As a preface, I am aware that below story is quite long, and I feel the detail is required in order to effectively convey my message. The core of the text was composed for a dispute to Citibank, and then expanded on for public consumption. I am putting this up for several reasons, including getting the word out about a dealership that is, in my opinion, best avoided, and to demonstrate the rippling effects horrible service can have on people.
If you run a business, or work in customer service, take care of your customers...it's a really simple task that numerous people and business fail at. When someone presents an issue with your product/service, they're actually doing you a favor, and your reaction to each such situation ultimately shapes the direction and success of your business. In most instances you can get by if you only accept the positive feedback, and ignore the complaints or criticism...but you're definitely not doing yourself, your business, or anyone, really, any good if that's the path you take.
With that said, the TL;DR version is, avoid Hixson Autoplex in Monroe, LA; if you want to know why, then read the story below.
Long distance relationships are hard enough without throwing transportation issues into the mix, but that's the blend of troubles that fate stirred up for me during one of my latest trips to Monroe, LA. I live in the Arlington, TX area, and my girlfriend is finishing up a Pharm.D (Doctor of Pharmacy) degree in Monroe. This leads to frequent trips back and forth for both of us, mostly by car. February 14th, 2014 was one such occasion where I had driven my RB Turbo powered E92 335i out to Monroe for Valentine's Day.
While my girlfriend, her roommate, and I were out and about doing important things like grocery shopping, the low coolant light came on as we pulled into the grocery store parking lot. The indicator struck me as mildly annoying at the time, but I wrote it off and we headed inside to do some shopping. On the way home a while later, our conversation was interrupted by the mood ruining amber high temp warning light, and associated chime. I took a quick glance at the oil temp, and we were up over 250, which is abnormal. Less annoyed and more concerned now, I let my passengers know that if the indicator light turned red, we were stopping where we were, and finding other transportation. Not so enthusiastic, but concerned and understanding, they both reluctantly agreed. I turned the heater on full blast, and we sweated out the traffic, getting within 100 yards of the house before the indicator turned red and the noisemaker chimed angrily at us. I pulled the car over, shut it off, and sighed.
The girls walked to the house to get some water, while I stayed with the car, which was stopped in a very inopportune place. The girls came back with a few pitchers of tap water, instead of the case of bottled water I expected, and we quickly found that any water introduced to the cooling system was promptly spewed onto the pavement. Awesome, I thought. With one of the girls as the pilot, and me as most of the forward momentum, we angled the car into a parking spot, locked it up, and left it to cool down.
We went and fetched a $10 socket set, some ramps, and a jack. A few hours later, I started the car up and drove it to the house, where I tore it down far enough to find that the last mechanic to drain the coolant broke the drain plug, and it had been holding on for dear life by the force of a few O-rings. The last time anyone had any business draining the coolant was 9 months prior when I had upgraded turbos installed, but I don't believe they did a full drain, and instead just let it spill out when they removed the water pump and thermostat. There's no telling how long that little drain plug held on.
It was getting dark by this point, so, thoroughly dirty, upset, and annoyed, my girlfriend and I had Valentine's dinner at home...we had planned on staying home, but the car had eaten into most of the prep and cooking time, so we just made do with something relatively quick and easy. Happy Valentine’s Day...
I'd like to take a moment to mention that Valentine's Day Eve 2013, one year prior, my girlfriend's neighbor’s kid backed his Mom's EF Civic into my car at about 20 miles an hour, while it was parked, legally...under a streetlight. It made a loud enough noise that we ended up with a small block party and numerous, bored, police officers onsite for a good hour or so. I was able to drive my car home to Texas, but the Civic didn’t fair so well; the rear end of the little EF pretty much just exploded. The bumper cover broke in half and fell off, and the trunk lid and rear quarter panel were bent to the point that the trunk lid would not close. Much damage. Many police. So wow.
So, the coolant issue. That happened on a Friday night, and my first experience with Hixson BMW of Monroe was checking their website to see if the parts department was open on Saturdays. Their website said that it was, so we were up there at 9am on Saturday, fighting a (really early) Mardi Gras Parade crowd, with plenty of barricades causing detours. When we arrived, the parts department was closed, and the door said they were open Monday through Friday. I headed inside for some clarification, and was told that the hours on the door were correct, and that for some reason the website hadn't been updated. Thoroughly annoyed now, and having to be back in Texas for work on Tuesday, having President's Day off, we stopped at NAPA to see if they might have the drain plug; they did not.
