#78 Medical Warranties (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

You might be of the delusion that companies offer warranties on products out of the goodness of their hearts. You might as well believe in tooth fairies or honest politicians. Product warranties are clinically determined based on product design, expected product use, and product and consumer life expectancies. Once the expected failure rate is calculated, the cost is added to the price of the product and that prediction is tracked to tighten up the process for the next generation of products. Really large and competently managed companies (of which few reside here in the United States) get so good at warranty calculations that they often spend exactly what they anticipated spending in warranty costs at the end of a product lifetime.

Doctors, especially American doctors, suffer the delusion that they are scientists and professionals. Very little about the medical profession reflects either science or professionalism, however. Doctors fling medicines and medical procedures at their customers with almost no honest justification and if a customer were crass enough to ask for a warranty on the success of a procedure, no one would be surprised at the negative reaction that would come from physicians.

Why is that? You’d think there would be some history of the success rate of medical practices. Using the corporate model for warranty generation, a hospital ought to be able to offer a patient a warranty on the effectiveness of a procedure. It’s not like doctors work cheap, for so little profit that they couldn’t put some of their own money at risk against a patient risking his life on the doctor’s competence and honesty. You’d also think that insurance companies would insist on procedure warranties. Supposedly, these companies are so close to the financial breakeven point that they are constantly lobbying politicians for protection from their customers and tax breaks for their hard-pressed and over-worked executives’ salaries. Rather than passing all of the expense of procedures that are fumbled, unnecessary, unreliable, and/or downright ineffective, why not make doctors put their money where their mouths are? Doctors aren’t famous for taking responsibility for their profession, so don’t count on anything useful coming from that pack of pampered PhDs and “specialists.”

In some hospitals, doctors are so arrogant that they force administrators to pay them more than 100% of a procedure’s total cost to perform a procedure. Yep, I mean that a doctor might receive, say, $60,000 for a $55,000 surgery. So, the hospital loses a few thousand on every operation but makes up for it in quantity and government subsidies.

Talk about arrogance!

Not only don’t doctors offer warranties on their work, they want to be paid more than they earn. If there was ever a system out of control, US medicine is it.  I propose a fix for this broken machine. To receive Medicare, Medicaid, or any other government financed funding, hospitals (and their over-priced employees, doctors) should be forced to offer warranties for their procedures.

Worst case, hospitals come up with ridiculously short warranties and patients have the information they need to decide if the pain and suffering caused by a procedure is worth the miniscule likelihood of a positive outcome. By a warranty, I mean a warranty: if the procedure fails to cure the symptom within the warranty period the hospital will either refund your costs or provide an alternative therapy at no cost.  For example, you discover you have lung cancer, after a lifetime of sucking on cancer sticks. Your doctor offers three possibilities; 1) surgery and chemotherapy, 2) radiation, or 3) you take the rest of your life off and party till you drop. The warranty on option #1 is three months. The warranty on option #2 is two months. The warranty on option #3 (your life expectancy with no medical intervention) is six months. Of course, the doc will tell you that if either #1 or #2 is successful, you could have years of life left to enjoy. However, the doc doesn’t have enough data, confidence, skill, or the guts to put his own money on the odds that either procedure will be successful. If he isn’t willing to risk a little cash, should you be willing to risk your life? That’s for you to decide, but at least you’re deciding with some information to work with.

Would you buy a car that came with no warranty? Would you spend $40,000 on a product that was presented as a “buyers beware” purchase? I doubt it. But patients give up everything they own, on a regular basis, for medicines and procedures that have the kind of performance records that would deserve the old “90 days or 90 feet, whichever comes first” used car warranty. I say we should stand up for our rights as consumers and say “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” People who spend their own money on perfectly useless medical treatments have that right, but if a doc wants to take the government’s money, he ought to have to prove that he knows what he’s doing by offering a normal amount of assurance to his customers. If it works for the government, and they are providing about 80% of the investment currently being mismanaged in medicine, insurance companies will follow. After a few years, only quacks would be warranty-free and medicine would have taken a big step toward becoming an honest profession.

November 2003


Reputations and Resale Values

One of the less-admitted aspects of getting information in the internet is that almost nothing from that source is unbiased. There are homers and haters and everything in-between and many of the people providing assistance—technical or emotional—have a vested interest in keeping the faith regarding the thing they are discussing.

For instance, this RV thing in which I am currently struggling my way across a tiny part of the country.

There is a fair body of information on the net about the incompetence of VW authorized service centers and more than enough sad stories of people who invested their life savings in one-or-another of Winnebago’s various hillbilly trailers with motors and ended up either going to work as Wal-Mart greeters or turning Winnebago maintenance into their life’s work. I’m not interested in either option and after experiencing “Winnebago quality” I’m convinced that if Polaris does move their manufacturing from Iowa to Mexico it would be a good thing for Polaris owners. Outside of a couple of brands of whiskey, I’m unconvinced that anything good is made in Iowa. Monsanto owns the damn place and they can keep it, for all I care. If Ioweegans eat enough of that GMO crap, maybe they’ll eventually mutate into electricians, welders, technicians, and engineers.

On the other side of the scale are the homers. Typical of their mindset is a comment someone posted after I’d listed my battle to get my RV back on the road, “in  my opinion there is too much "fright mongering" on the site.  it a wonder than anyone would buy a Rialta with all the chatter about its limitations.” The VW and Winnebago problems are not a secret, though. When I was in an Albuquerque Harbor Freight, two weeks ago, buying a siphon pump, an older-that-me guy asked, "Is that your Rialta out there?" He, then, went on to ask if the motor and transmission were as unreliable as he'd heard. After the last two weeks, I couldn't deny the facts. He owned a Dodge-powered Class C that he said got 14mpg "going slow" and wasn't at all tempted to experiment with VW.  That’s 4mpg less than me with a good bit more horsepower and towing capacity AND no VW service problems. If I were an RV-kind-of-guy, that would be incredibly temping right now.

