Lost In Translation

lost in translation

image via CreativeCommons.org

Do you think you’re being crystal clear when you’re REALLY clear as mud? We operate (myself included) on a certain set of assumptions. WE understand things, so other people must as well, right? It’s like (in my case at least) The Rules According to Erika. (Not related to The World According to Garp, though a completely brilliant tale.)

Some things don’t translate.

We live in a world where emoticons supposedly clarify out intentions, but what do we do when we have to (gasp) be ourselves and communicate with someone real-time?

I’ll tell ya: we either hit a home run or fuck it up royally.

What are YOU losing in translation?

In early November, I bought a new Mini. Her name is Beatrice Olivia (hello, Beatrice). She is the first new car I’ve bought since I was twenty-years-old. It was a major purchase decision (albeit, one executed out of angst as following Jason’s death, I needed to keep moving…this was a way to keep moving). I was excited.

Now, over a month later, I’m not excited. Three trips back to the dealership to deal with a bike rack issue (resulting in – “wow, they just don’t work for your bikes” when my bikes are normal road bikes) and a bomb dropped in my lap yesterday about registering my new car and how the dealership has lost the specialty plates from my trade-in, I’m wondering what got lost in translation.

Now, I like to consider myself a smarter-than-the-average-bear consumer. I read shit before I sign it. I’m wondering what got lost when I learned yesterday that the State of Colorado doesn’t allow car dealerships to collect all the taxes and registration fees for when you buy a car. A discovery that will now cost me about $500 when I walk into the DMV to pick up my plates (something else I didn’t know I had to do).

I bought a car like I’ve always done. Considering I’ve owned (yes) fourteen cars, I felt the process went as it always had:

  • I sign financing and POA documents for the car and registration.
  • They give me keys and a temporary tag.
  • I drive away.
  • Dealership calls me when I can come pick up my plates, which were removed from my trade in and I figure they’re holding until the registration and transfer if complete.

But no. This is how it went down with Ralph Schomp Mini in Littleton, CO:

  • I sign financing and POA documents for the car and registration.
  • They give me keys and a temporary tag.
  • I drive away.
  • I bring the car back for aftermarket accessory installation and ask them to look at an idling problem. They say the first tank of gas I’ve put in my car is “bad gas.” Funny. Even though I’ve owned 14 cars, seems odd that the first tank of gas I put in my new one is bad. But shit happens, right? I apparently need to run the tank out, fill up again and it’s going to take a few thousand miles for my new BMW product to “break in.”
  • I take my car home. My bikes don’t fit on the bike racks properly. I call the dealership and make an appointment to come in.
  • I take car to dealership. Huh. You’re right, Ms. Napoletano. The bike racks don’t work with your bikes for some reason. That’s odd. Why don’t you check with Rocky Mounts in Boulder for aftermarket racks?
  • I check with Rocky Mounts. Yup – they see this all the time. I get information and call my salesperson. Salesperson now says that I have to come BACK to the dealership to have the racks removed, as they’ll only process the refund once the racks are back in Mini’s possession. Then they’ll cut me a check for the cost of the racks and I can go to Rocky Mounts for new racks.
  • I return to the dealership for the THIRD time to have my bike racks removed. I also ask about the title/registration on my car. Joe in service (who is awesome) says he’ll have Phil (sales manager) call me as he’s looking into that right now. Car still idles rough (we’re now about 1600 miles into ownership).
  • Phil calls. Says something about me calling the county. I say where are my plates? The ones you took off my old car. He’s aghast that I don’t have them. He’ll look into it.
  • Salesperson calls me. Dumbfounded, saying he has a pretty good memory and doesn’t know what the heck has happened to my plates. So I ask him what the deal is with my registration. He says that I’ll need to take the postcard notice I got from Denver County down to the Licensing office and get my plates. I say, “So, the fees are taken care of. Are there any additional fees I’m going to have to pay when I go down there?” He says, yes. A couple hundred bucks is what I’m looking at. Me? I’m like WTF.
  • Redhead stops being nice. I explain that this has been the worst car buying experience of my life, from the moment I filled up the tank. He needs to have his sales manager call me ASAP.
  • Sales manager calls, I explain the Worst Car Buying Experience of My Life
    • Multiple trips to the dealership inside of 30 days, all for the same issue
    • Dealership has lost my Bicycle Colorado plates which cost me $50 to obtain
    • My plates are now wandering around in the ether and MY name is attached to them
    • The dealership failed to inform me that I will have additional vehicle licensing fees due (approximately $461 in ownership tax and $40-60 in licensing) at the DMV in order to complete registration on my new car.
  • Sales manager says the best he can do it “throw money at the situation.” I have a check coming for $349 and change for my roof rack refund and he’ll round it up to $500 for my trouble. Also says I’m the first customer ever who has not been aware that Colorado (and apparently Wyoming) do things differently from the other 48 states when it comes to what a dealer handles for you at purchase. I suggested a piece of paper called “Registering Your New Vehicle In Colorado” for nimrods like myself who have lived here a mere 2 years.
  • There are WAY too many bullets above, right?