Over the weekend, to try and do something nice for my poor car, I cleaned some crud out of the engine bay, as a leaking oil filter housing gasket had made quite a mess several months back, and I cleaned my cone filters too, setting them aside once they were clean. It was pretty dusty where I was working, and the wind was blowing around a lot of dried leaves, so I plugged all of the hoses and the intercooler inlet/outlet with paper towels, and put one in the end of each cone filter as well.
On Monday, President's Day, I called the parts department at Hixson BMW of Monroe, and they told me they didn’t have the part. When I asked if they could get it from another dealer (all 100+ miles away) they told me I could call and see. Not quite the answer I was looking for, but I did call, without any luck. I ordered the part overnight from getBMWparts.com, (These guys are always on point, btw) and set into composing an email to my manager explaining the situation, and letting her know I'd have to work remotely the next day...and possibly the following day. Luckily my job allows for that, to a point, and I had my laptop with me.
The $5 part, which had me stranded in Louisiana, arrived around 10am or so the following day, which is phenomenal. I got to work on the car after finishing up my day of bill paying work, and had everything back together pretty quickly. We drove to Hixson to return the 2nd jug of coolant I had purchased from them, not realizing it wasn’t pre-mixed I had bought two, and then headed back to the house, where I loaded up my car for the trip back to Texas. The car was driving fine on the way to the dealer, and on the way back; nothing out of the ordinary.
However, after I loaded up the car and got on my way, I noticed the car seemed bogged down. I wasn’t giving it much throttle, but it just seemed off. I pulled over to fill up with gas, and then started on a trajectory that would take me back to my girlfriend's house. I could tell for sure that the car was struggling to make any power. I pulled over and used my Cobb AP to see if it was throwing any codes, and it wasn’t. I switched to live monitoring, and slowly drove back to my girlfriend's house, noticing that the car wasn’t building boost; it was staying at about -.1 PSI. I told my girlfriend what was going on, and then sent another email to my Manager, taking a personal day on Wednesday to figure it out.
While lying in bed that night, my mind entered analysis mode and the root cause of my issues revealed itself, in all of its magnificent stupidity, instantly filling me with terror. I couldn't recall, at all, removing the paper towels from the cone filters before reinstalling them. I could visualize removing paper towels from the intercooler, from the charge piping, and from the inlet piping...but not the cone filters. I knew in that moment that I had made an egregious error, and was instantly overcome with feelings of sorrow and regret. This was the biggest mistake I'd made in 20 years of working on cars. The first stop after the filter is the turbo compressor wheel, and I had sent a paper towel to both the front and the rear turbo. Sigh. I didn’t get much sleep that night.
Wednesday morning, February 19th, I set out to see if I could right my wrong. My first approach was a household vacuum sealed into the air inlet...but that was no good. It got some small bits of shredded paper out, confirming my prognosis, but was otherwise useless. I then got to work seeing what all was involved with getting to the turbo inlets, and after a brief inspection I knew this was not a job I wanted to tackle on ramps, and definitely not a job I'd be completing with a $10 socket set. So, I called Hixson BMW of Monroe, which is part of the Hixson Autogroup. I spoke to Jeff Stegall, who I, at the time, didn't know was the Service Manager, and let him know the situation. He advised that if I had the car towed up there that he'd try to get it in that day. So, I called my insurance and had the car towed to Hixson.
After arriving at Hixson I was checked in by Dewayne Saterfiel, who wasn't too confident that they'd get to the car that day. When I told him what had been said to me on the phone by Jeff, he said "Yeah, Jeff would have said that." I explained to Dewayne what had happened, and that I needed them to get the paper towels out of the intake piping, clear any that got into the compressor wheels, check the wheels for damage, and ensure they were spinning freely with no play. I also let him know that I had upgraded turbos, but that they were stock frame so there wouldn’t be any change to their procedures. He wrote all of that down, and didn't really have any comments or feedback, aside from parroting what I had said to confirm he’d gotten it.