As for the "fright mongering," I thought I'd done a fair amount of research on the Rialta and VW power train service issues, but there clearly wasn't enough information out there about both ends of the vehicle or I just didn't find it. "Fright mongering" could be interpreted as solid information from a buyer's perspective. I would be in a different situation if I'd have realized how useless VW's service is and how much most independent mechanics dislike working on modern VW products.  The first bit of information was pretty well known, I didn’t discover the second until I needed service. Even the “experts” on VWs dislike the company, their dealers, and their distribution network.

Back in the 60's, I hung out with a group of British vehicle owners (cars and motorcycles) in Dallas. In the group, we joked about Lucas being "the man who invented darkness," Brits being incapable of casting any sort of material that could contain fluids, and Weber fuel systems that were more suited for starting fires than metering gasoline. Of course, when we tried to sell our "bricks with wheels," none of this was mentioned. Protecting the "Rialta image" is suspiciously close to that experience. 
As motorcyclists, we all know of a few Euro-trash brands that need the same kind of image protection. I’ll refrain from naming names, but even the “king of adventure touring” has suffered some fractures in that over-priced reputation in recent years. Nobody is more unwilling to admit that king is naked and has a tiny penis than those folks. Those of us who have know dedicated Euro-trash owners, watch their gyrations to “prove” the superiority of their sad, underpowered, over-priced, rarely-ridden bikes with amusement. Like those 1960’s Brit-vehicle owners, their need to get back some of the fortune they’ve “invested” in their bikes is pretty funny, too. If you have $18,000 plus interest plus another $15,000 in maintenance costs wrapped up in your overweight, wider-than-a-Goldwing, hippo-dirtbike, you gotta get at least $15,000 out of your investment, right?

I think someone needs to have the word “investment” explained in simple terms. The rest of us need to know that searching the internet for real information about the maintenance costs, reliability, and serviceability of any sort of vehicle is scary business. In the meantime, does anyone want to buy my brilliantly designed, “made-in-America” except for the parts that were made by white-coated, anally-retentive German engineers, economical (18.5mpg, so far), and stylish Winnebago Rialta Motorhome for the low, low price of $25,000? You know where to find me.


#77 Conservative Morality

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

In case you haven't figured it out on your own, the title of this rant is intended to be ironic.  Conservatives have about as firm a grasp on morality as Gee-Whiz Bush has on the state of the economy.  The two claims to moral fame held by the religious right are non-reproductive sex (they're again' it) and forced Christianity (they're for it).

On all other issues, conservatives could care less about the poor, the underprivileged, the abused, downtrodden, good manners, or common decency.  The new and old Right are for the power and wealth of those who already hold power and wealth, for keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor.  They are so inclined to bear arms against their fellow citizens that they form organizations to prevent any semblance of rational legislation controlling personal weaponry.  They gloat over the fact that Amerika has stockpiled more of its citizens in prisons than most of the other industrialized nations put together.  They hate freedom of the press, civil rights, habeas corpus, women's rights, taxation of the rich, and cereal with raisins.  They're all about dismantling the education system and replacing it with menial labor vocational training for everyone who wasn't born leaching from a trust fund.  In fact, there isn't a single positive human value that the Right would fight to protect.  If it ain't about greed or power, it's not an issue for these very un-conservative conservatives.

For that matter, the two moral issues they cling to are not about morality, but about greed and power.  Any group that claims to be pro-life but is so much in love with capital punishment is, obviously, conflicted.  As far as I can see, the conservative dislike for abortion is that the private medical procedure removes the possibility of a later-in-life public execution.  I have never seen a single incident that would make me believe conservatives are concerned with preserving precious life.  From where I sit, that appears to be a power issue, not a morality position. 

The conservative passion for government control of bedroom activities is a combination of repressed sexual anxiety or a desire to control every non-economic human activity.  You can't tell the communists from the conservatives without a conservative media to pin a label on who’s who. 

Either the conservative gods are astoundingly stupid, or they're thoroughly disbelieved by their let's-pretend-worshipers.  Conservatives hunt through whatever sheepherder tales they claim were written by the hand of whatever god for any excuse to kill, steal from, or rape and pillage their enemies of the moment.  I'm not just talking about our local nutball Christian "conservatives," I mean every conservative on the planet; Christian, Muslim, Moonie, Mormon, Marxist, or whatever timid person's flavor-of-the-century we're suffering at the moment.  If these people aren't killing someone or planning to kill someone, they are unhappy as hell. 

Two unbelievably vicious examples of Right immorality demonstrated their wrongness recently, during Minnesota's 2002 Senate campaign.  First, the Republicrat candidate waged a smear campaign against the only populist politician left in Washington, Paul Wellstone.  When Wellstone's plane went down a few weeks before the election, the Demoplicans stuffed the vacancy with Walter Mondale.  In a panic, Republicrats worried about losing the election out of sympathy for Minnesota's great loss.  Conservative whackos stormed the Fitzgerald Theater where a debate was the be held between Mondale and Abnormal Coleman.  Outside the theater, they paraded with signs that read "War Means Jobs." 

War means jobs.  Now there's a strong moral position for you.  They were worried that Mondale might not let Gee Wiz carry on his war-plans-slash-economic-recovery-strategy and that resistance to rational thought might cost them precious military industrial jobs.  I'd never been more disgusted by my fellow Americans. 

