Meineke: Racist, inept & stranded a quadriplegic without wheelchair
There are numerous tales about customer service gone awry, but I must say that my experience at the Meineke Car Care in Carrollton, Texas, is by far the worst and had me repeatedly thinking "This cannot really be happening!".
My name is Michael. I am a Carrollton resident and business owner. In addition, I am a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. In spite of my physical limitations, I drive a Chevrolet Uplander that features hand controls which allow me to steer and operate the gas/brake. It should be noted that these modifications in no way change the design of the internal components and the vehicles are made so that basic maintenance can be done at any reputable garage.
On January 4th, I took my vehicle to the Meineke located at 2540 Old Denton Road for a State Inspection sticker and a new battery. Because my vehicle lacks a driver's seat for others to use, I typically drive the van into the garage and remain inside the vehicle while any minor maintenance (oil changes, inspections, tires or batteries) is done that should take less than an hour. I was told that changing the battery should take no more than 30 minutes. However, this ultimately became a surreal odyssey which would see me stuck inside my vehicle for 5 HOURS, force me to be without my wheelchair overnight, and make me endure incredibly shady business tactics and general inappropriate behavior.
At 4:00 PM, I approved the installation of a 600 amp battery. As I sat in my vehicle waiting for the process to begin it was then that I heard the service manager, Alex, make the off-the-cuff remark to a fellow employee, "A person's car is the second most important investment they'll ever make. That's why I try and make as much money off of them as I can." That should have been a sign of the shadiness of things to come.
Moments later, Mark, the technician, popped my van's hood and disconnected the battery – leaving the vehicle without power. After fumbling for a few minutes more, Mark came up to my window and asked if I wanted something to drink from the store. I must admit that I was very confused by the question. I said "˜no' and he walked off around the shopping center and disappeared. I sat there dumbfounded as to what was going on as I was trapped inside an unattended vehicle without power. Eventually, the owner walked up and asked where Mark was. When I said "the store" (as I said this, the ridiculousness of it all came over me), the owner smiled and quickly tried to pass this off as Mark "needing to attend to personal matters". A few minutes later Mark returned opening a fresh can of smokeless tobacco he'd purchased.
For the next thirty minutes Mark worked on changing out the battery. As he did this, the owner asked if I wanted to pay out. Sensing that nothing was amiss, I said "˜yes' and paid my bill.
Once the new battery was in, Mark asked me to crank the engine. The vehicle didn't start. After a few adjustments, he asked me again and it still didn't work. For the next three hours (7:00 PM), this continued. My frustration during this time was intensified by constantly having Alex say that it was my car and "all its extra stuff" that was causing the problem. Again, I've had vehicles like these for fifteen years. I know that the modifications don't affect the simple exchange of a battery and I shared that with Alex repeatedly. But that didn't stop him from continuously using his "blame the customer/victim" tactic trying to absolve his shop from any responsibility.
At 7:15, Mark came up to me and said that he had grown too frustrated to figure out the problem that night. He then stated "I could ***-rig it, but I don't wanna do that" (Yes, another one of those "Did that just happen?" moments.). A few minutes later the owner entered the van and the two of them stated that I should find a way home.
To be completely clear: I use a power wheelchair and have the modified vehicle to transport the chair. Asking me to leave this wheelchair behind is no small request. Not only am I leaving behind the chair, but my independence as well. That means NO ability to get around the kitchen to eat, NO ability to get to the restroom, NO freedom and forced to lie on a bed and depend on others. To ask me to leave my wheelchair is a MAJOR request.
After explaining this very dire situation, Mark still stated that he was tired, frustrated and going home. The owner stated that he would ask Alex to take a look at the problem while I was (begrudgingly) arranging a ride home.
Ten minutes later, Alex came over and quickly identified that during the battery exchange they had triggered my factory anti-theft system – why it took three hours to get him to come over and diagnose the problem, I'll never know. He then reverted to his "blame the customer" technique by saying that this is "probably a special vehicle that requires codes to change out a battery" and that I should look into it. It's a CHEVY!!! It's not more mainstream than that.
By the time my family arrived at 8:30, I had been stuck in my car for four and a half hours. I was cold, tired and hungry. I asked how this was to be resolved and Alex said that the only way to get the vehicle to work again would be for him to completely open the dashboard and bypass the anti-theft system. He said this would take hours. Before agreeing to the leave my wheelchair behind I said, "I want your assurance that you'll be here working on this at 8 AM." He then said, "No, I'll be here at 7:30!!" With that, my family unloaded me from my van and wheelchair.
Throughout the day, I had observed and personally dealt with Alex's condescending behavior to all that came in. To Alex, customers are idiots who are to be dealt with using as much motherese-like baby talk as possible. It was when, as I was leaving, he said "Look, he got him a new blankie!" (the owner had given me a complimentary blanket as some small consolation) which confirmed that Alex is completely detached from understanding how – especially under these circumstances -- to offer respect and realizing appropriateness. After all, his ineptness had taken my vehicle, my wheelchair and, in turn, my freedom. I guess, for him, it was no small step to then take my dignity.
The next day, acting as my representative, my mother, Pat, arrived at the shop at 7:30 AM. Alex was not there as promised. In fact, he didn't come in until 9:30. Ultimately, Alex never looked at the vehicle himself and instead waited for another technician, Nick, to come. Once Nick looked at the van he saw that a wire was not attached – something that, as Nick said, anyone who changes batteries should easily see. It was at that point that Pat saw that everything I had gone through was simply due to incompetence and told them to put the old battery back in, as we would be not reward such ineptitude with our hard-earned money. She asked for our money back and it was refunded.
Several hours later I received a message from Alex saying that I needed to come back in to pay for the battery – yes, the same battery that they still have. As I was unavailable, my mother called Alex to clarify that we had no intentions of paying for anything. It was then that Alex did what is the slimiest tactic I can imagine: he stated, "If you don't come in and pay for the battery we'll just take it out of Nick's check. Now you wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"
This type of behavior gives me chills for two reasons:
1). Alex and Mark's total ineptitude forced a quadriplegic to go without his wheelchair, yet ALEX STILL TRIED TO MAKE MONEY ON THE SITUATION!!!! Unbelievable!!
I know, as a business owner, if I fail a customer, not only should I not profit from their inconvenience, I should find a way to make it right. Clearly, when I heard Alex say that his M.O. is to make as much money off of customers as he can, he truly meant it.
2.) The only person who knew what he was doing was Nick – who wasn't even there that day -- and he's the one who's going to take the brunt of all this?!? What kind of business treats their employees like this??
This Meineke not only failed to complete the repair, but worst of all, they left the customer unsafe. For a business that has the word "care" in its title, practices like these should be addressed so that they never happen again.
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