Now, Ralph Schomp Mini wants me to be a satisfied customer – this I get. But does $150 really compensate me for a month of consternation and a car that still doesn’t run properly? Honestly, I’ve never had a new car that’s needed to “break in.” Maybe that’s another reason to buy used ones. But there was a lot lost in translation in my buying experience, from a sales and management staff that loaded me down with apologies and mostly skipped the solutions to the fact that I’m leaving on December 27 to drive about 2500 miles with 2 bikes, 2 dogs and 2 cats in/on my Mini Cooper and I now have a shitload to deal with. New bike racks, registering my car, moving money from one account to the other (something I only do once a month) to foot a surprise $500 bill for registration and additional taxes.

This is all shit that could have been avoided by not assuming a customer knows things. By going the extra mile and taking the bike racks off when I was at the dealership the SECOND time. By the sales staff telling me that the Service Manager himself has aftermarket bike racks. By noticing that my car was purchased in Nevada and knowing I’d only lived in Colorado for 2 years (barely).

What are YOU missing in translation with your customers? Take a moment. Breathe. Help set expectations. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a customer like me who knows their way around the interwebz and shares her experience. I’m hoping Ralph Schomp Mini in Littleton, Colorado will take a look at this situation and understand what’s been done wrong. Throughout the whole bike rack fiasco, I even asked them if they wanted pictures to send to their product development team so they could make their bike racks better. They declined.

Alas, it looks like that at present, there is one thing that hasn’t been lost in translation: my Mini Cooper has a 3 year/36,000 mile bonnet-to-bumper maintenance-free policy. Whether they realize it or not, they’re stuck with me for the next three years, and I can be their biggest fan or the customer they wish they’d pleased when they had the opportunity.

Translation. People don’t read minds. They don’t know what you know. You have to tell them. And tell them straight. So….get to tellin’, mkay?

58 replies
  1. Killian
    Killian says:

    I wish I had known you were buying a Mini. I would have clearly, concisely, and emphatically advised to NOT DO IT. They apparently have a transmission issue that causes them to die around 70-80K miles and the replacement/repair cost is around $8K. BMW is aware and refuses to issue a recall, despite numerous outraged customers.

    I am not a Mini owner, nor do I play on on TV, but I’ve had two friends who were and went through ungodly misery with the cars, the service people, the dealers, BMW, all of it.

    I hope they figure out their crap and make it right for you!

  2. Killian
    Killian says:

    I wish I had known you were buying a Mini. I would have clearly, concisely, and emphatically advised to NOT DO IT. They apparently have a transmission issue that causes them to die around 70-80K miles and the replacement/repair cost is around $8K. BMW is aware and refuses to issue a recall, despite numerous outraged customers.

    I am not a Mini owner, nor do I play on on TV, but I’ve had two friends who were and went through ungodly misery with the cars, the service people, the dealers, BMW, all of it.