I caught a ride home a bit later, and never heard back from Hixson that day. I sent another email to my Manager that evening, and worked out a deal to give up my once a week work from home day for a month or so, and just finish out the week in Monroe. The next morning, Thursday February 20th, I called Hixson and got to Jeff, who, I then found out, was the Service Manager. Jeff told me that they probably wouldn't be able to get my car in that week, as they were short on techs. He said that they had three techs on staff, and they were all sick, had been for a while, and kept calling out. I got a little upset, asking why he would have said he'd try to get me in on Wednesday, and he said he had a tech back Wednesday, so he thought he could get me in. I asked about any other shops that could do the work, or somewhere that I could get the car on a lift myself, and Jeff referred me to another shop, who he said was the only one he'd trust. I called this shop, and after some discussion they didn't want to get into it, or rent their lift; they referred me to another shop. Two more shops later, in similar fashion, I gave up; nobody was comfortable doing more than an oil change or spark plugs on my car, and nobody wanted to rent their lift.
I called Hixson a couple more times the next day, Friday February 21st, with no luck on them getting anything done. I let Jeff know that I'd be going out of town on business the following week, and would have to leave the car with them until the following weekend if they got it done; he said that was fine. I flew home to Texas on Sunday, February 22nd, and got a rental car.
I returned the rental car on Wednesday, February 26th, and flew out of town for business. I didn't hear from anyone at Hixson until Thursday of that week, February 27th, 8 days after dropping off the car with them. The call was to let me know that they wouldn't be able to get the car in that week either, but that they'd get it in Monday or Tuesday of the following week. I finished up my business trip the next day, Friday, February 28th, and flew back to Texas, where I got yet another rental car; I had planned on flying to Monroe to pick up my own car instead.
I called Hixson again the following Tuesday, March 4th, and they still hadn't been able to get my car in, but Jeff assured me that it would be in the next day. I called again the next day, Wednesday, March 5th, and was advised my car had not gotten in yet. Jeff called me the following day, Thursday, March 6th, 16 days after dropping the car off with Hixson, and said that the tech had gotten the paper towels out, but that a sensor was bad and there was a "hard code" that they couldn’t clear, so the turbos wouldn't work. I asked Jeff what sensor it was, and what the fault code was, and he said he didn't know, but that it was a hard code that they could not clear without replacing the sensor, and that he could replace the sensor for $400. I was driving when he called, so I asked him to email me the name of the sensor and the fault code; he said he would. I racked my brain trying to determine what sensor, that would trigger a limp condition, would cost that much, or take that long to get to…I came up blank. My only thoughts were the charge pipe or intake manifold map sensor.
I checked my email when I got home, and didn't have anything from Jeff, so I called Hixson, where I got to Dewayne. Dewayne didn't have the fault code either, but got me the part number of the sensor and said he'd go get the code from the tech and call me back. I looked up the part, and it was the t-map sensor in the charge pipe, and there is no reason it should be bad, or should have even been touched. It's also a $100 part that takes a few minutes to replace, and the one in my car isn't the one that came with the car; I swapped it out for a 3.5 bar sensor from the N20 engine. When Dewayne called back with the code I told him I knew what the code would be, and that there wasn't any reason the sensor should be bad. I told him they'd be getting that code if the tech damaged the sensor, if the tech unplugged the sensor, or if they changed the programing in my car, as the sensor in the car was a 3.5 bar sensor from an N20 engine, requiring custom programing.
Dewayne, rudely, told me the tech never touched the sensor, that he already had the tech make sure it was plugged in, and that they didn't do anything to the programing of my car. When I told him those are the only scenarios where they should be getting a code, and that the sensor was fine when I brought it in, he, very rudely, told me that I brought the car in on a flatbed, and they didn't start it, or pull codes from it, before starting the work I requested, so they had no idea of knowing it was fine before they started their work. I told Dewayne that I was not paying them $400 to replace a $100 sensor that takes all of five minutes to replace, especially since the sensor was fine when I dropped the car off with them, and he screamed at me "WELL THEN DON'T, I DON'T CARE!"
I asked Dewayne if I could speak with the General Manager and he, still with an elevated voice, and aggressive tone, but no longer screaming, told me that I didn’t need to speak with the GM, I needed to speak with Jeff, since Jeff was the Service Manager. I said that was fine, and to get Jeff. I then had to relay all of this to Jeff, let him know how displeased I was, and that I was getting on a plane to come get my car. I also told Jeff that I expected some kind of goodwill from them for the two week delay in getting to my car, due to the dealership’s own staffing issues, and for the way I was being treated. It's worth noting that we got disconnected as soon as Jeff came on the line, and I had to call back, going through the receptionist, and waiting for Jeff to be free. Things happen, but that was more than a bit annoying.
