Organizational failure at a garage

Saturday, 11 AM

I talked to a friendly manager at a garage in the morning on Saturday. He explained a problem with my car via a demonstration, which was novel to me. It won me over and made me feel I could trust this garage. He said they could probably have the problem fixed by 6 PM that night, but if not certainly by Sunday. I agreed to the repair and left.

That turned out to be a mistake.

Saturday, 5:44 PM

I called them later that day on Saturday, at 5:44 PM. I talked to the friendly manager again, and he explained that they needed a part and would fix it first thing Sunday morning. I could pick up my car at noon on Sunday, he told me. I said that sounded good.

Sunday, 11:50 AM

On Sunday, I called at 11:50 AM. The person who answered said my car hadn’t been worked on. He said the mechanic would be in any minute, and that they’d let me know when they worked on it. I told him that the manager said it would be ready to pick up by 12. The person got agitated and rushed me off the call. (Also, he called me “honey”, which was odd.)

Sunday, 12:33 PM

After hearing nothing, I called back at 12:33 PM. The mechanic had still not arrived.

I was disappointed, but since it was a non-critical repair, I decided I’d just skip the repair, take back the car, get groceries, and have the repair done somewhere else next weekend.

I said OK, I’m going to just get the car. Don’t do the repair even if the mechanic does come in.

The person answering the phone was the same one I talked to last call. He said OK, but I couldn’t pick it up until the mechanic came in because the car was on a lift. I asked him to please call me when the mechanic does come in.

Sunday, 2:55 PM

No word. I called again at 2:55 PM. A different person answers.

I told him that I wanted to pick up my car and asked them to not do the repairs. He replied that the repairs have already been done.

I found it disturbing that this garage ignored my request, but I was glad that at least I could get the car back. I walked to the garage.

When I got to the garage, there was a single employee in the office. He said that he tried to call me and tell me not to come down, but I didn’t answer. I may have missed the call.

He explained that my car was not there at the garage.

Where is it, then? I asked. I would like it back.

He replied that:

  1. The mechanic should have been in but he didn’t come in.
  2. The garage is part of a “big business” that has many garages, and it could be at one of those garages; he doesn’t know—he’s just the gas attendant.

Neither of those responses explained where my car is. Also, no one mentioned before that my car might be shipped to another location.

I asked if I could talk to his manager. He didn’t like this, but he picked up the phone, called, and asked about my car. After he hung up, he told me his manager didn’t know. He said I should just call back tomorrow.

I asked if I could have the manager’s number and talk to him directly. He replied no, his manager was busy and with his family. Then, I asked if I could talk to the mechanic he mentioned. He also said no to that.

He went out to service some gas customers that had pulled in.

There was another customer in the office with me. She explained that she was in the same situation. She let them do some extremely expensive repairs and was originally told they’d be done Saturday. The garage still did not have her car ready and could not even tell her where her car was. She needed to pick it up now so she could drive to visit her husband in a nursing home that day.

I offered to contact her if I got a hold of the manager or the mechanic or found where my car was. She declined, wished me luck, and went home.

When the gas attendant (the sole available garage employee) came back in, I asked again: Is there a manager I can talk to or another way I could get my car back now? Again, he said no.

I walked out to go around the block to see if it was parked on the street.

It was not.

Sunday, 3:25 PM

I could wait to see if things worked out. Now, however, I doubted everything about this business. I felt that if I didn’t deal with it today, there was a chance I’d have to deal with the same issue tomorrow, except I’d have to do it under the constraints of a weekday.

Also, I now found it minutely possible that my car was lost, stolen, damaged, or in another condition the garage wanted to hide. I called the Cambridge Police non-emergency number to see if they had any advice on the situation.

I explained, and the police officer on the phone asked where I was and said he’d send an officer out. I was a little surprised and said I didn’t want to cause trouble — I just wanted to get my car. The police officer said he understood and that they’d get it straightened out. He reacted so quickly that I think there is a chance that this a common issue.

While I was waiting, I wrung my hands about whether I was being unreasonable or not. On one hand, it’s not the fault of the person at the garage that no one told him where my car is. I have seen this cruel firewall of accessibility at many companies, which puts low-ranking employees and upset customers on one side and the actual creators of the problems safely isolated on the other.

On the other, I have the right to know where my car is and to get it back at the time they communicated that I could. I had already tried asking directly for this access.

When the police officer arrived, I explained again that I didn’t want any hardships for anyone — I just needed my car back. We went into the office, and he basically asked the same things I did, except more directly.

This time, the garage employee called his manager and left a message asking about my car and noting that the police were here. He also called that manager’s manager, who spoke to us.

The “big boss” said that he didn’t know where my car was but that he’d find out and get us a call back.

The police officer left and said to call them back if they didn’t produce the car. I thanked him, then sat in the office for an extremely awkward wait.

The manager I had originally talked to on Saturday called. Over the phone, he explained that the car actually was still in the garage on a lift. It had never actually left.

The employee in the office then actually blamed me for not knowing this, even though he was the one who told me my car was not here. I had taken him at his word.

The manager apologized on this call and also offered the defenses that:

  • This normally doesn’t happen.
  • The mechanic is the root of these problems.
  • The employee in the office right now is just a gas attendant and doesn’t actually know how things work.
  • Mechanics don’t normally work on Sundays.

During the discussion, I tried to make the points that:

  • It’s OK to be behind on work, but it is wrong and possibly illegal to deny customers access to their car after the point at which the business says it will be available.
  • It is wrong to not be able to tell customers where there car is.
  • It is terrible to give customers the impression that their car has been moved to another site without their consent.
  • If the only person working at the office is a gas attendant who is not able or intended to know where the customers’ cars are, it is still the business’s responsibility to be able to tell customers where their cars are and when they can get them. The business should get someone else to answer those calls.

(I didn’t say this on the call, but if a business can’t provide a way to inform customers on the whereabouts of their cars, then it should tell customers up front before they submit their cars that once they give up the car, they may not be told about its whereabouts or condition for an unpredictable number of days. Be honest about the level of service you can provide.)

I have no idea how much of what I said was accepted. The manager said that they would complete the work on my car sometime on Monday morning and that he would give me a “small discount” on the work.

I pointed out that I already called around 12:30 PM that day to tell them not to do the work. Apparently, that call was either unprocessed or completely ignored. I asked to not be charged for that work and for them to just put whatever they took out back in so I could retake possession. He reluctantly agreed to that.


Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much that agreement means. I will find out tomorrow.