Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dealer or No Dealer

Today was no different than another. I started with my ritual of perusing the various motorcycle forums, reading the latest complaints about seats or windscreens, when a particular post about the new BMW K1600GT/GTL, where the original poster asked would we trade our trusty RT steeds for the new bike. Of course not wanting to miss an opportunity to rant, I could not help myself, so below is my answer:

"Doesn't matter whether I ride it or not. Beaucoup money. The budget says, the RT is it, at least for now. On the other hand, whatever I would get next, has to require less maintenance than the RT. Not that it is a lot, but adjusting valves in this day and age and synching the throttles, well, it long in the tooth. All we really should have to do is to change fluids, new tires and brakes with the occasional spark plugs. I'd also like to see the need for a dealer to reset the service indicator go away. "
Of course, the OP, not wanting to miss the snark parade, quipped his own response:
"A book: Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Check it out, then maybe you will want to get in touch with your ride."
Of course, I could not let it go, so here it is:
"I've read it twice. I know how to work on bikes and cars. I've rebuilt engines, transmissions and differentials (I've even did an upper end job on a small block Chevy in Fargo in February, outside as we were stuck). I just don't care to do it if I don't have to, certainly not on an everyday vehicle. Technology has gotten to the point where what I ask for is very possible. For a BMW, you'd think it'd be de rigueur."
Now that Fargo reference is a story I am trying to sell to a bike or car/truck mag, but so far no bites. :( That said, the topic did stir some thought processes, which based on part of my original posting and the genesis for it, which is, why do so many BMW riders seem resigned, eager, accepting, or even promoting that in order to have a proper rider experience on a BMW, it must be serviced by the Dealer. In fact, if it is not, a rider runs the risk of such horrors as BMW not standing behind a warranty claim at worst, or the bike not being right at best (hearken to a movie named "A New Leaf" with Walter Mathau. "Carbon on the valves" is a memorable line.).

Since buying my RT, I have noticed that there seems to be something different about owning a BMW. No, not the quality of the ride etc, but the group of people that associate themselves with the brand. Understand, prior to the Beemer, I have owned nothing but Kawasaki motorcycles. Owning a bike from Team Green was a self-reliant proposition for me. You do all the proper maintenance and the bike goes forever. No magic incantations, superstitions, or long held beliefs that anyone would look at with a sideways glance.

I will tell you what I mean. God forbid you use anything but a BMW oil filter on a Hexhead. May be a Mann filter, but you'll need special dispensation from the Teutonic motor gods. Bosch you say, perish the thought. Do not even mention team orange. Excommunication will ensue. Do not even talk about oil, especial gear oil and final drives. Oh, final drives you say? Do not even go there either. Seems to be bad history there. From here let us move on to fuel. I am against ethanol in gas as much as the next gear head, but god forbid if you have to use gas with ethanol in it. It will turn your prized aryan rocket into a pile of feckless cycle parts in no time. Of course there are facts to back all this up.

Before you think my snark is toxic, let me say I am having fun with this, and there is more than a grain of anal truth to this. Anal is a good word for it too. At first I thought it is because of the high entry price for these bikes, but I never read this kind of repartee from owners of Harley Davidsons. It must be some sort of transference. The natural anal tendencies of the German race rub off on the owners of BMW bikes.  Sounds like a theory. At this point, that is all it is, a theory. There probably is a grain of truth, but it lies more in the type of people that would buy a BMW. Left brained types, metaphysical types need not apply. Use the same mindset at a Harley dealer and the salesman will look at you like you have three foreheads. Trust me, I speak from experience. At The Motor Company, either you believe or you do not. This brings me back around to my original question or thought really: Should a motorcycle be created, designed, marketed and otherwise sold that is necessary for the dealer to bless in order to have even a proper motorcycling experience, let alone functional efficacy?

