Monday, 26 August 2013

From New Zealand to Saudi - A Tale of Two Cars

Okay, now that I’ve grabbed your attention with this photo, I have to confess that this blog’s nothing about accidents. This photo just happened to be the closest I could find. (And I really like the word ping in red on the boot.)

This is a car repair story and it starts in New Zealand and ends in Saudi.

Over the last week we’ve had a flurry of emails and skype chats with my son in New Zealand. His car needed a Warrant of Fitness, but his friendly garage mechanic gave him a long, long list of Must-Be-Dones, and a quote for over a thousand dollars.  We suggested he visit another mechanic. This time the quote was $300.00 for just one repair. The collective sigh of relief went all the way from New Zealand to Saudi and back again. However the story is not yet finished. The needed part - a brake caliper - has not yet been found in the right size. So resolution is still a small glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel.

This morning my husband took our car in for its 50,000 km check up. The process is similar but the frustrations are very different. Servicing costs here are high and reliability low. Our last 40,000 km check cost about 1500 SAR and then the front brakes fell off only a month later. This is not a good thing in any country, but in Saudi it can be lethal. When my son gets his new brake caliper he can be confident that the part he’s got is exactly what he’s been told it is. Here, one can never be sure. We’ve heard that fake parts are quite common, as are cheap third world equivalents, which - surprise, surprise – are not always equivalent.  Perhaps there’s a link here to our failed brakes…

But back to the 50,000 km check.

First of all you get a numbered ticket to determine your place in the queue.  This is for the initial paperwork: an invoice detailing what is required and the cost, as well as a check that you actually own the car and can pay for the service. If it's a simple oil and air filter change you then go and wait outside in the sun for your queue number to be called. Of course your number is called in Arabic so if you don't know what B62, for instance, is in Arabic you’re in a bit of a pickle, but that’s another story …

While all this is happening, newly arriving customers simply park their cars in front of the garage work area, before going in to complete their paperwork. By blocking access to the servicing bays, they prevent those who have already completed the paperwork from getting their cars into the servicing area.  Everything locks up.  One poor employee, and this is definitely the short straw, has the job of racing around, asking customers to park elsewhere and wait until their number is called. To say this approach is not always met with approval is something of an understatement. Sometimes there are extended shouting matches and occasionally, brief fist-fights.

But back to the paperwork processing part of the story. You have your ticket and your place in the queue and you might think that the tale ends there. But no, most Saudis (who make up the vast majority of customers) ignore this. Instead there’s a free-for-all, with men shoving and pushing to get to the processing desk, and then pushing their paperwork and ID cards in front of the processing man, valiantly trying to get in front of all the others who in turn have also attempted to push ahead of everyone else and place their papers on the desk. You get the picture?

My husband tells me that in this situation he’s found the patient approach works best.  He simply waits in a chair towards the back of the rather grubby little office. Being the only Westerner, the processing chap will at some stage glance over to see why he isn't pushing and shoving too.  His patient approach seems to put everyone off: they assume he’s someone important, just because he’s sitting there so quietly, and they attend to him really quickly.  Win!

After sharing this with our son we said while he may find it a bit of a pain to wait for the right car part to turn up, he should imagine having to do it in Arabic or Urdu, squeezed between twenty closely packed sweating bodies all pushing, shoving and occasionally fighting to get their repairs done first.

We reckon he’s on to a winner.

Of course, being a woman, and not being able to drive, this experience was not mine. It was shared with me by my husband, and so I must confess this blog is more his than mine.  

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