    I hope they figure out their crap and make it right for you!

  3. Erik Boles
    Erik Boles says:

    Very interesting issue you had with Schomp. I own a 5-Series BMW from them and the customer service has been mind-blowing awesome for me every single time I go, including the sale itself.

    The service alone has most likely made me a BMW customer for life.

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      I have no doubt I’m a customer who’s slipped through the cracks. No doubt at all. I know multiple BMW owners and their experiences are, in part, why I made my purchase decision.

    • Rori Lieurance
      Rori Lieurance says:

      Maybe ‘cus you’re a man? My experience at almost EVERY car dealer I’ve ever been to (with the exception of my recent purchase of a Honda Civic) has met with the same patronizing bullshit.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Great blog post… I completely agree in concept. The problem as I see it is that many (most) people are terrible listeners. So, you can tell Ralph Scmalph and his lackeys all day long about what they may be able to do differently for their customers to help prevent disastrous experiences like yours, but if they aren’t listening (and they probably aren’t) they won’t get it. We want to be heard but we aren’t willing to listen. And given that premise, you are right…you can totally forget about them being able to read minds. We are so wrapped up in what we want to “say” next that we don’t even hear what someone else is saying to us…we are planning our next “hang on to every word I speak” sentence. So, tell people what needs to be told. Assume that people can’t read minds. But don’t be disappointed when, even when you make things crystal shiny clear, you STILL were not heard. “#justsayin’

  5. Davaleestewart
    Davaleestewart says:

    I owned a Mini for a while, and loved every single second of it. I bought it used, but it was still under warranty. I live in a town without a Mini dealer, so had the option of going to either Atlanta or Nashville for service. In Nashville it was outstanding – the best customer service anywhere, ever, in my experience. In Atlanta, not so much – it was more like your experience.

    Did you offer your services? Perhaps they should hire a professional writer to work on a New Customer Tip Sheet?

    I hope you end up loving your Mini as much as I loved mine, and that Ralph Schomp reads this post and falls all over himself catering to your every whim for the next three years.

  6. Gary Olson
    Gary Olson says:

    went through something similar with Sears. So frustrating. Even told them there were serious deficiencies in their customer service channels (especially on the phone). It’s a big problem when people don’t want to fix the root of the issue and they just want to make the angry customer “go away”…

    By the way – Rocky Mounts are by far my favorite rack system for bikes. I’ve got the Euro Pitchfork on my vehicle now and it’s great. I had a set that I used prior to these that lasted me 9 years!

    Good luck with your car, hope it works out!

  7. The Redhead
    The Redhead says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s Ralph’s daughter running operations out on Littleton these days. While I appreciate her approach to a salaried staff and no hidden fees, I think the process could have been handled quite a bit better. I’d have raved (just as much as I ranted).

  8. Amy Nievera
    Amy Nievera says:

    Gosh, I would have told them to go eff themselves and give me my money back. My husband’s new Wells Fargo account couldn’t get his name spelled correctly on his debit card and checks. After following up with them three times in two months and getting no response, he switched over to Chase (my bank) where everything has gone swimmingly. Of course, buying a car isn’t as simple but I really would have done everything possible to get away from those people. Can you go to a different dealership for issues from now on? Are you stuck with Ralph Schomp Mini? Ew.

  9. SRasmussen
    SRasmussen says:

    Oh, geez, Erika, I’m sorry to hear all this. I’m about to take the new-car-buying plunge myself. I’ve done all my research over the past 5 months, now am figuring out financing and what my best offer/bottom line price is. Thanks to you, I now have some extra questions I will ask during the process (and I need to check out bike racks, too!!). Sorry you’re going through this. It’s a great lesson (once again) in the importance of customer service – and some good lessons in car-buying!