I tried to find my spare, stock, sensor, and when I couldn't find one I attempted to purchase one from a local BMW dealer on my way to the airport, but they didn't have one in stock. I flew to Monroe.
Jeff called me the next morning, as promised, and said he'd knock the charge down to $540, from $790. When we went to pick the car up the charge had indeed been knocked down to $540, but the invoice had no line item details of what had been done to the car, or even how many hours of labor it actually took; it just had a general description that the paper towels had been removed, and the turbos inspected, as well as a note about re-positioning the transmission cooler hoses. I was frustrated enough at this point that I just wanted the car back, so I asked Dewayne if the tech had visually confirmed that the compressor wheels were undamaged, and that they were freely spinning, and he said that the tech had done so. I confirmed again, for peace of mind, and he again confirmed that all of the paper towels had been removed, that the compressor wheels were fine, and that they were freely spinning...that they just wouldn't work until the sensor was replaced.
So what, exactly, did you do, and how long did it take?
Dewayne assured me the car was fine to drive back to Texas (over 300 miles) in a limp condition, and I could then replace the sensor myself. I paid the invoice, and we went out to my car, where I found out one of my tires was 15 pounds low on air; awesome...we went back to my girlfriend’s house. I later found I had gotten a nail in my tire while the car was at Hixson.
When we got back to the house I pulled the sensor; it took about two minutes to get my tools, pop the hood, and pull it out. The sensor looked fine. I then checked all of the fuses, and they were all fine. I called the parts departments at Hixson, at a BMW dealer in Shreveport, LA (100+ miles away), at a BMW dealer in Jackson, MS (100+ miles away), and nobody had a replacement sensor in stock, either the N54 sensor or the N20 sensor.
I had to get back to Texas for work, so I drove the car back with the fault code, on advice from Hixson BMW of Monroe, on Sunday, March 9th. When I got home I found my spare sensor, and as I was about to swap out the sensors I noticed that the wiring harness for the sensor in the car was damaged. I repaired the wiring harness, which was fine when I dropped my car off at Hixson, and that cleared the "hard code" the car had; the sensor was fine.
One of the wires was disconnected via idiocy.
So, I popped the pin out...
Crimped it back on the wire...
And clicked it back into place.
I tried driving the car after repairing the sensor wiring, and it was exhibiting the same sluggish behavior that it was when I took it to Hixson, indicating they hadn't removed the paper towels.
I called Jeff the next day, Monday, March 10th, and let him know about the sensor's wiring, that the sensor was fine, and that the car was still exhibiting the same behavior. I asked him to get a list of everything the technician did, and to call me back; I mentioned that I expected a refund if they didn't complete the work they said they completed. I received a quality assurance survey call from Hixson that evening, and I related all of this to the unfortunate soul who made that call; they said they'd have somebody contact me.
Jeff didn't call me back, and nobody else from Hixson called either, so I called Jeff again on Wednesday, March 12th. On my fourth call I finally got through to him, and he ran through the list of items the tech said he removed and cleared of paper towels, which included removing the intercooler, removing the charge pipe that runs from the intercooler to the throttle body, and removing the "turbo air pipes." I advised Jeff that the charge pipe didn't need to be removed, but carelessness in removing it is what broke the wiring harness, and that in order to get the rear turbo "air pipe" off, the technician would have had to drop the engine/tranny, as it’s wedged between the block and the firewall and can’t come out from the top. Jeff said the technician definitely didn't drop the engine or transmission.
I told Jeff I could send him pictures of the wiring harness damage, that I was renting time on a lift to fix the car myself, and that I expected a refund. He said to send him the pictures, and then to send him pictures of paper towels still in the turbos, if that's what I found. He provided me a Gmail email account, and when asked for a Hixson BMW email address Jeff advised that his dealership email address didn't work, and that he conducted all business through his Gmail account. What? Okay...whatever.
I sent Jeff the pictures he requested that evening, and didn't receive a reply, or a bounce back message. I actually never heard from anyone at Hixson ever again after this, not that they had been trying hard to work with me prior that that.
There wasn't a lack of trying to get in touch with them on my part.
