It’s early on a Saturday and I sit sipping a Starbucks dark roast at Longo Toyota in El Monte, California. The very kind Service Rep slips into the chair across from me to deliver the news that the dealership will discount the replacement of a broken knob on my dashboard.
The repair of the offending knob on my 2008 Highlander Hybrid had been previously quoted at $1,185. Now, the rep says, the price will be reduced to a mere $1,014.
Luckily, I have not taken a sip of my coffee or he just might experience a genuine spit take.
No, this is not a typo. A broken, plastic knob (no electrical issues included) will cost me more than my last dental work (crown included). At least that procedure included Novacane.
While I ponder whether or not to shell out such a large amount of money for such a miniscule part, a thought brushes through my mind like the woosh of Longo Toyota’s in-house Starbucks Coffee House steamer. How does a dealership obtain a Starbucks franchise? As I turn around to check out the hundreds of guests milling around, watching tv, I spy a Subway sandwich shop. Does Subway ask for a guarantee on customer traffic to have prime placement in the lobby of Longo Toyota’s Service Center?
But these are just questions, simple ways to occupy my time as I wait for the mild-mannered rep to return from yet another visit to the netherworlds of Service Managers and Repair Supervisors to see if there is anything, “anything at all,” they can do to repair this knob.
I’m not sure how the knob got broken. My best guess is that, because it is large (around three inches in diameter) and situated low on the front center console that, most likely, it was knocked by a knee or bag when someone got into the passenger’s side of my vehicle. Surely, I reason, this little plastic piece can be glued or something. After all, nothing is broken, the controls work just fine, it’s just that blasted knob that has popped off its hinges.
As the rep settles back into the seat across from me, I can see him struggling to find words for this dilemma. Tentatively, he says to me that he brought the issue to the Service Manager’s attention as well as the Senior Technician and both say that a little ring which attaches to the control is to blame. It connects with thin plastic strips in three places and the knob snaps onto the ring. But, he shakes his head sadly, the contra postl, to which the ring is connected, is completely sealed. The Service Center is not willing to take the risk of damaging the entire temperature unit to replace the knob. The only way Longo Toyota Service Center can repair the broken knob is the pull out the entire temperature control unit and replace it with a new one. Hence, the humungous charge for one little knob.
So the knob cannot be sold separately?
Can’t the knob be reaffixed?
The shy rep suggests that I call an electrician to crack open the control and solder the ring so the knob can easily click back in place. So, Toyota isn’t willing to gamble on breaking open the knob connector, but I should be?
While I sit and process this stunning information that I will have to pay over $1000 for a little, gray, plastic knob, the rep quietly slips away to process my paperwork and get my car so I may leave.
The paperwork is handed to me, as is my key and I begin to walk to my car. But something stops me. I cannot leave without a resolving this matter. Determined to get justice, I walk over to the finance department. Surely, they will find the notion of paying $1,185 for a Toyota Highlander knob shocking or, at the very least, a little amusing.
The jolly Finance Manager is, indeed, surprised and suggests that a trip to Guest Services might be in order.
The Guest Services rep gives me a warm welcome and chats me up about grandchildren and commutes and listens intently to my “challenge.” Then, picking up the phone, she calls Paul LeBlanc, Service Drive Supervisor. She assures me that she would be “my voice” in this, most unfortunate situation.
As the Guest Service rep introduces Mr. LeBlanc, I know I am getting somewhere. Here, I think, is a straight forward, get-right-down-to-business kind of guy. His furrowed brow gives me confidence as he launches into an explanation of biblical proportions. He’s spoken to my shy Service Rep, the Service Manager, as well as Senior Technician.
He re-explains the whole ring connector story and his tone begins to change. Suddenly, his brow tenses and he gets more personal. In all his years, he has never seen a broken knob on a Highlander. It was broken clean off and it must have taken a great amount of force to do so.
Suddenly, I feel a little uncomfortable. Is he blaming me for my broken knob? Well, it is my car and my knob…but still, isn’t their job to repair broken knobs and why should it cost me an arm and a leg to do so?
The Guest Services Rep breaks in and asks Mr. LeBlanc if Toyota can cover the service if I cover the cost of the parts. Mr. LeBlanc’s eyes narrow as agrees to these terms. He also adds that he could have one more person look at the car.
Still in a daze at this shocking change of events (isn’t this woman supposed to be “my voice”) I acquiesce. The more the merrier, I say. Let’s meet this new consultant and see what he has to say.
But, as we leave the Guest Services area and head back to the bustling Service Center, Mr. LeBlanc stops to take a call about a different issue. Which gives me, yet again, more time to think. It has been two hours since I stepped into Longo Toyota and I have yet to resolve my problem.
Then it hits me. They don’t care if my broken knob is replaced or that it will cost me the down payment on a Toyota Certified Pre-Owned Prius to get it fixed.
Mr. LeBlanc finishes his call and I tell him it probably won’t matter if we speak with someone else. In the end, after all the explanations and hours of negotiation, I manage to get $1000 knocked off the knob.
The Guest Services Rep is pleasant as I check back with her on my way out. She assures me that they will honor the $800 plus price for replacing the knob.
Still pondering whether or not the gaping backlit hole in my dashboard is worth the $800 price tag, I wander out to my car. It’s just as well, I think, as I pull out of the driveway and wave goodbye to the uniformed woman in Longo Toyota’s guard shack, I need to save my money for the $60 cup holder waiting for pickup at Toyota of Marina del Rey.