  10. Brankica U
    Brankica U says:

    It seems like you can tell them as much as you want, some people won’t understand.
    I have to tell you about my experience with Dubai airport purchase. I will try to make it short 😉
    My hubby and me fly through Dubai, we buy two little netbooks. I reach the destination and find out my netbook is crashing, system failing, ect. Sometimes after 5 minutes sometimes after 2 hrs.
    We fly back. I go to customer service and want to replace it.
    NOTE: when I was purchasing I asked if I can replace it if something is wrong with it. They said Yes.
    Now, they say let us see what’s wrong with it. Me: Are you a technician? Him: No, but I know a bit about them. Hm!
    After one hour – Him: Nothing is wrong with it. Me: Did you try it? Him: No we just kept it on for an hour. Me: Well that is not how I am going to use it! I will be working on it.
    Etc, etc. I kept going back and forth and he said they can send it back to the factory to be fixed and I can pick it up in some months when I fly back through Dubai! No, we can’t ship it back to you. Oh, really!? I am never flying through here and I wanna see you manager. At this point I am really not being polite.
    Manager comes, same story again, I show a$$ and I get my netbook replaced.
    Sometimes you just have to be bad!

      • Rori Lieurance
        Rori Lieurance says:

        They probably haven’t even heard of it. Thinking you’re just some “dumb girl” and they can get by with that “bad gas” bullshit because you’re a woman. Good for you, I hope it’s splashed ALL OVER the internet!

  11. Raschella
    Raschella says:

    Does Colorado have any kind of lemon law? If so, I’d take that car back and tell them where they can stick it. Just that “it takes several thousand miles to break in” would be enough for me. Back in the 70’s maybe, but that just isn’t an issue any more. It’s fine that you can harass the hell out of them for the next 3 years (and yes, it could be fun:-), but if there’s a way to get out of it and get a car that carries your bike with ease, preferably from a dealership that doesn’t have its collective head up its ass…I dunno, just sayin’.

  12. PJ Mullen
    PJ Mullen says:

    I’m not sure there is an industry that is more deserving of a giant bitch slap than auto dealers. By and large they are horrible and have absolutely zero incentive to implement any real change when it comes to their business practices. My younger brother is a lifer on the service side of dealerships and no matter what brand he’s worked for they have all taken the same approach to customer service – apply enough grease to the squeaky wheel and hope it goes away.

    When the dealership my brother used to work for changed hands I had a conversation with the new GM (who was also part owner) while my car was being serviced. He talked about the things he wanted to change now that his ownership group was in place. I told him if he really wanted to shake some things up he should dump the cookie cutter dealership website that every other dealer for that brand has, add social media elements and act human, and reach out to the local blogging community and hold some events when new models launch – amongst other things. (Yes, I was jockeying for some consulting work) I also might have mentioned that his cheesy radio ads need to go the way of the dodo bird.

    Imagine my surprise when I heard a radio ad for this particular dealership a few months later touting how they were the #1 volume seller in the Carolinas for that brand. What exactly does that do for me as the consumer? I could infer that with their volume comes better pricing, but that isn’t the message they are conveying. And we all know what happens when we assume.

    Sure there will be exceptions to the example I just provided, especially on your high end marks. Mostly because people dropping six figures on a Benz aren’t going to put up with BS from a dude making less than what their car cost a year. Personally, I’d like to see each state’s franchise laws overhauled so these jackwagons had to face some real competition.


  13. Leon
    Leon says:

    G’Day Erika,
    You really have had a bloody dreadful 2010! So…..

    Q. What do you do if someone gives you a Wombat for Christmas?
    A. Find a ball and go outside and play Wom.

    And you thought things couldn’t get any worse. And we’re sending Oprah back this week.

    Find someone who makes you laugh and spend Christmas with them. You’ve earned it.

    Look after yourself



  14. Dawn Barnhart
    Dawn Barnhart says:

    Oh great, more taxes? I just bought a new car too, not from CO either, so I wasn’t aware of this and no one said a word. I am aware that I will have to get an emissions test tho. BTW, I got a Saab – No break in period required. I did look at the Minis. They were just too ‘mini’.
    Hope the trip goes well!, Erika!

