Today Fiona went in to have that airbag fault properly investigated at the Volvo dealer at Portslade. I'd already been warned that the labour charge for the fiddly dismantling work, the physical testing of the suspected part, its replacement, and the reassembly and retesting could all come to £288. Not more, that was the top figure. And if my dealer could persuade Volvo HQ to chip in on the cost, a bit less. The dealer thought that not unlikely: my car was only just out of guarantee, and had not covered an especially high mileage (only 52,000 miles in just over three years).
I stressed another aspect. This was a part that made a basic safety device work properly - the usual concern of recalls - and that Volvo should most certainly cover the cost. I think I got that point in with some skill. I was very nice and friendly about the whole affair, but firm. I reassured the service person I was dealing with - Nick - that I regarded him as my ally in getting Volvo to do the right thing.
But above all I surely convinced him that I was prepared to make a fuss. And I would indeed do that, already in my mind imagining how I would handle an interview with the top manager or director there. This is where my former career as an Inland Revenue investigator would come to my aid - I'm not afraid of confrontation where it's needed, nor unfamiliar with negotiation where it's required. That said, I do hate having to assert my will against possible resistance, especially as it would be Miss Lucy Melford against an all-male dealership.
But neither did I want to tamely cave in and pay that £288 without demur. Really, it was a lot of money to find at short notice, merely to fix an unexpected fault on a quality car that shouldn't have such defects.
I asked Nick to show me what the suspected faulty part looked like. He unboxed a new one for me, and very willingly let me take some photos. This first shot is the view as I would see it in front of me, if I had X-ray eyes:
It fitted around the steering wheel shaft, like a sort of collar, and was basically two halves, the rear side fixed, and the front side (facing) rotating against it when one steered. That big yellow connector attached itself to the airbag release mechanism. This was what the rear of the suspected part looked like:
Top left and bottom right were the bits that wiring connectors fitted onto, one for the airbag, and one for the horn. The entire part was a lot more substantial than I'd imagined.
Well, I left them to it. Off I went on the train to Chichester for a couple of hours. It was still fine and bright, and I got talking to two grandparents who were taking their three-year old grand-daughter to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight for the day. I wished them a lovely time, and added that the fine weather should hold till late afternoon. I wish I hadn't said that - by 11.30am, when I was on my way back to Portslade, it was raining hard! But, fingers crossed, maybe not in Shanklin, surely one of the sunniest places on the South Coast.
12.15pm saw me walking into the dealers again. Nick looked non-committal. Oh dear. I braced myself for bad news, and some quick thinking.
I needn't have been apprehensive. They'd very quickly found that one of the wiring connectors had worked loose. Pushing it on firmly restored the connection, and dismissed the fault indication. This was successfully road tested. They really didn't have to dismantle much at all. I was so surprised that it had been so simply cured. And when Nick said there was no charge whatever, I felt sandbagged. No charge at all? No, honestly, Lucy. Not even for the dismantling and testing? No, really, none.
I felt like crying. I know it's daft, but I'd been so prepared for a fight with Volvo - or having to be silver-tongued with the big boss man there - that this left me quite emotional.
But what a stroke of luck. That's how I saw it: an example of straightforward good luck. I was suddenly £288 richer - or so it seemed. What a good thing the guys had been theatrical, and left the Good News until I was back with them at the dealers, so they could anounce it with a twinkle in their eye. If they'd slipped me the glad tidings while I was still in Chichester, I'd have bought something expensive to celebrate with! I said to Nick and Scott, 'Guys, if I had a bottle of champagne in my bag, I'd ask you to get out the glasses and join me in a toast!' They smiled. They knew I'd meant it.
Fiona was waiting in the rain. It was so good to get inside her and drive away. The airbag warning light stayed off.
You know, they do treat me well there, at the dealers. I'm sure that a small charge was strictly due, but they let me off. Now why?
I couldn't have wowed them with my sex-appeal. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they know I'm trans. They must do. They've seen me developing since early 2010, when I was only a year or so into my transition, and looking rough. Besides, I'd be amazed if they hadn't at some point searched for 'Lucy Melford' on the Internet - no doubt expecting to find me on Facebook, but instead discovering my blog, and my Flickr site. But nothing had ever been said or hinted at. Oh well, I'll just have to put it down to 'maintaining customer goodwill'.
Fiona has now covered 52,000 miles with four faults cropping up, one for each year. Two concerned the airbag systems. One was a squeaky drivebelt tensioner. And for a short while, the device that measured the outside air temperature seemed to go haywire. All of these have been easy-to-fix things. And so far, I've not had to pay a penny towards them. May my good luck on that score continue!