In early 2004 my new Saturn abruptly caught fire as I was driving home from an orchestra rehearsal. I pulled the flaming carriage over, got my instrument out, and ran away just before it exploded. You can check out that part of the story here.
The first thought I had (after the voices in my head stopped shrieking) was:
I woke up the morning after the car explosion still wheezing from inhaling all of that black smoke the night before. I didn’t exactly have a game plan as to how to handle the situation. They don’t teach you how to deal with this in Driver’s Ed, and I hadn’t a clue about whom to call or what to do.
I rented a white Chevy minivan for $100 a day (with tax and fees…there are always fees, right?) and breathed a sigh of relief. Having wheels (even if those wheels were going to be quickly draining my meager freelancer budget) gave me a feeling of returning normalcy after the previous night’s explosion, and I knew that I’d at least be able to get to gigs and other work while I dealt with this mess.
Auto insurance only covered the cost of the car, not any belongings in the car, so I had to call my homeowners insurance. The same song and dance I had with my auto insurance was repeated—shock and sympathy followed by crippling amounts of paperwork. Receipts for incinerated items were requested (which were, of course, nowhere to be found) and the bureaucratic gears continued to grind.
As I was driving around, taking care of all of the post-explosion busywork, a little voice started whispering in my ear. I didn’t pay attention at first, but it got louder and louder until I actually started to hear the words it was whispering:
A knot formed in my stomach as I arrived back home. Now convinced that there was in fact a recall, I began furiously digging through my files. I finally found what I was looking for:
Car OK – – – > check engine light – – – > boom – – – – > car on fire – – – > car explodes
Notice that the recall letter states that there were not sufficient parts available to service the recalls. They told me to wait.
I remembered that I had, in fact, tried to take care of this recall. I had called my area Saturn dealer (you’ll be hearing more about them later). I actually remembered the conversation quite well. I had asked about the recall, and they had said that they didn’t have the parts in and to check back later. I distinctly remember them telling me that the recall was for a problem that was very unlikely to occur, and their dismissive attitude (an attitude that I often noticed at this dealership) regarding the problem made me think that it wasn’t anything to worry about.
A few days passed, and I was getting nowhere with my auto insurance company. They had still not sent out an investigator to the south side
The giant annual bass festival that I ran at the
My salesperson handed me the keys.
Had I committed myself to buying a car that had no power locks? How could I have done this? Did the car I test drove the previous week not have power locks? This car cost $26,000! Could someone sell a car for $26,000 and not have power locks?
I did the math and realized with glee that I would have driven only 2700 miles by the time I got back to
I returned the car when I got back to Chicago, making an appointment with Saturn for the morning I got back from
“The parts aren’t in.”
“It’s an unlikely risk.”
“We’ll let you know.”
I found myself taking left turns at granny speed, much to the annoyance of my fellow drivers.
This time, however, I kept calling the dealer, and they finally scheduled a service appointment.
The final insult to injury from Saturn came in the spring of 2006. I was driving home from teaching in my two year old Saturn when the dreaded ‘check engine’ light came on. The car refused to shift out of first gear, and I drove the 25 miles back to
I asked the service manager if there was any possible way that I could get a transmission for less, and he said that a new transmission was the only option, and that the $5600 price was set in stone. He said that there was absolutely no way that they could cover the cost of this repair given that the car was out of warranty.
Something in me finally snapped, and I called the Saturn Corporation. I told the first person on the phone that I have been having some very unhelpful experiences with Saturn in general and my local dealership in particular, and I wanted to know if there was someone to whom I could discuss my concerns. I was passed through a couple of people and finally spoke to a very nice woman from the corporate office. I told her my whole tale of woe, from explosion to local dealership shenanigans to the failure of the transmission and $5600 bill. I explained that I did not try to sue Saturn—in fact, I went right back to the same dealer and bought a new car. I told them that I felt let down, that my whole family drives Saturns (they do, but they quit buying them after mine exploded!), and that I was disappointed in my experience and simply wanted to share this with Saturn.
The lady from corporate called me back the next day and told me that if I paid for the labor (about $1100) Saturn would cover the rest of the bill. I agreed to this arrangement.
Later that day I got a call from my local Saturn dealer inquiring whether I had called the Saturn Corporate line about their dealership. I told them that I had done so. The same guy who told me a few days prior that there was “absolutely no way” to cover the cost was singing a different tune, telling me that “his dealership” would cover the parts if I would cover the labor. I didn’t say much besides setting an appointment to get the repair done.
$1100 poorer, I drove out of the service garage for my friendly Saturn dealer and have never gone back since. I hope to unload the car the first chance I get.
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