But conservatives keep trying to set new records for immorality.  In New York, there is a 30 year old Republicrat governors' law, called the Rockefeller Law, which puts "drug offenders" in prison, regardless of previous history, mitigating circumstances, or breakfast cereal preferences.  Recently, there has been some questioning of the fairness or rationality of a law that tosses people in jail for crimes against themselves.  Some famous rappers are putting themselves in between the law and common sense.  They're asking why people should be jailed for life, or the majority of a life, for drug possession, especially possession of amounts small enough to barely qualify for personal use.

And the conservatives are upset.  Not because they believe the punishment fits the crime, but because they are concerned that precious right-wing jobs will be lost in the prison system.  Who cares if people are unfairly stripped of their lives, families, and freedom?  Let's face it, it's obvious that prison guards are old-fashioned conservatives and it's hard to find high paying jobs for that sort of upstanding citizen.  Mostly, because the kind of person who would take a job as a prison guard is uneducated, unskilled, and otherwise unemployable.  So what's a person's life compared to keeping conservative dumbshits employed? 

Morality, who needs it when you can pretend to have the power to define it and the rest of the country is too terrified of you to correct your grammar?  If we truly wanted to wage a war on terrorists, conservatives would be in deep shit.  The terrorists of the world are all conservatives stumbling along behind one deeply flawed superstitious fantasy or another.  A war on real terrorism would be one that could be easily conducted at home and it's a war that should be won at all costs.  The future of our Constitution and world democracy depends on rooting out conservatives and putting them where they can do no harm.  Based on past performance, I’d argue that  public sanitation is about as critical an activity as conservatives are capable of serving, and they should be prevented from holding management positions in that industry.

September 2003


When the Crazy Get Going

This is the pretty much insanely confusing response I got from Volkswagen’s “Customer Service” in response to my description of technical problems with VW”service” so far:
From: VWoA Customer CARE [mailto:VWCustomerCARE@vw.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2014 10:30 AM
Subject: Volkswagen Customer CARE 814000029

Reference # 814000029
Dear Mr. Day,
The opening should be a one-line acknowledgement of what the customer wrote to CARE for.  It is not required to start with “Thank you,” and should be appropriate to the tone of the customer’s email.  In response emails, this should be something simple like “Thank you for your reply.”
Responses to customers should be direct and high impact.  The second paragraph should get to answering the customer’s question or addressing the customer’s concern as quickly as possible.  The intent is to be conversational and as positive about the company, brand, and products as the circumstances allow. 
This is where it is appropriate to apologize if we are not meeting the customer’s expectations.  New ideas will prompt new paragraphs to maximize the use of white space.  Paragraphs should be no more than 3 to 4 sentences.
If necessary to recognize an offhand comment the customer made praising their vehicle, dealer, or the company, add a final paragraph reflecting the positive comments.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to email us again.
Darnell G.
Customer CARE Advocate

P.S.  Our records indicate the Code – component description campaign has not yet been completed on your vehicle.  Please contact your dealer and schedule an appointment to have this campaign completed at your earliest convenience.  The work will be performed on your vehicle free of charge.
That insanity wasn’t enough for them, however. Darnell followed up his nonsensical response with this quick “correction”:
From: VWoA Customer CARE [mailto:VWCustomerCARE@vw.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2014 10:33 AM
Subject: Volkswagen Customer CARE 814000029

Reference # 814000029
Dear Mr. Day,
Please disregard the P.S. line of my previous email. I mistakenly sent you the wrong info. Our records show no open campaigns or recalls on your vehicle.
If you have additional questions, please email us again.
Darnell G.
Customer CARE Advocate

P.S.  Our records indicate the Code – component description campaign has not yet been completed on your vehicle.  Please contact your dealer and schedule an appointment to have this campaign completed at your earliest convenience.  The work will be performed on your vehicle free of charge.
You know, I might have to email them again just for the humor factor. VW is clearly a demented disorganization.
Technorati Tags: volkswagen,vw CEO,customer service,service


#76 Spineless Times and Spineless Politicians (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Who'd have thought that liberals would turn out to be such gutless creatures?  Minnesota's Senators are the ultimate case in point.  We've replaced the last maverick in Washington, Paul Wellstone, with another yuppie conservative corporate spokesperson, Normal Coleman.  Normal is an ex-bathroom hippie, ex-liberal, ex-Democrat, ex-human being with the moral fiber of a sheet of toilet paper.  Our other billboard congressman is Mark Dayton, a rich kid who bought his way into congress claiming that he'd represent working Minnesotans.  Go figure.  Like the rest of the country, Minnesota has lost its courage and become conservative.

A lot of conservative writers have made a lot out of the apparent transformation of the baby boomers from raging hippy liberal do-gooders into gutless, mama's boy/girl conservatives.  Many conservative propaganda ministers like to pretend that this is due to Rush Limbaugh's favorite imaginary Winston Churchill quote ("If a man is not a liberal at the age of twenty, he has no heart; if a man is not conservative by the age of forty, he has no brain.").  This is simply bullshit.  First, Winston Churchill didn't say that, Rush did.  Second, most of the Boomer neo-conservatives were born conservative, they just had long hair when they were young.  Now they're bald, doped up on Viagra and Paxil, and scared shitless that they might lose their trust funds and have to work for a living.

