September 3, 2014 Leave a comment
Almost all of us need a reliable, trustworthy Auto Mechanic. This was something I had taken for granted, as my cousin is a Mechanic. Paying for extensive Auto Repair in exchange for beer or my mother’s baked goods was a major perk for most of my life.
After relocating to Wilmington, NC, it became an immediate necessity to find a Mechanic, as I could no longer just dial up my cousin every time the car started acting funny. The move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, which involved multiple 900-mile jaunts each way, put a lot of very hard miles on my Honda CR-V.
I had long been a AAA Roadside Service club member, but had never used a AAA Car Care Center prior to moving to Wilmington. My first experience with AAA Car Care was memorable, though: as I detailed in my article “The Walking Dead Diet“, on the Saturday before Memorial Day in 2012, I was driving down Military Cutoff Road in Wilmington when the front passenger wheel flew off my CR-V. The most of the studs on the rotor had broken off, largely due to the insane amounts of travel I was putting my poor car through. Driving excessive highway miles with only two intact studs on the rotor is obviously not an ideal condition for your vehicle to be in, and it’s the definition of a major safety issue.
One of my minor claims to fame is that I have twice survived having a wheel fly off my car, the other time being when a front wheel came off my Eagle Talon while I was driving down I-79 in Pittsburgh at 85 MPH. Fun stuff, but I digress.
Almost as if by fate, my car came shrieking to a halt in front of AAA Car Care on Military Cutoff at about 3:30 PM on the Saturday afternoon of a Holiday weekend. Somehow, for the second time in my life I had the presence of mind to “guide” the car off the road while sparks flying from the rotor threatened to detonate the engine. Looking around after my CR-V mercifully slowed to a stop, I had both a Dunkin’ Donuts and a AAA Car Care Center within my immediate line of sight.
After briefly collecting myself, I sighed, calmly turned off the engine, and did the only rationale thing I could think to do: I walked to Dunkin’ Donuts and got an iced Hazelnut coffee. While I drank my coffee, I found the number for the nearby AAA Car Care Center, and had my CR-V towed to the soon-to-close facility.
Long story short, AAA repaired my car. I must say that I have nothing to complain about, as none of the wheels have fallen off the CR-V since AAA on Military Cutoff did the work. However, the repair bill was so egregiously-high – the figure $843 is permanently seared into my brain – that I was discouraged from using AAA Car Care Centers for future service.
I ended up using a small shop in Wilmington called Performance Auto for a great number of repairs in the interim, including a complete engine replacement. I am going to hold off on most of my thoughts on Performance Auto for the moment, as their irresponsibility in not detecting major safety issues on my CR-V warrants a separate article.
In any event, recently my CR-V needed extensive work, which I entrusted to Performance Auto. Not only did Performance Auto fail to diagnose the main issues I brought to their attention, but they let me leave their shop five times under the pretense that the CR-V was fine to drive on an extended road-trip. Meanwhile, in actuality the CR-V was one hard turn away from something truly catastrophic happening. My contact at AAA literally winced when I assessing the condition of the CR-V’s front suspension, which told me all I needed to know.
Speaking of which, my contact at AAA was Mike Coyle, to whom I was referred by a guy I play Hockey with. The Hockey Locker Room is my go-to resource for legal and medical advice, financial planning, computer services, etc. I trust my teammates implicitly. My teammate Kevin was kind enough to refer me to Mike, and having become completely disgusted with the arrogance/incompetence over at Performance Auto, I went to see Mike at the Car Care Center on Oleander Drive.
I am pleased to report that Mike did everything in his power to mesh my demands – and I assure you, I was very demanding – with the work that he deemed necessary to make the car safe to drive. My experience with AAA Car Care on Oleander Drive, on the whole, was extremely positive.
This is my Review of AAA Car Care Center on Oleander Drive in Wilmington, NC. This location is not to be confused with the location on Military Cutoff Road. Wilmington residents are aware the same stretch of road is called Military Cutoff Road on one end and Oleander Drive on the other, but this may confuse people visiting or otherwise new to the area.
One of my favorite things about dealing with AAA is that they have a hierarchy of Mechanics, all of whom are ASE Certified. After Mike took a quick look at my CR-V, he realized that he would need his “A” Mechanic for this particular car. I greatly appreciate that sort of honesty over the fast-food mentality some shops take. I would rather wait an extra day and have the best guy for the job examining my car, rather than the first guy available.
AAA does a full Diagnostic examination, the details of which can be found here. In a situation like mine, in which my CR-V was coding for a “Random Misfire”, this sort of Diagnostic scan is much more effective than the ol’ “let’s try a Valve Adjustment at your expense” tack that the geniuses at Performance Auto had chosen to take. My view as a moonlight medical professional is that doing a Valve Adjustment (or whatever) when it’s nothing more than an educated guess on the Mechanic’s part is like amputating a patient that needs Heart Surgery. The depths of stupidity at play bother me too much to discuss further.
