Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Town, Small Town

I like small towns. For one thing, business people have to maintain a reputation for honesty in small communities, or they’re soon out of business. This is not nearly as true in bigger cities. There, service people, customers, and the businesses themselves all can be transients who never really get to know each other.

When we moved to Michigan, our Pontiac’s mileage indicated the need for a transaxle fluid change. One day, we stopped at an auto service chain place in Kalamazoo, the biggest city near our home, to deliver our son who was picking up his truck. While waiting in the office, I asked the bright young man whose nametag said “Manager” about fluid changes. He said they did transaxle fluid changes, filter changes, and flushes on three levels, ranging from about $100 to nearly $200. He strongly recommended the upper level.

A little later I took the Pontiac in for an oil change to Jim Koestner, Inc., the GM dealer in Plainwell (population about 4,000). I asked the bright older man whose family owns the place when I could get an appointment for the best transaxle fluid service they offered.

“You don’t need all that,” Mr. Koestner said, after checking the data for our car. He took me to the service manager to confirm his opinion. He called a mechanic out of the shop and put the question of what was needed to him. Same answer. They did the necessary service for just under $100.

A few months later, General Motors sent Koestner a letter canceling their dealership contract. The Plainwell dealership was among hundreds that got termination notices as part of GM’s bankruptcy settlement.

Over the years we’ve owned a German car, a Japanese car, and American cars built by Ford, GM, Chrysler, and American Motors. Our current Pontiac is far and away the highest-quality vehicle of the bunch, except perhaps for the 1929 Model A Ford that was running well at age 20 when I bought it.

We intend to drive our Pontiac until the wheels fall off, and that may be quite a while. Unfortunately, we won't be able to buy another. Shortly before it terminated Koestner’s dealership agreement, GM announced it would stop producing Pontiacs.

No doubt many factors entered into the GM decisions. Honesty is a big factor for me in any decision. I’ll keep buying whatever services Koestner continues to offer.

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