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Car windscreen saga highlights lamentable customer service

A simple windscreen chip kicks off a saga that perfectly illustrates why ordinary consumers get thoroughly fed up with the car industry

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We don’t usually do personal anecdotes at The Car Expert, but this one about a simple windscreen chip is a perfect example of why ordinary consumers get fed up with the car industry.

It also quite perfectly demonstrates how customer service is so often right at the bottom of the priority list for large companies, even when the customer is the whole reason for their existence.

This rant comes to you mostly from McDonald’s in Reading, and then Costa, where I spent a few hours cooling my heels and exploiting the free wifi while on hold to the complaints department of National Windscreens. Since I had plenty of time to write up my story, let’s go back to the beginning.

The sorry saga

Episode I – The Random Menace

A couple of weeks ago, while I was bombing down the A3 towards Guildford, a stone was flicked up and fired into the windscreen of our family Volvo V60. Unfortunate, but these things happen.

The random stone that had bounced off the car’s windscreen has left a small chip just outside the driver’s immediate field of vision, so it didn’t appear to be in the zone where it would necessitate a windscreen replacement.

The car was already booked into a Volvo dealership (Waylands Volvo Reading) for its annual service and MOT, and Volvo now offers to repair windscreen chips for free, so I didn’t think much more about it.

So last Friday, my other half took the car into the Volvo dealer for its service and MOT. Unfortunately, she was told that the chip was inside the area where it can’t be repaired (explained in detail down below), meaning the windscreen would have to be replaced. Unfortunate, but these things happen and that’s why most car insurance policies have specific cover for windscreens.

This is when it gets silly.

Episode II – The Shocking Quote

The Volvo dealer was happy to replace the windscreen (and apparently had one in stock), but my better half was stunned to be quoted a cost of £1,320.

Why so expensive, I hear you asking? Because it’s a modern Volvo with all the world’s latest and greatest safety systems, which means it has cameras and sensors mounted behind the top of the windscreen. So when the windscreen is replaced, these all have to be recalibrated to make sure they’re working properly. This is one of the drawbacks of super-duper advanced safety systems. If it was an older car without all of that, it would be about £1,000 cheaper…

This work also has to be done at the garage, rather than on your driveway, so you can’t have a new windscreen fitted at home or work.

But anyway, that’s why you have car insurance with windscreen cover, right? And the excess on a windscreen with my insurance was just £95. So, we’re all good, you would assume.

Not so fast, dear reader.

Episode III – This Is The Way (of car insurance)

The car insurance company (LV Insurance, for no reason other than that they were the cheapest when I last renewed) doesn’t consider a Volvo dealer to be an ‘approved’ fitter of a Volvo windscreen to a Volvo car. Instead, I had to book an appointment with their approved supplier, which was National Windscreens.

This created two problems. One, I had to make another trek to Reading (about 20 miles away) to have the windscreen fitted. And two, the earliest appointment was two days after the car’s MOT certificate expired.

Now, you can’t drive a car without a valid MOT certificate unless it’s for the purposes of getting a car repaired and/or driving to the MOT testing centre. So after making the booking, I spent two days chasing National Windscreens, trying to confirm what time my appointment would be, as I needed to book an MOT test immediately after the windscreen was replaced.

The call centre repeatedly promised that the workshop in Reading would call me to confirm a time. Which they didn’t. Eventually, the call centre was able to confirm on Tuesday lunchtime that my car was booked for Wednesday morning – I needed to drop the car in by 8.30am and it would be a two-to-three-hour job.

I then booked an MOT in Reading for Wednesday afternoon. (Incidentally, I realise this is the worst time to plug a partner, but I was able to book a next-day MOT test online using our partner Book My Garage, and also saved £20 on the usual £55 MOT charge.)

All in all, a bit of a pain in the backside but was looking forward to finally getting it sorted. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

Episode IV – The Missing Windscreen

I turned up to National Windscreens in Reading at 8.30am as instructed. After a bit of confusion, it turned out that they didn’t actually have my windscreen. The pleasant-enough chap suggest that it *might* be in the delivery van that would be arriving later in the day, but he didn’t really know and it wouldn’t be until somewhere between 1pm and 2pm anyway.

When I suggested that the local Volvo dealer had a V60 windscreen in stock not 500 yards away from where we were standing, he shrugged and said that they couldn’t get that one and had to wait for the one that head office sent out from Bristol.

He suggested I could drive home and they’d call me to confirm receipt of the windscreen so I could return, but I pointed out that my car had no MOT and therefore I was stuck until the windscreen eventually arrived and was fitted.

Awkward silence broke out, followed by crickets and the gentle hum of traffic along the nearby A33.