(Note to Mechanics: What was causing the Random Misfire on all four cylinders? A loose bolt on the Distributor housing that was causing the Distributor to shake back and forth like a Shakira/Rhianna Twerk-off. Again, much thanks to Performance Auto for wanting to perform expensive, major surgery on my CR-V for a problem that was fixed with four turns of a hex wrench.)
After I authorized the Diagnostic (the cost of which Mike ultimately waived for me), Mike gave me 15-20 minutes of his time to discuss options. The Diagnostic scan made me much more confidant in eventually authorizing the work, which ties into my absolute favorite part about dealing with Mike Coyle at AAA:
Mike gave me the proposed Work Order up front, clearly itemized. In my experience, this is a drastic departure from how many Auto Mechanics operate. Many Auto Shops give the consumer a vague description of work that they may or may not do, generally putting the consumer at a severe disadvantage in negotiation. At AAA on Oleander, I had a complete understanding of all of the work that could or should be done on my vehicle, complete with a straightforward breakdown of prices.
This is a major Pro in favor of AAA that you absolutely should not overlook. It’s critical as a consumer that you know exactly what you’re paying for.
I impressed upon Mike in my inimitable way that the only work that would be done on the car was the absolute minimum that would make the car drivable to Pennsylvania from North Carolina. While Mike may not have agreed with the minimalist work that I ultimately authorized, he spoke to me like an adult of reasonable intelligence and respected my decision. That fact in and of itself makes someone like me about 500 times more likely to deal with him in the future.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that each and every member of the staff at the Car Care Center was unfailingly polite. By itself, this would not affect any of my purchasing decisions, but it is a nice feather in the cap of the Care Center on Oleander Drive.
AAA has locations all over America, and as such is subject to Common Denominator pricing.
For example, on the CR-V’s latest work order I noticed that the standard cost for a four-wheel Alignment at AAA was $89.99. This is about $20 more than the average cost in the Wilmington area (and believe me, I heavily researched the local cost of a four-wheel alignment).
While Mike was prepared to discount this cost to $69.99, putting it more-closely in line with local prices, the fact remains that some of AAA’s costs are generally going to skew high.
It’s not my intent to go on a complete expose, but what I found was that in some cases the price for Parts at AAA was oppressively-high. To use one example from this latest Car Repair adventure, I ended up purchasing Spark Plugs and Wires. as well as a Distributor Cap and Rotor, and doing a self-install because AAA’s quote on those Parts with Labor was prohibitive:
Most people are not dime-squeezing Control Freaks like I am, and would thus be amenable to having someone else do the work at a reasonable cost. AAA’s quotes were certainly not outrageous, but again my goal was to do this round of work on the CR-V at a rock-bottom figure.
It’s worth mentioning here that AAA’s overall Labor Rates were surprisingly low compared to the few smaller shops I price-compared them to. It’s also worth mentioning that their Hourly Shop Rate was significantly lower than the rate I had been given at Performance Auto, which I had given a very healthy amount of recent business.
Other than AAA’s company-wide mandates on Parts pricing, I have no complaints. I was given a very clear, detailed Work Order prior to a single screw being removed, and I was thus able to pick-and-choose which Services I wanted and which I wanted to decline. Even knowing that some of the Parts prices were more than I was willing to pay, Mike Coyle worked to Add Value to my overall Work Order in a variety of creative ways, which I greatly appreciated and detail in the next section.
This is the area in which I give the most credit to Mike Coyle at AAA.
Mike had the distinct privilege of meeting my alter ego Jack the Ruthless. As many of you likely know, my years spent working in Asset Management have made me an absolutely barbaric negotiator. Mike was kind enough to call me “extremely demanding”, but the fact is that I am blood-on-the-lips savage when it comes to business transactions. I have literally made grown men cry dealing with the negotiation of gym memberships or the return of defective Hockey Equipment.
Mike is the friend of a teammate, so believe it or not he actually got the PG-13 version of Jack the Ruthless. However, I am the type of guy who would blackmail his own father-in-law if it made sound business sense, so be certain that I made Mike Coyle work for my business.
Some aspects of this recent Repair job were non-negotiable. For example, there were Parts of the Front Suspension that were in such terrible condition that Mike and his Lead Technician had strong reservations about me driving the car off-premises after the Diagnostic scan. I don’t speak Car Repair fluently, but from what I understand, one wrong turn would have led to the front of the car collapsing on itself.
Both Mike and his Lead Tech were good enough to walk me through all of the car’s major safety issues while the car was up on a rack. All of my regular readers know that I love full disclosure, and despite being dense with mechanics, I had a good grasp on the major issues with the car. The work on the Front Suspension was mandatory, meaning it should have been detected and done by Performance Auto months ago.
