Friday, 26 July 2013

Qui roule en Renault repart en vélo!

"Who better than Renault to service your Renault?"

So runs the commercial for France's largest car manufacturer.

And even though they charge premium prices, I've stuck with them over the years mainly because...well I am to mechanics what Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is to acting: best left to those who can, is my motto.

Besides, as I recently discovered after my car conked out on the motorway, providing receipts and proof of a regular manufacturer-approved service history can have its upside.

Now you might think that I should have learned my lesson first time around when my (late) diesel-powered Laguna with a newly-fitted turbo gasped its last breath at just 180,000 kilometres.

"Cars are like humans," the garage unhelpfully explained to me.

"Some come to an end earlier than others."

source Ballista at Wikipedia

No it wasn't a reasoning that I accepted, but faced with a dodo-like engine and a pile of metal and spare parts that would fetch only a minimal sum, I managed to "do a deal" and trade it in for something bigger if not necessarily - as it turned out - "better".

An Espace

"Ah. A fool and his money..."

But the Espace IV Phase II (in this case a 2.2 dCi  - and no, I don't have much of a clue what I'm talking about, I'm just copying from the carte grise) seemed to fit the bill: room enough behind to load a heap of Cockers and a Lab when necessary, electronics galore to keep any wannabe boy racer happy and reasonable fuel consumption.

It also felt safe - very safe.

All was well until three months ago when, on my travels and without the slightest warning, I came to a complete standstill.

I mean the car did, with me at the wheel.

Cruising along, I was, at 130 kilometres per hour on the motorway, with thankfully no traffic around and no possiblity of steering as the car rolled along powerless eventually coming to a halt with the gradual use of the handbrake.

The motorway breakdown service arrived promptly, towing my big, sad, immobile lump (the car, not me) to a nearby Renault garage...where the "fun" began.

The mechanics poked, prodded, banged and clanged suggesting that the problem lay (and this is put in the simplest of terms - the only ones I understood) "with the frame that held the engine together."

They might as well have been speaking Gujarati to me (and no, it's not a language I master) and responding to my question as to how a car with a regular service history and not even 115,000 kilometres on the clock could break down, I received an answer I hadn't been expecting.

I had anticipated something along the lines of the lame Laguna explanation, and was surprised instead to be told that this particular model has a pretty good ( that the correct word, given the circumstances?) track record for breaking down..

"Take a look at the discussion boards across the Net," I was told.

I did.

"Renault has even set up a special department for customers who have problems with the car."

It was a service with which I would become familiar over the coming weeks.

For the moment though, I gave the go-ahead for whatever repairs were needed, blissfully happy in the expectation of being on the road again pretty shortly.

Then came the 'phone call.

Apparently the problem was bigger than initially thought and lay with the engine, described colourfully by the mechanic as a "pile of shit".

He didn't know exactly what was wrong and would only be able to tell me by stripping it down completely and, even then, there was no guarantee they would be able to repair it.

Oh yes. And I would also have to meet all costs incurred.

In other words I could end up with a heap of not-so-spare parts scattered across the workshop floor and a hefty bill to boot.


The best thing to do, he suggested, was to ring Renault customer services and see whether the company would be willing to meet some of the costs.

And that's exactly what I did, explaining what had happened (as far as I understood) to the charming lady on the other end of the line and sending her proof of the car's service history as requested.

The days rolled by. I awaited a decision - a point at which "negotiations" become nicely confusing.

While customer services needed an estimate from the garage as to how much it might cost to strip and inspect the engine before coming up with a possible solution, the garage couldn't give one unless I gave the go-ahead for the engine to be dismantled.

And I wasn't going to do that until I knew whether Renault would be willing to meet some of the costs (and how much) for whatever repairs were necessary.

An impasse of sorts.

Around and around, and back and forth this went, until a compromise was found.

The garage would require a one-off payment (at my expense) to dismantle and inspect - while Renault might be prepared to go 50:50 if it transpired that the only solution was a new engine.

More confusion though as I still didn't really know how much I would be expected to cough up.

So, the mechanic worked on how much his estimate might be, depending on what he discovered. 

I remained in almost daily contact with both the garage and customer services until finally there was a quotation - but only an internal one.

I would have to wait a couple more days for a final proposal.

It seemed customer services could only decide whether they would be prepared to honour the original agreement based on a quotation which would, in their words, "be more or less the same as the one I would receive."

"More or less?" I asked?

"What exactly does that mean?" taking note of a promise I had made to myself to stay calm and courteous no matter what.

It might have seemed unnecessarily complicated to all those involved - mechanic, customer services lady and me - but that was how Renault operated.

The "internal quotation" was exactly that and not the final customer bill.

Well that was as clear as mud!

But the charm and politeness of my two companions in this repair (m)escapade, made it harder for me to complain.

So I waited until finally...

Well, I'm not going to disclose how much lighter my wallet will be by the end.

But I've got an agreement from Renault to meet half the costs of a new engine and I've already checked out the potential resale value on Leboncoin.

And this weekend I shall be making the trip halfway across the country to collect a car I cannot wait to sell.

Thank goodness my other car is a Porsche (well it's a Golf actually).

Maybe there's something in the joke "Qui roule en renault repart en vélo."

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