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The Dealer "Death Letter" (If you see this, RUN!)


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I was given this to have my wife's cherry 1999 Grand Am GT with 51,000 miles on it fixed. It turned out to be an intermittent in the ignition switch. As part of the check-in process, I was given what is known as the "Death Letter" to sign.

Death_Letter.png

If you see this, leave quickly, as quietly as possible. If they have your keys, fold the letter up and put it in your pocket and ask for the keys.

Note that item (6) says that there is no Goodwrench guarantee, and item (7) says that even if the Service Manager says that there is a Goodwrench guarantee, there isn't. If you still think you want to have your car serviced there, read the paragraph following item (7) and heed it.

CTS-V_LateralGs_6-2018_tiny.jpg
-- Click Here for CaddyInfo page on "How To" Read Your OBD Codes
-- Click Here for my personal page to download my OBD code list as an Excel file, plus other Cadillac data
-- See my CaddyInfo car blogs: 2011 CTS-V, 1997 ETC
Yes, I was Jims_97_ETC before I changed cars.

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I actually got this handed to me and had to sign it before I got my wife's car worked on, including minor errors. Other than not including the letterhead stuff, what you see in my post is *exactly* what I was asked to sign. I transcribed it from the original, which had a real dealer's name, logo, and slogan on it, and actually was originally (I got an old photocopy) on a dealer letterhead that lists his marques, address, phone and FAX number, and URL on the bottom. Of course I would not put that information up here. I needed to go so I didn't make up an appropriate URL; it's hard writing good comedy.

There are at least two good reasons to take an old car to a GM dealer:

  • The repair needs Goodwrench training. Hard-to-trace electrical problems tend to be immune to most auto mechanics, but Goodwrench training includes step-by-step procedures for dealing with them for each GM car.
  • You want the Goodwrench guarantee. This is typically one year on any repair, but for some assemblies the guaranteed is much better. For A/C compressors, it can be a lifetime guarantee, for example.

I have found by long experience that most mechanics these days have a good code reader and can follow troubleshooting procedures using OBD codes. But if you have connector problems, wiring harness or wiring issues, or intermittent bad connections or short circuits in things like the ignition switch electrical part, fuses, circuit breakers, or relays, then the codes come and go and don't necessarily tell you what is wrong, other than the area of the electrical system that is affected by the problem. A mechanic that has learned OBD codes but is not electrically inclined will replace parts according to codes that are really telling him that there are bad grounds, broken wires, or no volts where there should be volts, and throwing parts at an electrical problem is useless and expensive.

My wife's car had a intermittent electrical problem that was getting worse. In the garage, I couldn't open the doors wide enough to get to fuse panels in the front door jambs without backing out into the freezing rain (it became snow and temperatures on the order of 10 F the next week!), and I *thought* that I had eliminated the ignition switch by seeing voltages downstream of the ignition switch while the electrical system was fritzing out and partly off. So I did a dealer search in the area from the Pontiac web site and picked one that had an experienced Goodwrench tech.

It *did* turn out to be an intermittent in one of the ignition switch contacts. The car is fine now, but I have no Goodwrench warranty because I signed the Death Letter. I turned down a $250 fob and $68 headlight adjustment. Labor was about twice what anyone expected, meaning to me that the tech was not particularly good at electrical problems.

The interesting thing is that, once the car was finished, the service manager would not take or return a call. After a week, a clergyman friend, in uniform after officiating at a funeral, drove me to the dealership; when they saw me walk in with a Man in Black, suddenly the car was ready. But they had to drive me to the shop and extract it from the tech, searching out the key and fob on his key board. The tech seemed surprised to see us coming for the car, but I didn't hear the whole conversation between him and the assistant service manager. He seemed to say that he had spent hours on that car, a strange comment to me. I drove the car home.

CTS-V_LateralGs_6-2018_tiny.jpg
-- Click Here for CaddyInfo page on "How To" Read Your OBD Codes
-- Click Here for my personal page to download my OBD code list as an Excel file, plus other Cadillac data
-- See my CaddyInfo car blogs: 2011 CTS-V, 1997 ETC
Yes, I was Jims_97_ETC before I changed cars.

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Dumass. 1800-eat-*smurf*.

Only thing they left out is that they are not responsible if the car is misplaced, lost, stolen or accidentally crushed.

Actually, that's in there. See item 5. I find that "consequential damages" is a legal term:

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Consequential+damages

CTS-V_LateralGs_6-2018_tiny.jpg
-- Click Here for CaddyInfo page on "How To" Read Your OBD Codes
-- Click Here for my personal page to download my OBD code list as an Excel file, plus other Cadillac data
-- See my CaddyInfo car blogs: 2011 CTS-V, 1997 ETC
Yes, I was Jims_97_ETC before I changed cars.