Working around the mandatory chuck that the Suspension job was going to take out of my Checking Account, Mike did his best to provide strong Value wherever else he could. For example, my vehicle needed two new Tires (due to the front end’s hideous misalignment), and not even my cousin could beat the price on Tires that Mike gave me on behalf of AAA. As noted above, he waived the $100 Diagnostic Fee for me. He even cleaned my headlights, which had become so cloudy that my business partner Randy refused to ride with me after dark, free-of-charge. In short, Mike Coyle added as much Value into my investment as he could, which was music to my Business Accountant ears.
Due to the damage to the Front Suspension, my CR-V could not be properly Aligned. Rather than attempt a failed Alignment and irresponsibly bill me the $70 (as a competitor I won’t again name might have), Mike Coyle very openly told me that I would not be billed if an Alignment could not be done. He kept his word and did not bill me, which I greatly appreciated. He very easily could have failed to properly Align my CR-V, told me otherwise, and just tacked an extra $70 onto my final tab. I would have known no different. He instead chose to earn my trust and future business.
This situation speaks to the advantage of dealing with a National company such as AAA: the local shop has a National reputation to protect. Even if he were so inclined, Mike would not have authorized the billing of a failed Alignment simply because that would have reflected poorly on every other AAA Car Care Center across America. This speaks to the two distinct advantages Big Businesses have over Mom-and-Pops: Consistency and Standardization.
For all the perceived Biases working against using AAA Car Care Centers (described below), a major advantage is that I can walk into a AAA Car Care Center in Des Moines, Iowa or Atlanta, Georgia and expect a similar standard of quality. Even if the prices fluctuate somewhat, a consumer can purchase confidently knowing that at least their vehicle will be repaired properly, lest the shop in question tarnish AAA’s sterling reputation.
I am not biased against AAA, as I am actually a AAA Platinum member. Every year, I gladly pay the $60 membership fee, as I have had more automotive breakdowns in recent memory than I want to recount.
Having said that, AAA is among the last places I would have previously considered for Auto Repair. While this bias may be somewhat unique to me, my view as a someone with a strong understanding of Brand Building and Marketing is that AAA is a stale brand. Concepts such as “Consistency” and “Dependability” are not sexy sells, especially when the sticker prices for work at your average AAA Car Care Center are higher than those at your average small shop.
When asked to compare AAA to another Brand, after a moment of consideration, the first Brand that came to mind was Sears. Here is the comparison: both AAA and Sears are so established as Brands that they have lost a lot of their luster. AAA, like Sears, is your father or possibly your grandfather’s go-to place for Parts and Service. They have been around so long that both brands have become “quaint” to a certain degree. And while both Brands are synonymous with “Quality”, neither are typically associated with rock-bottom pricing.
I believe the general impression is that while the quality is high, the prices of both Brands are somewhat inflated compared to small shops (some of which can cut corners due to lack of Standardization) without seemingly offering the exclusivity of a Dealership shop. My view as a Marketer is that both AAA and Sears are trying to recreate their niche, as both have lost footing to cheaper alternatives in recent years.
I also have to recount that I had a relatively-expensive experience getting my CR-V repaired when the wheel came off back in 2012. “Wheel flying off car, extensive Rotor damage” is not an easy order to price-compare, but the final bill – which again totaled $843 – kept AAA Car Care off my radar for several years. I take full responsibility for that bias, as the total likely would have been similar regardless of which shop provided the repair. But still, that number…ouch.
As I sit here writing this in early September 2014, I have to wonder exactly how much money I have cost myself in-sum by deferring to a cheaper alternative in Performance Auto. I will save much of that line of thought for my Review on Performance Auto, but this is the lesson:
My preconceived notions about AAA prevented me from utilizing them sooner. Had I done my homework and given them the opportunity to win my business earlier, I may have saved myself a good deal of time and money. I certainly couldn’t have spent more using AAA, as my receipts from Performance Auto read like a Greek tragedy.
The truth is that Mike Coyle worked tirelessly to complete the work needed on my car while whittling the total cost down to a number that I deemed acceptable. While my main problem with using AAA had always been their pricing, I sincerely doubt I could have gotten as much Value at a similar cost. In short, Mike Coyle gave me everything I asked for. The car drives much better, and I have nothing to complain about whatsoever.
If AAA Car Care on Oleander can make a satisfied customer out of me, they should have no problem meeting the needs of a less-demanding consumer. In short, AAA Car Care on Oleander Drive comes Highly Recommended.
My advice to you is to strongly consider using AAA Car Care on Oleander Drive, and to do so without any preconceived notions. You may be pleasantly surprised at how low the final bill dovetails with the quality of work.