We called them "bathroom hippies."  In Dallas, where my freak days were spent, most of the young and hip hung out at Lee Park.  A small percentage of these kids were actual hippies.  A much larger percentage were the idle offspring of the city's ruling class.  They earned the name "restroom hippies" from their leaving home tactics.  These kids would leave home, Sunday morning, driving mom's BMW or dad's Porsche, in their "straight clothes."  When they got downtown, they'd stop at a filling station and change into their "hippy clothes" in the restroom.  A few blocks later, they'd park mom's Beemer and walk to the park so they could pretend to be hip and poor while avoiding the intellectual activity of "hip" or the discomforts of "poor."  Converting these spoiled rich kids to conservatives was an effortless activity. 

The bathroom hippies were did not march for civil rights in the south or anywhere else.  These were not the kids who protested the Vietnam War in the face of angry police or armed and irrational National Guardsmen.  These conservative kids didn't even vote, let alone work for poor voters' rights. They were no more radical or involved when they were kids than they are aware and responsible as geezers. They've been on the wrong side of every current issue in their lives and they're not going to change today.

Their claim to hip-ness was sex and dope.  They always had the cash to buy grass, smack, uppers and downers (assuming they didn't just steal those from their parents' medicine cabinet), speed, coke, and the hallucinogenic flavor of the month.  Like our current Commander-in-Thief, the bathroom hippies provided a good bit of the cash that supported real freaks, the dope peddling underground, and the Angels and the Mob.  GeeWiz and his counterparts wouldn't have known Mao from malt liquor, but they knew their dope and fried their brains faster than any generation since the same crowd in the Roaring Twenties.  The 1920/1970's economic depression that followed, convinced these fools that free speech, public civil rights, and environmental responsibility were the cause of all evil and minor inconvenience and they "turned" conservative.  Sex was always available to the young, born-rich, and amoral.  It still is.  But having sex doesn't make you hip, it just puts you among the rest of the earth's animals in the eternal quest to get laid.

In the interests of wasting time (pretending to be doing something, while being less mobile than Grant in Grant's tomb) and covering themselves in nationalism disguised as patriotism, Minnesota's two bathroom hippies have co-sponsored the 108th Congress' S.J. Res. 4 "flag protection" amendment to the Constitution.  This is, of course, an attack on free speech and a cowardly way to do it.  They aren't interested in protecting the flag, they want to prosecute people who believe this country should stand for something more important than corporate profits and cheap oil. If they wanted to defend freedom and act patriotically, they'd be raging against the Bush march to war and reminding the nation that Vietnam began with exactly these justifications. Vietnam began with a mythical threat and ended with all of the guilty parties (except Nixon and Johnson) being rewarded for their incompetence and corruption. Even those two vicious bastards have had their reputations revived, a little, recently.

If conservatives want to return to the "good old days" of the British Empire, they should at least be honest about it; admit that they want to bring back imperialism and colonialism, religious persecution, torture, debtors' prison, indentured servitude, and the other trappings of pre-Constitutional America.  Hell, while we're at it, why don't we blow off elections and appoint royalty for life?  Imagine the greatness of this country headed by generations after degenerating, in-bred generations of the Bush family.  By the middle of this century, our King would be as brilliant as Mr. Potato Head.  But, it's safe to assume, the country would be conservative.

July 2003


On the Road Again, Again, and Then Not

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Two cold days waiting in Whites City to get to either get the hell out of southeastern New Mexico or see the cavern (We didn’t care which by Monday.) and the Park Service cut us loose in the cavern at 11AM. We went with our new friends, Whitney and Christine, on Monday and went again on Tuesday after they’d left for Texas. I rode the WR up the hill and Robbye rode with Christine and Whitney. The first day, we took the 750’ elevator ride down and explored the Big Room and the spectacular self-guided tour of the cavern. Tuesday, Robbye and I took the WR up the hill for a second look at the cavern. On our second pass we took the original walk-in entrance, which is a completely different experience. Hard to imagine scaling those cliffs with nothing but a torch for light and cowboy boots for “gear.” It was all nicely paved for us, but it wasn’t for the early explorers. It’s still a workout, especially going uphill. Being the rough, tough cavers we are, we rode the elevator back up to the surface.

We hit the road fairly early Wednesday morning, but started off with a glitch that went south as the miles piled up. The Scangauge, a piece of electronics I installed to monitor my transmission temperatures and other engine functions, refused to acknowledge my vehicle’s existence. We’re heading into the mountains and the device that is supposed to give me an early heads-up if the engine is overheating (the dash temp gauge is practically worthless) and the transmission is in trouble is dead. I tried a bunch of things to bring it back to life, including a full reset, with no luck.

The transmission started acting weird about twenty miles later. A few miles out of Carlsbad, NM, the transmission acted as if it were slipping when it tried to shift to 4th. That was when I tried to reset the Scangauge in an effort to get some information about where the problem might be. After the reset, the slipping thing happened a couple of times, but when I manually shifted it got into 4th and seemed to be working fine.
We made it to Roswell where I went on line for troubleshooting tips. I got a few excellent pieces of advice and some comedy routines about being in Roswell and being plagued by VW-hating aliens. There are some transmission connector problems that VWs are known for and most of the helpful stuff centered around that. I remembered seeing something on the “Baldy Rialta Info Site” about resetting the transmission’s computer and decided to try that. Not only did the shifting problem seem to be resolved, but the Scangauge came back to life (sans all of my setup information since I’d done the hard reset which blew all of that away).