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Why does that letter exist? I think that there is a good reason. Many, in fact. Among them are:

  • Although you and I may find it hard to believe, there are people who will take an old car into a dealership complaining of a leaking radiator hose, with a plan to get their transmission fixed for free. I grew up in the car business and I saw this kind of thing.
  • There are people who do drive older cars with multiple maintenance issues, with more just waiting to manifest themselves, and the process of repair and test driving will often bring out these issues. And, the owner will *not* understand.
  • Although nearly half of us out in the world drive cars with 100,000+ miles on them that are well-maintained, older cars do have maintenance issues that come up from time to time. If they come up anytime in the weeks or months following a repair, most owners will not understand.
  • The vast majority of dealer tech work is on newer cars, for warranty work and preventive maintenance, with an occasional brake job or other wear-and-tear item. When they get an older car with a lot of rust underneath that is dirty and greasy, you can understand that they will not have a good attitude toward the condition of the car or its serviceability, or its likelihood of breaking down, and they many not want to work in the car without the protection of the "Death Letter" or some such.

Could something less harsh, that leaves the owner some rights to his car, be drafted? Quite possibly, but IANAL so I can't say if that's possible while still protecting the dealer from misfortune and fraud, and the tech from BS do-overs. To me, the answer is to take older cars to independent mechanics that service the near-majority of us that drive cars with 100K+ miles or 10+ years on them. The dealer is always the first recourse of the owner when you need Goodwrench training or guarantee, but the Death Letter that I got removes the Goodwrench guarantee. And, the presentation of the Death Letter is a big red flag that the techs will not have a good attitude toward the car. A dealer that does NOT produce something like the "Death Letter" is a better bet than one that does produce such a document for you to sign.

This time my case worked out just fine and my car was never in any danger at this particular dealership. But the next time I need a Goodwrench-trained tech I will go to a dealer that does not produce a "Death Letter."

CTS-V_LateralGs_6-2018_tiny.jpg
-- Click Here for CaddyInfo page on "How To" Read Your OBD Codes
-- Click Here for my personal page to download my OBD code list as an Excel file, plus other Cadillac data
-- See my CaddyInfo car blogs: 2011 CTS-V, 1997 ETC
Yes, I was Jims_97_ETC before I changed cars.

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I only seem to go to dealers with cars that still have warranty like my 10 SRX. For a car out of warranty I find that it's best to stay out of the dealership. They seem to charge more for what you can get it done for elsewhere. My wife's 06 BMW hasn't been to the dealer since the 5 year 50,000 mile warranty when out. The car just turned 100K and we've been going to a very competent BMW only independent garage. Same way with other GM cars that I own out of warranty. There's a great independent GM garage that does great work for a reasonable fee.

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For an older car that is out of warranty, it is best to find an independent shop vs. a dealership if you do not do the work yourself. Dealerships have very high overhead costs and that is reflected in the labor rate.

Kevin
'93 Fleetwood Brougham
'05 Deville
'04 Deville
2013 Silverado Z71

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I do see two reasons to go to a dealership with an old car: when you absolutely need Goodwrench training, as in an electrical problem that your local mechanic isn't comfortable with, and when you want the Goodwrench guarantee, which can be really good on some components like A/C compressors.

CTS-V_LateralGs_6-2018_tiny.jpg
-- Click Here for CaddyInfo page on "How To" Read Your OBD Codes
-- Click Here for my personal page to download my OBD code list as an Excel file, plus other Cadillac data
-- See my CaddyInfo car blogs: 2011 CTS-V, 1997 ETC
Yes, I was Jims_97_ETC before I changed cars.

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I do see two reasons to go to a dealership with an old car: when you absolutely need Goodwrench training, as in an electrical problem that your local mechanic isn't comfortable with, and when you want the Goodwrench guarantee, which can be really good on some components like A/C compressors.

I agree but if you're made to sign one of those letters, there is no guarantee.

Kevin
'93 Fleetwood Brougham
'05 Deville
'04 Deville
2013 Silverado Z71

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Not only is there no guarantee, you have effectively granted the dealer total custody of your car, with the option to buy it back for the price of the repair. Goodwrench techs are available at all GM dealers, and you can ask a couple of simple questions like "How many years of experience does the lead tech have - 5 years? 10 years? 16 years?" to make sure you have one that can use the Goodwrench procedures in the FSM to find and fix electrical problems and other issues that may be hard to get done at the neighborhood garage - or your usual dealer.

The idea is that when you are handed such a document, to decline, leave, and find another dealer that treats you and your car just like everyone else. They aren't hard to find. About half the cars on the road have 100,000 miles on them. And, GM dealers do need business from out-of-warranty cars to keep the techs busy, and, no, they don't lose money on maintaining your car.

CTS-V_LateralGs_6-2018_tiny.jpg
-- Click Here for CaddyInfo page on "How To" Read Your OBD Codes
-- Click Here for my personal page to download my OBD code list as an Excel file, plus other Cadillac data
-- See my CaddyInfo car blogs: 2011 CTS-V, 1997 ETC
Yes, I was Jims_97_ETC before I changed cars.

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