  15. Suzanne Vara
    Suzanne Vara says:


    congrats on the new Mini. It is a big purchase and while the experience has not been a great one, it is still a new car and hard work got you that new car.

    In reading this, I kept thinking hmh, how much do they really care about the problems with this customer? I see from comments that they have a really good reputation (and let’s face it, the RedHead would never walk in somewhere blindly). With that, when there are problems with a customer (which happens) why have they let this slip, that slip and shit thinking they could throw $150 at you? You were being refunded for you bike racks so it was easy to tack on a lil bit more as the check was being written anyway. Could they ever have thought that they could come and pick up the vehicle from you and deliver it back?

    The gas excuse is absolutely ridiculous and an insult to you or any customer they have said this to. It is not like you ran to the garage and made some ethanol yourself and threw it in the Mini when it needed gas station premium.

    Customer service is what brings people back and what makes they say away. There is not too much middle ground. Sadly the repercussions for them is not that you can bring the Mini back and leave it on their doorstep. Sure you will be with them for 3 yrs but how much shit can you take from them? You will end up at another dealer and be happier and they will move along and sooner or later this will happen to someone else.

    Send a pretty letter to “BMW National” – I did it one time with a Miata that I had. She was Maggie and had a problem; a big problem and the dealer was not being helpful. I reached out to Mazda National (as I called it) and within a few days, I was told to go to the dealer with the car. I did, they greeted me quite well, had a rental waiting for me and I did not have to pay on my car for the duration that I did not have it (combined it was over 2 months) nor for the rental of course. I got Maggie back working better than ever and never did have a problem with that dealership again. =-)

  16. Alysson
    Alysson says:

    They fed you a line of shit when they did the whole, “Bad gas…gotta break it in…” stuff. 1) Gas bad enough to negatively impact the performance of a brand new car is almost unheard of; and 2) This “break-in” excuse is something dealers use to prey on a car buyer’s ignorance. One thing I have heard about Minis is that you always have to use premium fuel, so that could have something to do with the rough idle ONLY if you didn’t fill her up with the good stuff.

    Engines today no longer require the extended “break-in” process that older engines required. They say that just because they know, chances are, you’ve probably heard that term before and won’t question them further on it.

    However, I would encourage you to try to have at least 1000 miles of stop-n’-go city driving before you hit the highway for your road trip though. And make sure to change your oil ASAP! I always change the oil in a new car within the first 500-1000 miles and don’t use synthetic oil (unless it came from the factory with synthetic oil, which I think may be the case for the Mini – definitely worth checking out for sure).

    My uncle is a top-notch mechanic and that’s been his advice to me every time I’ve gotten a new car this decade. Granted, none of this advice is specific to a Mini, so I’d certainly encourage you to take it with a grain of salt and do a little info search for yourself. Nonetheless, I’ve never had a problem with an engine I’ve “broken in” from brand new. There’s my two cents.

    Oh, and invoice the dealership for the time you’ve spent dealing with all this bullshit. When they get it they’ll know for sure that the $150 isn’t a sufficient resolution. Assclowns.

  17. Susan
    Susan says:

    I’ve received good service from Ralph Schomp Mini’s repair and sales departments. Sorry to hear about your challenging experience.

  18. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Erika, this is beyond lost in translation, this is Google Translate! Have you considered reporting them to the BBB, or returning the car altogether if it’s still under warranty?

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      I don’t really think it’s a BBB issue. The entire rack fiasco could have been handled better. I still don’t believe my Mini needs to “break in.” Joe and Devin in their service department have both been quite attentive, while the sales side of things leaves something to be desired. And yeah – you can’t return cars past the 3-day right of recision notice in most states. We’ll see how things pan out, especially since I pinged Mini USA with my concerns. If I don’t hear from Mini USA, THAT’S a real issue (especially since they have my VIN).

  19. The Redhead
    The Redhead says:

    No worries, Susan. I’m sure that’s the norm for their service department. I do find it curious that your IP address is out of Texas and you’re responding on a Colorado car dealership. Huh. Maybe you’re reaching out across the miles with your AT&T Wireless service. Damnedest thing – phones and tech these days!

