ah, confidential customer information that you can't see."
He closes the door and disappears from view.
So do I.

All I have to do is leave.  If God lets me.  If He's not out to get me.  I'll find out soon enough.

At a controlled pace I walk past the night secretary and glass offices filled with salesmen.  Any second I might hear somebody call after me or a "stop that guy!".  I've already decided to ignore it and keep going if somebody did yell.
To the stairs, unchallenged.
Down the long spiral, unchallenged.
Through the dark abandoned first floor, unchallenged.
To the wide double doors, unchal-  LOCKED.

NO!!  Goddamnit it! (Did God do it?)
Keep cool.  Peer around in the shadows.  Small door in the corner.
Open.  YES!  Outside.  Cool fresh air.  90% there.

And there's Fe, waiting like a faithful old dog, nose in against the fence.  But the spots are slanted.  Easy when pulling in from the street, but not enough room to turn around right there -nasal girl's trailer/office is there.  (It's a shame she wasn't standing in front of it when I pulled out!)  You can only back out of that space, and that leaves you pointed further into their lot.  It's over 100 yards behind me to the only exit.  Back out that distance in a dim lot with lots of cars on both sides to hit if I'm off?  Can't risk a collision now.  I could try going all the way around their huge building, but I've seen that way blocked.  Tick-tock, better do something.
Quick decision made.  I go further into their lot, find enough space to do a K-turn and head towards the front.

It's been over a minute, maybe more than two since that salesman closed his door.  I doubt he was looking anything up.  He was calling Crank at home.  And what would he say?  "Don't let that bastard leave!"

Pulling away from the back lot and past the building again.  Nobody dashing out the door after me.  I can see the 2nd floor and the spiral stairs through their big window.  Nobody.  95% there.

Gotta admit, I felt a little like this.

Out onto route 23. 
Three lanes, few lights, frequent speeders.
One thought: don't crash

Despite what the detective said, they could still call the cops on me and it's possible I might be cuffed and held overnight before a judge decides they are my keys and Fe is my car and I was within my rights.  No likey jail.

I made a quick set of rules for this final leg:
No speeding.
No drifting in the lane.
No blowing any lights or stop signs.
And No Accidents.

Flashing reds and blues up ahead, half a mile.  COPS.
Little hairs bristling on my neck.
Relax, could be anything.
Somebody else is pulled over.  YES.  Keep going.
One eye on on the road, one eye on the rearview, and one eye on heaven.  -In case somebody tries dropping a plane, meteor, asteroid or something on me for good measure.  Yes, I know that's three eyes.  I'm a multitasker.

My floodhouse in town, which Crank has the address to, is not where we're staying.  He doesn't have that address to give to the police even if he wanted to.  That's my destination, I just need to get over the county border. 
Driving...  Driving...
A speeder zips by, his wind nudging Fe.
I will not speed.  Not on this stretch.  Not now.
The highway out of Dodge is just another mile.  98% there.
...99 and there's the ramp to 287 North

So maybe He doesn't have it in for me after all.
The flood, then the car, then the Crank -maybe it's all just the randomness of the universe.
So now I don't trust the universe.

Of course Crank tried billing my credit card for $375.
Of course I had to call and have it stopped.
He'll have to negotiate in good faith now, truely 'work it out' with me or he won't see a dime.


  1. What jerks! How can they possibly NOT cover the expense of your rental car when you bought the damn thing from them and they are a dealer!? I can't wait to hear how Hyundai handles this. My heart goes out to you. What a complete load of BS!

  2. Wow..... you dont ever want to wish ill on someone.... so I'll do it for you. I just Cursed you crank... I just cursed you!

  3. O-M-(NA)G!! That story rocks!!! I am SO glad you shared it and those jerks at the dealership should be ashamed of themselves. Having recently lost my home and rebuilt I think that you have just displayed a feeling that I often have - namely - What else have I got to lose??! It must be the same sense that gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde felt...or something similar. I feel it often when challenged by non-sense these days. Just stay out of my way and don't hit me with any BS. I've lost it all and am not afraid of what life may try to deal my way! Good for you!!!

  4. Angie, Aaaangie,
    when will those clouds all disappear?

    I don't know if your curses actually work, but if they do I have more names on the list for you.

    that's all I ever wanted

    you nailed it baby; I didn't want to get arrested and might not have done it during a normal peaceful year, but he tried me at the wrong time and I was just "what the fuck" enough to do it.

  5. "Don't push me cause I'm not in the mood. Sometimes I gotta wonder how I keep from goin' under." Grand Master Flash.

    "Or I will attack .. and you don't want that"

    And god Baby, I just know you gave all those people your crazy eyes. Shit! You do not deserve this run of bad luck. I'm sacrificing a couple of chickens and lambs to turn it around for you.

  6. Magnificent. Should I ever find myself in a foxhole, I would like your company.

  7. I was getting angry reading this. Good suspense, too. If that were my dealership, I'd fire "Crank." There is no way that $375 is worth pissing off a guy who buys cars with a warranty. I'd never talk to him again. Go to his superiors. He seems like an embezzler. Overcharge, get paid. Change the bill. Pocket the difference. Never shows up on the balance sheet.

  8. Linda,
    I actually met and served a bucket of KFC to SNAP, the "or I will attack, and you don't want that" band back at the club I was working at in 1991.

    Thank you, but you better hope not dude, I fart a lot. A LOT.

    gracias. It was very satisfying afterwards, but during? I felt electric when I got out on the road. Couldn't sleep when I got home, went out to a local bar, saw a band and drank my ass off.

    Anger was my motivation, but wasn't the conclusion satisfying? I oughtta try selling the rights. Do you know anybody?

  9. That dealership is nothing but a rip-off merchant, it's a wonder they have any clients at all. I would've done exactly the same (except for the fainting bit before I reached the car, probably involving concussion and a trip to A&E in an ambulance..). On behalf of us Plebs everywhere, I salute you.

  10. WOW! Good for you having the cajones to retrieve your own car! I love it!!

    This is also the SECOND "stealing my own car back" story I've heard in as many days...

    This little old lady goes to sell her dead friend's car to a couple guys. They will only pay $200. She says "ok, but then I want the new tires off of it". They say "Ok, we'll bring them back today". Days later she doesn't have the car, the tires, and they never signed the transfer of title.

    A few days later she sees her car driving around town, all fixed up. With her tires. She gets her extra set of keys, gets in and drives away. This woman is probably around 80+ years old. Got to love her! Cracked us all up!!

  11. Shrinky,
    I'm glad you piped up, the plebs need a spokesman

    HOW is a horse less hassel?

    I thank you and my cajones thank you. And they want your number. I don't recommend you give it to them -they're a coupla a nuts! *rimshot!*