2013-11-27 NM (2)Once that seemed to be behind us, we set out for a campsite that had been recommended by a ranger at Carlsbad, Valley of the Fires National Recreational Park. We have been some cool places on this trip, but the road to Valley of the Fires and the park itself are high on the list. The highway from Roswell to the park is scenic and beautifully maintained. We were treated to an amazing and colorful sundown and we arrived at the park right at dusk. Again, the park was practically unoccupied and we got a beautiful site with an amazing view.
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Thursday morning at first light, I made a lap, with the dog, around the park’s hiking trail. No pictures, just memories. It was about 25F, so the walk was brisk, but I had the park to myself and it was incredibly quiet and private. If the damn dog had a couple more brain cells it would have been perfect. Supposedly, Australian Shepherds are incapable of walking competently on a leash and Gypsy adds nothing positive to that reputation. She about dumped me into a couple of deep crevices and convinced me that if we ever get into a starvation situation, the dog is lunch. We’re down to one animal on the trip and . . .

The plan was to head toward near-Albuquerque to visit friends. Right out of the campground, the Scangauge was dead, again. The transmission shifted properly, but there was something that felt a lot like slipping early on. That seemed to settle down later, but I missed out on the beauty of the drive because I was paying close attention to the vehicle. A little after we hit northbound I29, the transmission started doing its slipping/down-shifting thing, again. We limped into Belen where we are while I figure out what to do with the RV.

So far, I have to say I’ll take tent camping on a motorcycle over messing with four-wheel bullshit any day. I am completely unable to relax or enjoy traveling when I’m driving a car/truck/rv. I desperately hate all things four-wheeled, if I’m stuck behind the wheel, and all of the good parts of this trip have been after this fucking thing is parked. The memories I’ll have of the traveling part will be mostly of staring at that POS Scangauge and listening for signs of self-destruction from the VW’s engine and transmission. Fun, huh?

About 2PM, AAA hauled the dead hunk of my RV away and we’re twiddling our fingers waiting to hear from the VW folks about the necessary repairs.

Technorati Tags: duane schawb,rialta,valley of fires,new mexico,rv camping,roswell,vw


Communicating with the Factory

A good bit of my career was spent in Customer/Technical Service. For all of that, I always tried to imagine myself on the other side of the phone, even when the other side of the phone was attached to an asshole (follow this link for the theme song). Now that I AM on the other side of the phone, it is a lot easier to understand why customers begin conversations as if they are speaking with the devil. What follows is my discussion with the regional VW “Customer CARE Advocate” about the screwing I got and the 40’ shaft I would have taken if I’d have believed their techs are competent. I particularly love his closing “if there is anything else I can do for you, please feel free to email us again” comment. Please explain to me what he “did” for me. VW is one clearly clueless company. How the mighty have fallen.

Dear Mr. Day,
We partner with our dealerships to provide you with trained technicians and quality parts when your Volkswagen is in need of repair. I am troubled to hear you feel you received poor service from one of our dealerships.
Complaints about service at a dealership are taken very seriously. At your earliest convenience, please reply with more detail about your experience, like which dealership you went to, and what the independent has determined the concern to be.
I want to make sure we have enough information to properly address this. I look forward to your reply and if you have any other questions, please feel free to include them in your response.
Sam M.
Customer CARE Advocate

On Friday, November 29, I had my 2000 Winnebago Rialta (Volkswagen Eurovan) motorhome transported to University Volkswagen and Mazda because the transmission had switched to “limp home” mode several times between Roswell and Belen, New Mexico during the previous two days. Preceding the transmission problems, the Scangauge II diagnostic device installed in my motorhome began to have difficulty communicating with the Volkswagen engine and transmission electronics. I made all of this clear to the service technician I talked to over the phone, twice, but the technician apparently decided I was a clueless moron and he chose to ignore that information. I am a recently retired electronics and manufacturing engineer and while I might not be much of a Volkswagen mechanic, I can also read test gear and the Scangauge made it clear that some system communications problems existed.

Monday, December 2, I received a call from University Volkswagen with a $7,500 estimate for a “rebuilt transmission.” Since I had been able to get the vehicle to work flawlessly (except for the inability to communicate with the Scangauge II) three times in the 230 miles between Roswell and Belen, I suspected this was a computer-driven “analysis” with as little insight or common sense from the “mechanic” as possible. As I’m sure you know, Volkswagen dealers are not known for supporting competent service departments. Since the Eurovan is not something commonly seen and the Rialta is even more rare, incidents of dealer incompetence are familiar and Rialta owner’s groups (Rialta Tech – Yahoo! Groups and Rialta Tech BigTent.com, for example) warn new owners away from dealership service. Again, I requested that the tech look at the transmission multi-function switch connection and the Engine Control Unit’s connections, since those connections and electronics are commonly known sources of “limp home mode” operation. I was told that analysis would be useless, but the tech would look there anyway.

Because I had no faith in the analysis received and the service estimate was so extravagant, I decided to obtain another opinion. An Albuquerque native and Rialta owner, Paul Joseph, offered to help me look at the multi-function switch, just in case that turned out to be an easy fix. We drove the vehicle two blocks to a nearby bank parking lot and pulled the engine pan. When I removed the transmission multifunction connector, water dripped from the connector. Obviously, the “tech” did not look at that connector. Because it was dark and neither of us had a clue where the ECU is located, I restarted the vehicle and drove it to Los Lunas to have Hans Foreign and Domestic Car repair look at it. Surprisingly, they gave me the same analysis with a slightly lower repair cost, but they were unable to fit the Rialta in their bay and I decided to get a third opinion, from German Motowerkes, in Albuquerque.

These two trips required me to drive the vehicle in disabled mode and, now, I know that probably did some damage to the transmission. However, after tracking down the various error codes, three days later German Motowerkes called to say they had found a corroded connection on the ECU and after cleaning it three times, the vehicle appeared to work properly. I picked it up on Tuesday, December 10, and drove it to Santa Fe to visit friends and back to Belen where we had been staying. The Scangauge read a high transmission temperature of 195F on the steepest point of the trip and typically read 130F (I had installed a transmission cooler before we started this trip.). Apparently, outside of damage incurred while the ECU fault disabled the transmission, my vehicle is back in service and my total cost was less than $300.

