It has been a little while now, but I still feel that the new pre-inspection process that Mercedes Benz Financial Services have imposed at the end of their leases is a huge mis-step. Perhaps other people have had different experiences with lease returns, but mine have always been very smooth & trouble free. This new process changes that, and not positively.
Third Party Inspection
When the lease return person from MBFS called me to set up this inspection, I was surprised to hear that it wasn’t going to be at the dealer. Instead, they were sending somebody to my home or office to look at the car, but it wouldn’t take much of my time. That seemed odd.
When the person arrived, he was wearing a shirt from an outfit called AutoVIN, although he turned up in an unmarked, and relatively old car. That didn’t seem very professional to me. Other mobile automotive businesses manage to at least have a company branded vehicle, and first impressions count.
He then told me that the inspection would take around 40 minutes. If I wanted, I could leave him with both keys for the vehicle, but given the unprofessional initial impression, that didn’t feel right. So now this inspection was taking much more of my time as I felt I needed to watch him.
This change to a third party rather than their own dealers struck me as odd. Does MBFS no longer trust their own dealers? I asked that directly of one of the MBFS employees I spoke with about this inspection, and she tried to assure me that was not the case. Then she went on to say that there were inconsistencies in when people were asked to pay for repairs. Which sounds a lot like they don’t trust the dealers to be consistent.
Even more damning was the AutoVIN inspector’s snapped response when I said I hadn’t had any of this from a dealer with the previous cars: “of course, they want to sell you another car.” Maybe MBFS should think carefully about that response. Yes, the dealer obviously does want to sell another car, but I suspect Mercedes themselves would prefer that outcome too. AutoVIN clearly doesn’t (though perhaps they should think about that a bit more too).
With AutoVIN doing these inspections, I will not be leasing another Mercedes. That may well have simplified the decision for which of the three electrics I’ve been looking at I choose. Might be a choice of just two now (and one of those is Audi, and the lease return on our Q7 there was as simple as the Mercedes one used to be). That means MBFS lose a lease opportunity, MB & the dealer will eventually lose a sale (this time I bought a used car from the dealer), and AutoVIN lose an inspection fee. Sales managers at Mercedes dealers might want to pay attention; the Edmunds report on car leasing from January 2017 had 50% of Mercedes sales being leases (and leasing in general is growing, with the luxury brands leading the way). Upsetting up to half your customers right before they are due to buy another car seems like it might be a bad idea.
One thing that has been a hallmark of my experience with Mercedes at all levels from the dealers to the people at MBFS has been a certain respectfulness. It is not just buying a car, but rather an experience. For example, a few months ago while getting my scheduled service performed I saw another customer arrive & when asked what he needed, he just said a car wash. I had been told by a sales person once that I could do that, but never thought people actually did it. But they do & and the dealer happily took the car to the detailing area and offered the driver complimentary coffee & pastries too. A good experience can be made or broken by the details. Audi has come the closest to matching it, but they are not there yet in my experience.
This lease return inspection fell far short of that experience from the initial impression onwards. Instead, it felt as though the guy was desperate to find damage I might have hidden somehow. It looked, and felt, more like a forensic analysis, hunting for evidence of a crime instead of a lease return inspection. All this on a car that was very low mileage, serviced on schedule by one of their dealers (so all of its records should be available to MBFS) and looked after very carefully by me (for example, I always park in the furthest corners of parking lots to minimize the risk of door dings). Maybe some people might try to hide damage under poor quality repairs, but is that really the case with many Mercedes customers? Is it worth upsetting many of them to find a few?
He also made it very clear that I was not the customer. MBFS was his customer and my presence there was irrelevant (and perhaps even inconvenient for him).
While doing the inspection, he had a tablet computer on a shoulder strap and his camera on a long cord around his next. Several times I witnessed him lean over something to get a closer look and allow one of his devices to hit the car. For somebody in his job, I would have expected him to take more care. Given the quality of Mercedes materials & paint, I don’t think any of the incidents I saw would have hurt the car, but it did nothing to improve my already low level of trust in his professionalism.
I did some searching online for information about AutoVIN too after he arrived (since I was standing there keeping one eye on him, I had some time). I found plenty of similar comments in online forums for other manufacturers who have been using AutoVIN longer. And, to be fair, for the other companies offering similar service. The consensus seemed to be the same: if you can have a dealer perform the inspection, do so. Several also commented on the experience being poor, even when the outcome was that the vehicle was fine & no money was owed.