  20. Jim
    Jim says:

    This is truly a sucky, but unfortunately all too common experience. Too bad, neither Ralph Schomp nor Rocky Mounts attended your brand seminar at the Angel Capital Summit. They could have learned really important lessons. Rock on. In this case, time will heal all wounds.

  21. Greg Smith MD
    Greg Smith MD says:

    Erika dear,

    Ditch the Mini. Buy a Toyota Rav 4. My wife loves hers, and she’s had everything from a VW bug to a Suburban.

    Love your posts always,


  22. Michelle Mangen
    Michelle Mangen says:

    Erika — did you really call the paper they should have “for nimrods like me”? It all sounds frustrating…at least you can walk into their office (or scream if you chose to) at a human in the US. I’ve been dealing (four weeks tomorrow) with major stupid issues with my son’s cell provider and there is no office I can walk into and no human in the US (all overseas). That entire story though….deserves it’s own blog post (which won’t be written until the freakin’ issue is resolved).

    Happy travels on your upcoming trip!

  23. Rori Lieurance
    Rori Lieurance says:

    Wow, they should give you a new, fully loaded car. Or at LEAST free oil changes and car washes FOR LIFE. (Not that it would make up for the horseshit you’ve already had to wade through!) That is triple horseshit customer service, and somebody should be paying a helluva lot more than $500. The only “bad gas” you got is the load of crap they’re trying to feed you. I’m always complaining about the total LACK of cust. serv. these days. I’m so surprised when I get decent or even *gasp* good service. That’s sad because I’m old enough to remember when things were different…So sorry! Hope they AT LEAST find your bloody plates!

  24. Diane Shipley
    Diane Shipley says:

    Great post Erika, and I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with what should have been an exciting purchase 🙁 But you’re so right, we should never assume.

    I think this is where it’s worth getting an outside perspective from someone who doesn’t know you/your business: is it clear what you’re offering, who you are, what you stand for, how to find you etc etc. I know I’ve had feedback in the past that *really* surprised me.

  25. Sarah | @MadysonDesigns
    Sarah | @MadysonDesigns says:

    Wow, this sounds like my experience to a T. I bought a new Mini Cooper 3 years ago (Stella just hit her 50k mile birthday) and while the car has been phenomenal, the dealership and service team has been the biggest clusterf*ck I have ever experienced.

    I live in CT, and I also had issues registering the car- the dealership wouldn’t transfer my plates for some odd reason, and instead of giving me the option to get temp plates and transfer it myself, they just gave me a whole new set of plates- along with a new registration fee.

    And I have been in for service many times for sunroof troubles, which was recently fixed by a recall, and idling troubles in cold weather- which I was told were a perfectly normal function of the vacuum pump until the engine warms. Because idling like a diesel is normal for this car apparently. This is all compounded by the fact that it is impossible to get an appointment as service managers never return phone calls. It is at the point where I now have to call the general manager of the entire dealership to get an appointment.

    But my most recent experience takes the cake. I went away on vacation and when I came back, a rattling noise had cropped up in my heat system area. Took it into the dealership, where they diagnosed it as a mouse nest in the blower (my fault for parking it at a house in the woods) which would cost me $500 to remove and clean. Luckily, I happen to have a landlord who is a mechanic who took a look at it for me. Once he opened the air system, he was able to reach in and pull out the filter which was slightly chewed, and the entire nest. Total cost: Five minutes of time, and $35 for a new filter (damn expensive BMW parts). FIVE MINUTES.

    Needless to say, I will never be bringing my car back to the dealership.

  26. Terri Orlowski
    Terri Orlowski says:

    After reading this post, feel compelled to tell you about the Women Drivers website (http://www.women-drivers.com/). I learned about it last summer at a luncheon where the founder of the site was speaking. It is an awesome site, and one that I think more women should know about and participate in, and that more car dealerships should be aware of what people are saying about them on.

    Hope adventures with your new car get better…


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