Before delivering the vehicle to University Volkswagen, I knew about Volkswagen’s service reputation but I hoped my experience might be different because I know that most independent service centers are unfamiliar with and uncomfortable with modern Volkswagen products and I was 1800 miles from home and didn’t know anything about the Albuquerque area.

To top off the insult, when I delivered the vehicle to Hans Foreign and Domestic Car Repair we discovered the battery cover was missing. I’ve since discovered that Volkswagen has obsoleted this part so I can’t even buy a replacement from a dealer.

Dear Mr. Day,
Thank you for taking the time to provide me with all the details of your situation. I regret the service department at University Volkswagen was not able to meet your expectations for this repair.
I can appreciate your frustration. Being told a repair will cost you $7500, only to find out it is really a $300 fix, would not leave me feeling very confident in the abilities of the technician either. I am however, very glad to hear you were able to get the real cause for your concern diagnosed and repaired.
I have documented every detail you have provided me so we can review this situation internally. The feedback we receive about our dealerships is used to influence our future decisions about our dealership network. I greatly appreciate you sharing your experience.
To make sure the dealership is aware of your feedback, I have forwarded your comments on to their management staff. They are in the best position to make any adjustments to their practices, and offer training when necessary.
You are a valued member of our Volkswagen family, and this is not the experience we would hope you would have at one of our dealerships. I thank you again for taking the time to share the details of your situation.
If you have any other questions or comments, or if there is anything else I can do for you, please feel free to email us again.
Sam M.
Customer CARE Advocate

It was too late to do me any good, but after I posted my experience with University VW and Mazda on the Rialta groups, I got about a half-dozen emails from other Rialta and VW owners blistering that dealership for their lousy, overpriced, less-than-competent service. 30 years ago, I was a dedicated VW owner, but I did all of my own work on those simple air-cooled motors; including overhauls.
I'm a life-long motorcyclist and as I approach the age where two wheels could become impractical, my "reward" for being smart enough to get off of the bike was going to be a new VW Beetle convertible. I'm sure you can understand why that option is now off of the table. Maybe I'll look for a '67, like the one I owned back in '67, though. I just won’t be able to drive it for 6 months out of the year because, as every old VW owner knows, VW’s dissolve like sugar in the snow and old German vehicles do not have heaters.

University VW & Mazda
Mr. Day,
Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey. Although our goal and track record is to provide a higher standard of service, we fell short of your expectations. We are Rialta certified and one of the few locations that can work on these vehicles. I disagree with the Volkswagen shops terrible reputation, but certainly understand your frustration. I understand the vehicle diagnosed by Hans Foreign Shop in Los Lunas had also contacted us regarding prices on a TCM and Transmission. We had advised them that the TCM would not be available and suggested they locate one from a used or recycle parts center. We also stated this may not be a permanent fix from past experience and a transmission may be required. Regardless, we failed to meet your expectations and I apologize. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Kind regards,
JC Ogborn
Fixed Operations Director
University Volkswagen Mazda
5150 Ellison Ave NE | Albuquerque, NM 87109
505-761-1900 | 505-761-1906 fax


Mr. Ogborn,

You’re disagreeing with the majority of VW owners, including the ones who rated Volkswagen in the bottom 5 for 15 out of the last 15 years, including a half-dozen bottom place finishes. If you were actually aware of the actions of your shop in regards to my vehicle, you would be embarrassed instead of arrogant about your shop’s performance. I was, in fact, told that your mechanic had checked the connectors on the transmission multifunction switch, the ECU, and TCM. When a friend and I removed the multifunction switch a few blocks from your shop, that connector was found to be soaked. Later, German Motowerkes discovered the same fault in the ECU and 150 miles and a week later, in Elephant Butte, a technician with more skills than your entire business possesses found the Transmission Control Unit connector was also full of water and highly corroded. VW’s incompetent installation of the windshield gasket allowed water to pour onto the connector causing all of the problems I have experienced. If your pitiful excuse for a technician had replaced my transmission, I would be in exactly the same place I am now, except $8,000 poorer. You may think that is simply a failure “to meet your expectations,” but I consider it to be incredible incompetence.
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#75 Irrational Arguments in Irrational Times (2003)

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

For my first rant, post killing off my newsletter, I've decided to change my format.  I used to work at "doing a column," creating a consistent train of thoughts on a single topic.  Screw that.  I'm branching out into random thoughts on any damn thing that crosses my mind.  And here we go.

I recently wasted a few moments listening to Myles Brand, the President of the NCAA (The National Collegiate Athletics Association, for those of you who have more useful things on your mind.), excuse the self-serving aristocratic behavior of the folks who administrate college athletics to the folks who rationalize that behavior to the rest of us; the press.  One of the questions this esteemed educator fielded from the peanut gallery was "what do you think about athletes who go straight from high school directly into professional basketball?"

The Pres responded by using Labron James as an example.  James is a high school wunderkind basketball player who is entering this year's NBA draft and will be making more money than a hospital full of doctors before he's old enough to drink beer.  Mr. Brand advised the kid to go to the pros, make as much money as he can, and get a college degree on the side.  According to Mr. NCAA, a college degree is a necessity if James is going to "have a happy life." 

I've heard a bag of reasons for a college degree, but this might the first time I've heard happiness and a college education linked.  From my own experience, I can't imagine how Brand could hope to prove that college and happiness even have a passing acquaintance. 

