I special-ordered a van, only to have it sold from underneath me by a greedy dealership who were either incompetent or dishonest or both. They cared more about not losing money than about making the situation right, and as a result their reputation suffered on the biggest Sprinter forum.
[This post is an edited version of a question I asked on the Sprinter Forum when the events I describe first happened. At the time, I didn’t disclose the dealership. The dealership (Wilson Motors, AKA Mercedes of Bellingham) subsequently showed me that they cared more about money than customer satisfaction, so I decided to name them. It really is worth reading the original thread if you have a spare half hour. The dealer chimes in, then someone else who nearly bought my original van.]
I ordered a 4×4 Sprinter van on the first day of availability, October 2014. Wilson Motors offered to meet me half way between invoice and MSRP. This is at a time when most were asking for MSRP or above. Good deal, right?
Fast forward to mid-May. I ask for an update, and am told the van will be at the dealership June 1.
June 1, no van. More emails and calls exchanged over the next couple of weeks (mostly at my prompting). Finally, I’m told “Oh, apparently that was the date your van landed at Lasdon, NC from Germany, not the dealer date.” New date “About a month.”
4th of July weekend, it’s still in California waiting to be trucked up to the Pacific North West. Delivery finally happens on Sat 11th July while I’m on a mountain bike vacation I wanted to use the van for (and had already sold my old truck).
I get a text on Monday 13th morning with pictures of the van. The color looks a little off but that could be just cell phone cameras. Also, it has alloy wheels and I ordered steel. And are those fog lights? That wasn’t part of any package I ordered.
I let the dealer know that things looked weird. No response. Maybe it was a nice dealer surprise to say sorry for the van being so late. I arranged to cut my vacation short and drive back to pick up the van on Weds 15th.
On Weds, I arrive with wife and dog, dusty from our trip, and the sales person proudly shows me my new van. Only it isn’t. No suspension seats. No Active Safety package. An alarm system (not much use in the middle of a forest where we camp). A second battery (useless considering I have a LiFePo battery in the garage waiting to go in to the van). Becker GPS (I prefer Google). Wrong color. Wrong (higher) sticker price. Definitely a surprise.
So a conversation ensues. Turns out my van got sold on June 6 or 7. It was “A feeding frenzy” to quote the sales person. In other words, they got above MSRP for it. Probably not very upset not to sell it to me.
Apparently no customer names are assigned to 4×4 orders, so they didn’t think the one that came in was mine. I mean, it’s not like is has a VIN they can check or anything, or that it arrived when mine was due in. **Miraculously**, they had done a dealer trade for this second 4×4, which they thought was mine. Really? They found a similar spec van from California completely by chance without in the slightest realizing that they’d screwed up and needed to make good? Hmmm.
The sales person told me “I would walk away if this happened to me.” I bet he’d like me to do that, because then he could sell this other van for above MSRP too, rather than the below-invoice price that I’m sitting in the dealership for 3 hours negotiating. In fact, he admitted he already had it sold. What’s crazy is that at this point they were STILL trying to highball me, and running the “I’ve got to talk to my manager” game, until I stood up and said I’ll go with the sales person to talk to the sales manager.
I took the van home with me that day (without parting with any money). The next day, the dealership manager finally called at noon, and was still trying to not lose money on their screw-up. Of all the people who are potential candidates for helping him recoup his losses, I think I’m pretty far down the list. Sales person who sold my van, quite high up that same list. He didn’t seem to see it that way.
Giving a dealer a deposit doesn’t appear to constitute a contract. Or even if it does, they don’t care.
I bought the “replacement” van. I got a good price, I think. The dealer claims he’s losing money but I don’t think that’s true in the longer term after kickbacks, etc. The van sufficiently workable that I’ll live with it for a while. I think I’ll wait until the North American plant is open and maybe a new body style is introduced before selling this van as a complete conversion and buying a new one. Ford may have a factory 4×4 Transit by then, too.
Suggestions from other forum members about what to do fell into a couple of categories:
Wait for a new van
That was sort-of offered by the dealer. But they’re crap. They don’t know how to work the system like other dealers who regularly order Sprinters. They don’t know much about their product or the options that go on it (and admitted as much). Why would I want to subject myself to working with them again?
Also, like I mentioned before, opportunity cost. I live in the Cascade foothills in WA and bike year-round. I’ll be down in Mount Hood area and Moab for sure this year. I already sold my Explorer, which I’ve been using for this type of trip until now. And maybe I’m a wuss, but I’ve had several experiences with snowy mountain passes where 4×4 has pretty much saved my ass.
Demand they install the packages
A no-go. Tried it. They know, as do you and I, that the aftermarket OEM parts cost is way up there. The whole suspension seat package with lowered pedestals, luxury seats and suspension units costs less as a factory option than one luxury seat on genuinemercedesparts.com. Also, the suspension seat units are not readily available. There is no way that options like Active Safety could be retrofitted even if the mechanic donned lederhosen and sang Bavarian love songs to the Sprinter while they were doing it. Plus, why would I want this dealership to do it?
The dealer did also offer a discount on parts I ordered from him. I’ll repeat, a discount, not at-cost. No thanks, I’ll go online instead.
Take them to court
If I finally in a couple of years won my case, I might feel better. In the meantime I wouldn’t have a van. I imagine that slimy dealers hire even slimier attorneys, so do I really want to go through that process?
There’s some interesting research conducted in VA hospitals which showed that if the hospital admitted mistakes to patients before the patients discovered them themselves, it reduced the incidence of subsequent litigation. In other words, all people really want is an apology. The money’s nice too, but it’s not often people’s primary motivation. I, too, would have felt fine with a genuine apology. I heard “we made a mistake” from the dealer, but did not sense anything in their words or actions which made me think they were really apologetic.
I could take them to court to force them to apologize to me, but I run my own consulting company and I’m pretty sure that I could buy a whole new van with the number of my billable hours that process would take. The dealer knows that and is counting on it, which also makes me pissed, but the recursiveness of the “I know that they know that I know that they know that it’s not worth the effort” has to stop somewhere.
The dealership really didn’t care about threats such as who I might complain to.
I contacted Mercedes Benz customer support. They couldn’t do anything other than log my complaint. The dealer network is entirely independent from the manufacturer. They appeared genuinely concerned that the dealer had behaved the way they did, but ultimately dealers can do whatever they want.
That’s the path I took. It wasn’t easy doing this. My observation was that the dealership will be nice to you only as much as it helps them to pump money from you. They are completely driven by self-interest. My impression is that any threats/shouting/posturing are like water off a duck’s back.
In the end, I was at exactly 15% below MSRP. I am not happy with that, but I’m accepting it and moving on. The van’s a nice color, and it has the most essential of the items I wanted.
The dealer should be ashamed of how they initially screwed up and how they completely failed to perform any kind of genuine service recovery subsequently. None of their offers were aimed at remediation. Instead, they were all aimed at reducing their losses. Their attitude was that they sold my original van for more money than they’d have made from me, and they could do the same with this one. They did the minimum necessary in their minds to make me go away. I don’t think they realize that the problem has left their forecourt but not finished leaving a mark on their reputation.
I would never try to purchase a new or used vehicle from them, and I would not trust them for service or spare parts either. Those are strong statements, but I think they are supported by the facts. Don’t let the manager’s charming English accent fool you. I have one of those too, so the charm doesn’t work on me.
I can make this van work for me and it’s becoming clearer that the opportunity cost of waiting would have outweighed the value of getting the exact items I wanted. That does not let the dealer off the hook. They are still, in my opinion, slimy, self-interested, and ultimately a very bad mark on Mercedes’ reputation.