I sent another email to Jeff on Tuesday, March 18th, letting him know that I had put the car on a lift (at Jack Junkies in Plano, TX) that weekend, but didn't have all of the necessary tools to complete the work, and would be trying again the next weekend. At this time I let him know that the technician also failed to properly mount the transmission cooler he said he had re-positioned, so it was just hanging by its hoses, and that the technician failed to re-mount the coolant thermostat he unscrewed from the water pump, in order to get the intercooler out, so that too was just hanging by its hoses. I didn't receive a reply, or a bounce back message.
The transmission cooler retention screw only had one thread barely hanging on.
It basically fell out when I tugged on it.
The thermostat wasn't mounted at all.
On Saturday, March 22nd I got the car on a lift again, and performed the work myself, finding paper towels clogged in both of the turbo compressor wheels, and in the hot side of the intercooler. In order to get all of the mess cleared out, I had to get the car onto a lift, remove the front and rear undercovers, remove the front and rear cross braces, drop the subframe a bit, loosen and move the steering rack out of the way, remove the downpipes, drop the exhaust a bit (to get some heat shielding off), remove and vacuum out the intercooler, which had acted as a giant filter, clogging up the hot side, remove the water pump and thermostat, remove and blow out the hot side turbo to intercooler piping, remove the air filters, remove the bolts for the front and rear turbo inlet piping, move the front inlet pipe off the turbo where I could easily clean out the large debris from front turbo, and then blow it out, remove some heat shielding on the firewall in order to get the inlet piping off the rear turbo just enough to get enough clearance to cut off circulation to my finger (singluar) while cleaning the large debris out of it, then blow it out, blow out the front and rear inlet piping, and then reassemble everything, refilling the coolant afterwards.
Many parts had to come off.
If you recall, the tech at Hixson indicated that he had removed/cleaned the charge pipe, the intercooler, and the intake piping. He clearly didn't remove the turbo inlet piping, didn't need to remove the charge pipe, and did an attrocious job cleaning out the intercooler if he did remove it. Pretty much ALL they accomplished was breaking a wiring harness, getting me to drive 300 miles with my car in a condition where it shouldn't have been driven a mile, and generally being shady as Hell.
I sent Jeff pictures of the paper towels in the compressor wheels that evening, and advised that if I didn't hear back from him I was filing a dispute with Citibank. I didn't receive a reply, or a bounce back message.
Front turbo, full of paper towels.
Rear turbo; that's about all the clearance I could get...what a pain.
What I pulled out, not including what I blew out with compressed air or vacuumed out of the intercooler.
Luckily, I was able to clean everything out, and there hasn’t been any perceivable performance impact, whew.
I filed a dispute for the charges with Citibank on Wednesday, March 26th, and then submitted the relevant information and photos above to them via fax on Thursday, March 27th, and also mailed physical copies to them, since faxes sometimes eat photos. I received a notification from Citibank on Friday, March 28th, that my dispute had been resolved, and that they had not received a complete response from me, so the dispute had been closed.
I called Citibank on Saturday, March 29th, once I read the text of the notification on their website, to see what the problem was. The representative I spoke with indicated that I had submitted great documentation, but that I wasn’t an expert, so they couldn’t use my descriptions of the included photos as proof that the requested work had not been completed. I was blown away, and quite upset. After much discussion, I was advised that Citibank considers an expert to be a second merchant, with “merchant” being a key word, a second merchant capable of performing the requested work. I was further advised that they’d need a statement from an expert, on their letterhead, stating that the first merchant, Hixson, had not completed the work requested/invoiced.
I let the rep know that I was, for all intents and purposes, an expert in this regard, and had completed and documented the work myself, and asked what recourse I had. I was advised that an expert, as described by them, would need to review my submission, and then provide me with a written statement, on their letterhead, stating that after reviewing my documentation and photos they have determined that Hixson BMW of Monroe did not complete the work requested/invoiced.
I provided all of my documentation to Bobby Evans at Triple A Muffler Complete Auto Care in Garland Texas, and after showing it to several of his ASE certified techs he was able to provide me the letter that Citibank had requested. Many thanks to Bobby, and Triple A Muffler for that. I sent the letter to Citibank, and they finally agreed that they had everything they needed from me, and the dispute was eventually resolved in my favor.
With that, and now that the dispute is resolved, I wanted to get the word out about Hixson BMW in Monroe, LA. Avoid this place, if possible.
Also, if anyone has the means to open a legit independent shop servicing European cars in Monroe, they’d no doubt make a killing.