In the last half-dozen  decades, universities have worked hard to link themselves to financial success.  As college education prices have leapt out of the reach of everyone but the ruling elites' offspring, the focus of that education has become financial with minimal intellectual associations.  The concept of "a liberal education" has fallen into disrepute and even conservatives would have a hard time keeping a straight face while tying the current "conservative education" to a happy life.  Since the overwhelming majority of working people dislike, or hate, their work lives, the connection between education, work, and happiness is as disassociated as the reasons middle class folks vote Republican. 

While I'm picking on conservatives and education, the ultimate conservative catbox liner, the UK's Economist, recently provided its readers with an article praising the ascendance of "conservative think tanks."  This is a concept that is tough to take seriously.  A "think tank" that focuses on unoriginal thoughts intended to preserve the status quo.  While that does sound incredibly English, it's not the kind of organization that inspires visions of ground-breaking intellectual accomplishment.  While no one can honestly argue that it is impossible to be conservative and intelligent, being intelligent is not the primary requirement for original thinking.  Being conservative is contradictory to creativity. 

In the first years of this new century, conservative think tanks are doing quite well.  Their big tasks are explaining to the rest of us how trickle-down economics are going to work "this time" and why the fight we've picked with Iraq is "not a war about oil."  Conservatives have a vested interest in trickle-down, since the theory is when the rich get richer the poor will get some of the spillage; not exactly an intellectual exercise in economic calculus.  I'd be astounded if the majority of think tankers are not trust fund babies.  Rich kids arguing that they should be allowed to stay rich in the interests of those who are struggling to survive.  That argument always reminds me of a Green Peace booth I saw years ago.  It was staffed by the fattest woman I've ever seen in my life and their banner read "save the whales."  And I wondered . . . which sort of whale are we referring to?

The not-about-oil war arguments have been considerably more entertaining in recent weeks.  One of my favorites is that the Bush crowd couldn't be waging a war for their oil interests because oil is only one faction of the economy.  This argument has several variations, but I've heard it so often that it appears to be taking on veneer of credibility.  The conservative think tanks' best friends are conservative media who don't question any argument that comes from old money.  So the rest of us are left to decipher some meaning from the Bush-babble.

The flaw in this irrational argument is the hilarious assumption that Bush was elected by, and represents all of, all citizens and American economic interests.  A tiny number of interests provided GeeWiz with his financing, mostly oil and other viciously corrupt special interests, and an embarrassing minority of citizens voted for him.  Bush and Co. do not have to represent the majority of economic, political, or social interests to do the job they were elected to do.  Therefore, it's entirely possibly that a war on Iraq is precisely about oil.  Or only about oil.

All three of these irrational concepts are intended to make the rich richer and keep the rest of us in our place.  It's only logical that the rich want to hang on to their power and money, but it's not rational for the working class to want to help them.  When the have-nots want to protect the haves, conservative thinking has overwhelmed logic and self-interest.  The next step is to rejoin the United Kingdom and  sing "God Save the Queen." 

One of the favorite conservative catch-phrases, when they find themselves accused of pandering to the rich and powerful, is "class warfare."  In their minds, class warfare is supposed to be waged in only one direction; the rich putting it to the poor.  Somehow, they have managed to equate the poor fighting back with communism or socialism or liberalism or anti-Disney-ism.  Some damn thing that we're all supposed to hate as Americans.  The fact is, America was founded on class warfare.  The revolutionary war was nothing if not violent class warfare, taking up arms to defeat England's entrenched class system that had no business existing let alone migrating to the "new world."  Following that, by 100 years, we fought among ourselves to defeat the ultimate class system, slavery.  It's not hard to see how WWIIl, the great war fought by the self-proclaimed "greatest generation," as yet another class war.  The master race vs the rest of the world.  The master race got its master butt kicked and Americans returned to segregation, impoverished inner cities, and growing corporate power and influence.  Still, a good class war is always a big part of the American way.  I can always hope and I always do.

CornFairy.com "a leader in the search for innovative executives."  That's who the announcer on my Public Radio station said had sponsored the evening news.  Finally, truth in advertising.  I'm not an expert in mythology, but I'd assume a corn fairy is something like a tooth fairy.  So, this is a company that gets paid for hunting an imaginary creature.  Sort of like hunting snipes, but getting money to do it. 

I wonder what sort of company would hire a corn fairy hunting consultant?  General Motors seems like a likely customer.  GM isn't even a real company, having turned in profit losing tax returns for the last ten zillion years while finding the cash to over pay it's own corn fairies in salaries, stock options, and outright handouts.  Executive pensions at GM cost the company nearly $100,000,000 per year and that's an expense that isn't likely to shrink in the next decade or two.  I'm sure the corn fairy can help them find even more ways to squander GM's stockholder investments.  A room full of retards could do as well as the existing GM executive selection process.  What's that old statistical proverb?  Something about an infinite number of monkeys, typing at an infinite number of typewriters, will in an infinite amount of time, eventually, crank out a Shakespearian sonnet.  That's about the kind of still GM has shown in selecting CEOs.  Does anyone believe GM will exist long enough to find an intelligent exec with this system?

I'm tired, you're tired, the economy is smashed, and we're all going broke "saving the world" for international oil corporations.  Amerika, what a country.

