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Customer service gone bad: How Honda almost won the battle, but then lost it and the war

December 12, 2013 8 comments

If you’ve followed me on Facebook, then you are aware of an ongoing battle I (and many others) have had with Honda about the quality of their paint jobs on their new Civic models from 2006 until today. I can still remember how excited I was to buy a new Civic in ’06. The car was much roomier than comparable models and it’s gotten excellent gas mileage, sometimes as high as 40mpg on the highway. I have about 115k miles on it in 7 years and it still runs beautifully.

But about two years ago the paint started to flake along the roof, and it progressively got worse. I reached out to my local Honda dealer, Sunset Honda in San Luis Obispo, and was basically told that I “park my car in the sun too much”. I responded with, “So does everyone else around me, it’s California…what else can I do?” Basically I was told the problem was mine.

I reached out to the dealer who sold me the car (Penske in Ontario) and while they were much nicer, they were clearly not interested in repainting the car. I got a couple of quotes myself on a repaint, one of which was more than the actual original sticker price of the car.

I reminded both dealerships that I was a good Honda customer, and was soon to be in the market for a mini-van, and the Odyssey caught my eye…but not if it was going to look like broken eggshells in 4 or 5 years. If they weren’t going to stand behind their product I wouldn’t buy another vehicle from them. There was no way that this problem was naturally occurring and the only logical explanation was a faulty paint job.

Nope.

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Over the next couple of years my car continued to get worse, and after some soul searching, I decided that I’d never recoup the value of my car if I spent that kind of money on a paint job. Since it still ran well, I decided I’d run it into the ground instead, try to squeeze another 6 or 7 years out of it. In the meantime, I commiserated with other Honda owners in the same situation and came to realize something.

There were thousands of Hondas out there just like mine, all with faulty, flaking paint. And Honda continued to blame sunlight and waxing and UV rays and whatever it could come up with to refuse to address that it obviously had a defective product.

Of course in the meantime, since my car was no longer under warranty, I stopped going to Sunset Honda for service. There’s several hundred dollars of revenue a year down the drain right there.

About two months ago, I received a surprise in the mail, so innocuous that we almost didn’t open it. It was a letter from Honda extending the warranty on paint for Civics like mine and offering to paint the car at no charge!

Hallelujah, right?

Well, sort of. See, while they were offering to paint it, they were going to make sure that it was as inconvenient as possible to do so. They only offered a six month time frame to get the repaint done. That was ok, but when I called the dealership to schedule, they said that they would need to have the car for two weeks to do the paint job, and no, they couldn’t expedite that.

Ok, two weeks isn’t bad if I have a loaner car…but no. Since, in the words of the Honda service technician, they were doing me a favor and helping me out by repainting my car, they were not going to offer a loaner.

Super. Would they reimburse the cost of a rental?

No.

So basically, I had to endure the inconvenience and cost of replacing my transportation while they “helped me out”.

I solved that problem by scheduling my paint job over a time where I was either out of work on vacation or traveling out of the area to minimize inconvenience on my family.

Intriguingly, while waiting for my car to get painted, I discovered that there was a class-action lawsuit filed against Honda (http://www.topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/lawsuit-news/2185-honda-defective-paint-class-action-lawsuit) . So much for the idea that they had decided a repaint was the honorable thing to do, eh?

Once my car was painted, I wanted to pick it up on a Saturday, mostly because I didn’t want to have to interrupt work or my family schedule to do so. I got a call from Sunset Honda saying that I could pick it up, but it was extremely inconvenient for them because they don’t like to have repaints picked up while the primary technician was out of the office.

Making it crystal clear that my convenience was unimportant to them. Sweet.

But I picked it up on Saturday anyway, since I’m a rebel that way. The technician on duty at Sunset handed me my completed paperwork and then congratulated me on the repaint. I told him it looked fine. And he then graced me with this fantastic statement completely lacking in self-awareness:

“What other car company would repaint your car for free at 114,000 miles?”

Let’s see. One that also failed to paint it properly the first time? One that thinks they are
doing me a huge favor by fixing their faulty product? One that also completely missed the boat and a chance to gain a bunch of loyal customers by stepping up and fixing it right away? One that has now completely lost me as a customer?

Yeah, that company.

At the very least, the car pretty much looks like new. They painted everything except the bumpers.

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You’d think that’s the end of it, but no, today the seal at the top of my windshield has started to come off…as near as I can tell they didn’t seal it completely. I’ll be taking that to my personal mechanic, because the last thing I want is for Sunset Honda (or any other Honda) to be involved in my automotive business. I’ll take my next $30k+ purchase to someone else.

One can only imagine, based on the number of other people I know with this problem, that there are now thousands of dissatisfied customers out there. I see Hondas with bad paint jobs every day now when I am out and about. And when I show the photos to my friends, they say they start seeing Hondas in the same situation. One wonders what that does to people who might have been considering buying a Civic or an Accord.

Or an Odyssey.

Well played, Honda. Well played.