MODESTO — Lorna Bordenave of Modesto wrote to share her unusually bad car-repair story. She had taken her 2007 Volkswagen Beetle into Central Valley Volkswagen in Modesto on Dec. 18 and discovered a relatively minor problem.
"Just an air bag light," she said. "I was told they would need about one week to get the part."
Instead, it took nine weeks and three days.
"They told me, 'The car can't recognize the part; another part was ordered but never came in (heard that twice); it is "personal" to my car.' Really? It's a 2007 Beetle, not a 1960s 'Herbie the Love Bug,' " she said.
Lorna said on several occasions when she called to complain about the long wait, service folks told her she could pick up her car until the part came in because it was "drivable." But, she added, they wouldn't confirm it was safe to drive without the part, which detects if someone is sitting in the front passenger seat and arms the air bag accordingly.
"Would they take responsibility in the event of an accident and my air bag didn't deploy?" she asked. "Shame on them for suggesting I drive a car with a known safety issue."
She also said the service department often did not return her calls or keep her up-to-date with information.
"This is not my first VW, and I thought my next car would be the luxury Volkswagen CC," she said. "However, products lose luster when service is not behind them. Maybe a Lexus?"
Frustrated, she filed a complaint with Volkswagen of America and sent a letter to The Bee. We don't usually get involved in personal problems, but because I once had to wait two months to get a new VW diesel engine from Germany after I mistakenly filled my gas tank with coolant (don't ask), and because car-repair horror stories make us all feel better about our own minor car woes, her story intrigued me. I called Central Valley's service manager, Greg Hayes, who was sympathetic to Lorna's plight.
"It's been a nightmare," he said in mid-February. "Can you imagine? If I were that customer, I'd be livid."
He blamed a Volkswagen factory in Mexico. "This is the third time they've promised to send us the part," he said, adding that the part isn't available anywhere else.
"It's unacceptable, in my opinion," he said of Lorna's long wait.
Would it have been faster to order the part from Germany?
"They don't make them in Germany," he said. "I have to get it from Mexico."
The dealer finally gave Lorna a loaner car Feb. 13.
"Hopefully, I'll get the part tomorrow," Hayes said the next day. "As soon as I have it, I'll put it in."
Well, the part did arrive, but it wasn't a Valentine's weekend present after all. Once again, Lorna was told her car wouldn't "recognize" it.
"I didn't know cars have their own DNA," she said. "Humans can get new hearts sooner than we can get a new part."
It turned out, Lorna said, "they had to replace the whole brain (computer) of the air bag system. That's why the part was never recognized. The bad part is, we asked them about that in December."
The good news, she said, is that the dealer didn't charge the Bordenaves for any of the air bag-related parts or labor when they finally got their car back Feb. 22. That included a new battery, which had gone dead during the two months her car had sat on the lot.
"I'll give them credit," Lorna said. "(Hayes) took full responsibility. I do appreciate that they finally took care of it, and that it was fully covered."
But, she added, "the other side of that is that I would have been happier taking my car in, having it fixed (quickly) and paid my bill. It took less than eight hours to fix it once they got the right part in."
Mostly, she said, "I'm extremely grateful that it's over. I was almost giddy when I got to pick up my car. It was almost like getting in it for the first time, it had taken so long."
What problem do you have that demands an answer? Let me know.
Next week: Trapping feral cats.
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at email@example.com, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.