June, 2003


Shade Tree Geniuses

The cause of the series of disasters that set us back 10,000 miles and two weeks in Albuquerque, was a piece of typical shade tree mechanical stupidity. VW installed the Engine Control Unit (ECU) circuitry just to the left and below the battery. Then, to compensate for a generally silly location for such critical electronics, VW built a battery box cover to protect the battery and the ECU from the inevitable moisture that would pour through the seam in the engine hood. One of the previous owners cleverly decided all of that protection was unnecessary and removed it to make getting to the battery 15 seconds quicker.
2013-12-19 ToC (1)
This is the battery cover I cobbled together until I could get the real thing from VW. It’s pretty embarrassing, but not as humiliating as not having anything to protect the delicate German electronics that hides beside the battery.
So, I jury-rigged the tarp replacement in the picture above. It’s not as pretty as VW’s half-assed solution, but it’s pretty good and it will protect the ECU. When I posted a picture of my solution on a Rialta-Tech users’ group list, someone wrote, “What happened to the vinyl engine cover?”
All I could say was, “What vinyl engine cover?”

When I was shopping for an RV, I looked at four different units and not a one of them had a vinyl engine cover or the top battery cover. Does this sound familiar? When I was looking for a WR250X or a Suzuki SV650 (in 2000) or a Yamaha TDM850 (in 1993), every one of those vehicles had been “improved” by some hillbilly wanna-be mechanic. In every instance, the improvements made the bike louder, narrowed the power-band or outright reduced power overall, reduced reliability, and made the bike less practical and comfortable to ride. Every one of those bikes had such low mileage that I considered them to be “new except for owner errors and damage from ignorance.”

2014-01-16 Apache (16)
This is what the actual VW battery cover looks like. All $93 of it.

The fact is, modern engineers (possibly excepting VW and Harley “engineers”) use some pretty sophisticated tools to design “systems” instead of individual engine parts and messing with either end or the middle of those systems requires a complete retuning of the rest of the system. Simply slapping on a noisy pipe does nothing for performance and only provides a moronic placebo for those who can be fooled into thinking that being noisier is in some way similar to be faster. The day of the shade tree mechanic is fast vanishing, except for historic/vintage vehicles that will soon be relegated to parades and collector shows. In a lot of ways, this is a sad thing because it closes a collection of doors for young people to find their way into technology. As unhappy as that fact is, a big deficit for any used product is that a previous owner has “improved” it. Turns out, that is a fact even in a product as miserably designed as my RV. 

An Open Letter to VW’s Mismanagement

Jonathan Browning
President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America
Volkswagen of America, Inc.
2200 Ferdinand Porsche Drive
Herndon, Virginia 20171

I realize that your interest in my current problem and opinion of your company is probably as close to non-existent as humanly possible. In fact, based on VW’s corporate attitude, it’s likely that you don’t care about anyone who owns one of your products. Regardless, I own a second-hand VW-powered Winnebago motorhome. The VW Eurovan front-end to my little vehicle seemed like a pretty clever piece of engineering, until the transmission and/or engine-control electronics broke down.

There is a pretty extensive users’ group for this vehicle, the Winnebago Rialta; which was produced in the USA from 1995 to 2004. One given assumption well-known across this group of dedicated and knowledgeable recreational vehicle owners is that Volkswagen’s service departments are next-to-useless and grossly overpriced. I mean this is an absolute conviction from a substantial group of VW-powertrain owners, not an occasional comment. If you think some silly advertising and a lot of Forbes Magazine hand-waving is going to fix that, you are as delusional as Donald Trump.

When my vehicle started acting as if the transmission were hitched to a rodeo animal, I foolishly took it to a VW dealership in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I was told I needed a $7,500 replacement transmission. I was warned in advance that would be the response and some of the people who provided that warning had unhappily wasted that money in the past. I was warned that a visit to a VW dealership would be a waste of time and money and that I’d drive away $7,500 poorer and with all of the same problems with which I’d arrived. So, when that threat came likely I collected my vehicle and hauled it off to an independent service business.

While I was doing some research on my vehicle’s lame power train and unreliable electronics, I learned a few things about Volkswagen in the 21st Century. For example, I was amazed to learn that VW holds an dismal 2% of the US market share. VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech’s inability to “understand the U.S.” (as he put it in a Bloomberg.com interview) is directly related to the fact that U.S. car owners talk to each other. VW’s reputation is of an overpriced, unreliable vehicle with terrible customer service. You can probably get away with customer-hostile behavior in Germany, where the whole damn country is smaller than some U.S. counties and you can push your VW home if it fails halfway across the country. In a country where we often drive across a thousand miles of barely-populated desert, mountains, and plains, owning a car that has a terrible reputation for reliability and whose dealers are well-known for price gouging and incompetent service is down right stupid.

Obviously, my problem has nothing to do, directly, with sagging new car sales. Stories like mine, however, scare the crap out of wise prospective buyers who either plan to keep their vehicle past the warranty deadline or sell it when they buy their next vehicle. They talk to the less wise, more typical buyer and your company’s sales suffer.

I am a motorcyclist, for example. I’m an 65-year-old motorcyclist who will, sooner rather than later, have to give up the two-wheel pursuit of happiness and trade my bikes for something less satisfying but slightly cool. I’d set my sights on a new VW Beetle convertible as a throwback to the wonderful 1967 VW convertible I  owned when I was a young man. Having suffered the slings and arrows of outrageously expensive VW service, there is no chance that I’d consider your company for my late-life-crisis convertible.

Your marketing idiots are wrong. They usually are. Snazzy new ads are only putting paint on a turd. To regain US market share, VW should reconsider its winner-take-all service policies and take a page from your company’s humble beginnings in the US and retool your dealers, parts distribution, and service centers’ training so that you can deliver excellent service for reasonable prices and, maybe, you’ll have a chance of putting a dent in the sales of Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and whatever Chinese brand arrives on our shores next week. Keep going the way you are going and you will have made some marketing morons rich and you’ll still be at the bottom of the pile.