True Stories from a Former Car Dealer #10: Ice Cream

True Stories from Former Car Dealer Ice Cream

In a dealership’s service department, one of the most frustrating situations for a customer and the dealership are intermittent problems.  Typically the customer starts out with the word “sometimes.”  Those are dreaded words for the service advisor because you immediately know the issue is not constant, making it difficult to diagnose and repair.

Not sure if it’s Murphy’s Law or something else, but there is an unwritten phenomena, or curse, that says a vehicle will not act up when it is in a service department.  We would get as much info as possible from the customer to try to isolate or recreate when the problem occurred, like time of day, outdoor temperature, how long the vehicle had been running, etc.  These could all be clues to help us figure out the puzzle.

For years, if we were unsuccessful in making the vehicle act up, we had a big red stamp we would put on the customer’s copy of the repair order that in about 4-inch bold letters said: NPF.  That stood for No Problem Found.  I hired a new service manager in the early ‘80s who was the best I’d ever seen.  As he explained to me, NPF was a turn off to customers.  We knew they were not crazy, the problem they described was real to them, and nobody wanted to come in for service.  Bob changed the NPF stamp to:  Unable to duplicate customer’s concern.  This seemed to soften the bad news that we were unsuccessful.

One day a nice lady came into the showroom and asked to see me.  I would guess she was in her mid-70s and she had a Ford Crown Victoria, that I recall was around seven to eight years old, but very low mileage.  She explained she was having car trouble and didn’t feel like we were taking her seriously. 

I, of course, asked what the problem was.  She prefaced the answer with “please don’t think I’m crazy”.  I admit thinking uh-oh but didn’t let that show.  She continued to tell me that every day after lunch, she went to Baskin-Robbins ice cream, primarily to just get out of the house for a little while, plus she loved ice cream.  Then came the stunner when the small, slight-of-build lady said: “When I get vanilla ice cream, everything is fine.  When I get chocolate chip mint, my car won’t start”.  You could tell she was sincere.

It is rare, but I was at a loss for words.  I asked for her name and number and told her I would run this by my factory service rep from Ford to see if he had any ideas.  I also asked her to let me know on a daily basis what happened at Baskin-Robbins and she was very good about doing that.  On vanilla days-no problem.  On chocolate chip mint days, it wouldn’t start.

I had a great relationship with my Ford rep. and he was scheduled into the dealership the following week for several days of training.  Joe from Ford dropped by my office when he got to the dealership as he always did when he got there.  We chatted for a little while and I told him the saga of the ice cream.  He truly thought I was messing with him and he could not stop laughing.  I tried to assure him that I thought she was telling the truth, but he was incredibly skeptical.

When he composed himself, thinking he was being funny, he said “tell you what.  Call her up and tell her you, me, and Bob will be over at the normal time and we’ll ride to the ice cream store with her”.  I said OK and called her, she was thrilled.  She said she usually went to 31 Flavors at 1 PM, so we had a date.

The three of us went to lunch and headed for the lady’s home arriving on time.  After introductions, we piled into the Crown Victoria and headed for the ice cream store.  We all got out, went inside, she got her vanilla ice cream, went back to the car, it fired right up.  We told her we’d see her the following day.

As promised, we showed up the following day, got in her car, and headed to Baskin-Robbins for the second trip.  She got her chocolate chip mint ice cream, and we got back in the car, her behind the wheel.  In case you are wondering, we all expected the car to immediately start.  She put the key in and the engine turned over, but did not crank.  Now I start looking for the hidden camera because this has to be an episode of Candid Camera.  We all looked at each other, and you could see the wave of relief on the nice lady’s face.

We got out of the car, raised the hood and looked around the engine compartment.  Bob took the breather off the engine and suddenly smiled, snapped his fingers,  and said: “I got it”.