I have to tell you, I have a confession to make. I do have a little bit of an axe to grind. No, it is not my experience in dealing with dealers as a customer, but rather dealing with such types of establishments as a mechanic (I have also worked in computer repair with similar experiences, more later). I can admit it, I have worked for at least one thief. One of the thieves in question owned a gas station in Massapequa New York on Merrick Road, whose fuel supply was British owned. Anyway, here goes a few good ones. Mrs. G's car wouldn't start in the Waldbaum's parking lot. Our boss tows the car back to the shop. If I recall, it was a late 70's Buick Apollo. Turns out it was a loose wire on the neutral safety switch. Our boss had us take the starter out, repaint it and put it back in. $120 + tow. Same car had a rear transmission seal leak. Instead of replacing the seal and topping off the fluid level, our boss said she needed a new transmission. We sent to the car out to a transmission shop we had a deal with. $200 our cost, $700 for the customer. All for what was really needed was a $5 seal and a quart of Dextron. I can go on and it gets worse. Funny thing was, when his degenerate son came in with a car problem, we had to be like NASA engineers, rebuilding everything to spec like his son was going to the International Space Station. I had a better place he could visit. Even a several years ago, I worked as a computer hardware tech in a local shop. When we first opened, our boss said that every computer that comes in has a hardware problem. This time I stood my ground and said no. Integrity means something to me. I will also tell you that I turned the previously gas station owner into the state for what he was doing (he was running bogus emissions inspections for used car dealers), when I left his employ. I also told Mrs. G how she was getting screwed. Payback is a bitch.

I went by a couple rules when working on other people's stuff: One, do not charge for work that was not done. This means that If I replace just the brake pads, I will only charge for the brake pads. The guy I worked for above would write War and Peace on the invoice of what he wanted people to believe he did so they would not mind him ass raping them. Two, do not do work that is not necessary. This can be as innocuous as the upsell, which is trying to sell a service when someone comes in for a particular problem to something more insidious as finding more wrong than actually is. In this case the work is done, but unnecessary. Case in point: You go to the dealer for a warranty issue with the power steering pump. The service manager tries to sell you a power steering fluid flush. Let me tell you it's rubbish. If the power steering pump is being replaced under warranty, then so should the fluid if it has to be replaced. If it doesn't have to be replaced, as the manufacturer may not require it, then why do it? It's a way of drumming up money. Sometimes things are done just out of incompetence. I have a friend whose F-150 had a miss. Went to the dealer he bought it from and the service manager said it needed fuel injectors. $2500. He went to another dealer. Turns out it just needed a coil pack, covered under warranty. Most people don't know any better.

Back to BMW and other bikes. While dealers do have or should have experienced mechanics or now as they are called "Technicians", they do charge $80 or more dollars per hour (most of which said technician never sees) and tend to take the eyes out of your head on parts. For instance, one fellow recently paid $100 for 4 quarts of oil and an oil filter at a BMW dealer. Holy dog shit batman, that is insane. If you are adept at service, where is the money better off, in your pocket or the dealers? I am guessing the former. While the cheapest thing on a BMW motorcycle is the rider, I have come to think it is justified. Without getting into the Magnuson Moss Act, As long as the repair schedule is followed with materials that meet the specifications, then it's all good. Just keep good records and receipts. While I think some of the maintenance procedures for the beemer are excessive for a modern bike (valve adjustments every 6k miles, throttle sync to name two), they are spelled out. In some ways, I cannot help feeling that the service requirements coupled with the beemer culture have been created to suit a rather limited dealer network. There have been times too when I wonder if I made a mistake in buying a BMW. I do not like to be dependent on anyone, let alone a potential shyster. It just rubs me the wrong way and I know that not every dealer will have my ethic. The only thing that seems to help is riding the bike. When I ride the RT, it seems all the petty worries about warranties and service go away. Does this mean I will be taking the RT to the dealer for service? No, not if I can help it. I still plan to do my own service, BMW sycophants be damned. If it comes down to "he said she said" dealer bully tactics if something breaks, then it is No Deal. At that time, the RT will find a new owner and I will go back to team green. There is nice red Vaquero that caught my eye. You never know.

Thank you for reading this blog.

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