Bob remembered that the previous day, the lady walked in and the vanilla ice cream was already packaged in a small carton.  The chocolate chip mint had to be packed into a carton.  The time difference between the flavors was several minutes, and in that time, a small gas leak from a hose going into the carburetor caused the Ford to flood out and not start.

We had her come into the service department, made the quick and easy repair, and sent her on her way.  She asked what she owed us, and I told her no charge.  She had gifted me with a story I would never forget as long as I lived.

Photo Credit: ninefotostudio/Shutterstock

  1. Curtis Bender 9 months ago

    Boy, I sure wish the couple of times I have had a vehicle in the dealer where they could not duplicate my complaint was such a simple deal as that! It’s always the small things that are so hard to figure out though.

  2. Rodney Boydston 9 months ago

    Jerry you didn’t tell us what flavor of ice cream you got.

  3. David 9 months ago

    I have one of those kind of stories. I have an 85 Corvette that I took in for some problem that I don’t recall and then I also told them that sometimes the heater would only get warm and not hot but today I took it in it was running hot so I’m sure you guys can’t fix it. To my surprise the service writer says oh we know what that is, we can fix it. LOL, and they did.

  4. John D 9 months ago

    What a great story! We had a similar problem with a ’76 Pacer that would die when the brakes were applied. The dealer couldn’t get the problem to duplicate, but they did a lot of work including replacing the gas tank (under warranty). Another mechanic friend of mine found the problem. The carburetor had a tiny crack that would separate when the brakes were applied at a certain speed and velocity causing a vacuum leak.

    My wife worked at a vet clinic where some clients’ patient folders had a big red “A” at the top. A client happened to see that on her dog’s folder one day and asked about the “A” that also had a few +++++ signs. The receptionist thought quickly and said it was because they were such good clients. It actually meant something quite different.

  5. Bill Jepson 9 months ago

    Jerry, GREAT story, and since I worked for Kawasaki Motors dealing with the public I can appreciate the circumstances that created that story. While still working for a regular dealers service department I did a tune up on a single cylinder 2 cycle motorcycle for a young guy that had bought it from the proceeds from his 3 paper routes. He drove it in for a service, and was a “waiter”. Waiting to pick it up after I was finished. This was a pretty elemental machine. Check timing, replace engine oil, replace spark plug, adjust chain, and air up the tires was pretty much it. After the tune-up the bike wouldn’t start. I re-checked everything. I remembered that I had checked his spark with a test plug. When I tried it with the NEW from the package spark plug, no spark. Got out another and it fired right off. The copper core wire of the plug had been left out. No matter how weird the story is there is often real reasons for the problem. Anything built on a production line can occasionally have a glitch, but it is hard to tell your customer that when the problem stops THEIR car!

  6. Jason Kunert 9 months ago

    How many of these do you have??? Amazing story. Please do not ever ask us to vote on which one is the best story – an impossible task. Thanks for sharing these great memories.

  7. Kathy 9 months ago

    Another splendid story!! Thank you for sharing your experiences and showing us what a great person you are as you have handled some extremely unusual situations!!

  8. Steve Mooney 9 months ago

    Keep em coming, love the stories!

  9. Phil J Scott 9 months ago

    Keep them coming Jerry…………I look forward each Saturday morning to getting my day started with one of you true stories.

  10. Bill Purdy 9 months ago

    It kind of reminds me of a lady like her who said that whenever she wanted her car to run better, she washed it. She swore that doing that made it run like new.

  11. Steven Blair 9 months ago

    Her problem gave you the opportunity to have ice cream with a nice customer, fix her problem and have a lifetime memory. Well done!

  12. Paul Brady 9 months ago

    Your stories are great. I share them with a childhood friend who was a Ford dealer. He says he met you once or twice.
    I know there is a special place in the after life for service managers who have to deal with the public. I would love to hear the stories about people who don’t take care of their cars but blame the dealer for everything that goes wrong with their cars.

  13. Pam Brown 9 months ago

    Loved this story! Thank you for sharing!

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