Episode V – The Black Hole of Mozart

While savouring a Bacon & Egg McMuffin in the luxurious comfort of McDonald’s at Reading Gate retail park, I called the National Windscreens call centre again to see if they could source the windscreen locally, or at least confirm that the screen was definitely on its way from Bristol.

After an eternity on hold (again), I was eventually told that a ticket had been raised, I’d get an email confirmation shortly and somebody would also be in touch soon. I was also given a direct number to call head office if I didn’t get a call.

Incidentally, National Windscreen’s call centre hold music is Mozart’s Piano Sonato No. 21, a popular choice for corporate hold music because it’s supposed to be calming in what is often a hostile environment. By this point I was not calm, despite Mozart’s best efforts. Presumably the reason the environment is hostile is because no-one at National Windscreens ever returns calls.

In the absence of the promised email or any form of contact from head office, I called the number given and was told by an annoyed-sounding lady that I’d ended up at accounts. After yet more time listening to the calming symphonies of Mozart, I got through to someone else who told me that there was definitely nothing they could do. When I asked to be put through to complaints, I was told that no-one was currently available but they’d call as soon as they were free (go on, guess whether I got a call).

Two-and-a-half hours later and the email still hadn’t arrived and no-one had called. I wandered down to the MOT centre (past the Volvo dealership that had a perfectly suitable windscreen in stock but which National Windscreens steadfastly refused to source) to cancel my MOT test appointment. Dave, the boss at Express Tyres and Servicing, rolled his eyes and laughed sympathetically, regaling me with the story of his wife’s Citroën that also had a windscreen replacement completely screwed up by National Windscreens.

Dave also pointed out one other thing that National Windscreens hadn’t bothered to mention. Once the screen is fitted, the car needs to sit for at least couple of hours so the glue can properly bond, otherwise the screen can move which would throw out the safety system calibrations, which by now meant that there was no way I’d get the car back in time to have its MOT test today. So the quoted “two-to-three hours” for the whole job was a lie as well…

Episode VI – The Unreturned Calls

Eventually, I got fed up with waiting for National Windscreens to call me back so tried yet again. After recounting the details once more to another lady, I was told that the only person who could possibly help was ‘Martine’, who was responsible for the Reading area. But she wasn’t available to talk to me (obviously) because she was, um, in a meeting. Possibly.

However, while still on the same call, Martine’s meeting apparently ended and the lady I was talking to promised that she would relay all the details to Martine immediately, who would call me back shortly with some news.

If you’re still reading this far, it will come as absolutely no surprise that Martine did not call back shortly. Or later. Or ever.

Given the complete absence of anyone at National Windscreens showing any interest, I started planning to catch a bus and then two trains to get home, and then reverse the journey to come back whenever they got around to fitting my windscreen.

Episode VII – The Unexpected Twist

Half an hour later, the saga took an unexpected turn. The Reading branch called to say that the new windscreen had not arrived after all (no surprise there), but they had subsequently taken a look at the car and decided that it didn’t need a new windscreen after all – the chip could be repaired.

While this was good news, it wasn’t great. By now, I had missed my MOT appointment and it couldn’t be rescheduled, so I still wouldn’t have an MOT certificate. The next available appointment anywhere near me was two days away, so that meant another couple of days without a legally operable car.

There was also no explanation as to why the workshop had had my car all morning and not actually bothered to look at the windscreen for more than four hours. Surely the first thing they should do when taking in a car for repair work is to check over the car? Apparently not at National Windscreens.

Someone had moved the car into the workshop from the car park during the morning, so they must have been driving the car and looking through the windscreen to achieve this. Yet apparently no-one bothered to actually look at the chip to inspect the damage until after the new windscreen failed to arrive.

When I arrived back at the Reading workshop, the repair job frankly looked worse than the original chip. I was told that it “should” pass its MOT test, but that the £20 excess I had to pay for the repair would be taken off the bill if it does need a new windscreen after all. So that didn’t exactly fill me with confidence…

The bloke at Reading also insisted that the local Volvo dealer didn’t have a windscreen in stock anymore (possibly true, although certainly convenient), and that “no-one” had one in stock. He also in the very same breath said that they don’t order them from the local Volvo dealer anyway, but that head office could certainly do so.

This was perplexing for two reasons: 1) it would be weird for the local branch to be calling around looking for a windscreen if they didn’t have the authority to order it; and 2) head office had repeatedly told me that they couldn’t buy a windscreen from the nearby local Volvo dealer, and that it had to come from their own supplier.

Episode VIII – The Saga Concludes

Twodays later (Friday), I was finally able to take the car in for its MOT test. Would it pass? Would it fail? Given that a fail would mean a weekend and god-knows how many days of the following week’s school holidays without a family car, our household was a bit tense.

To put you out of your misery, it passed. And after I explained the whole saga, the chap at the MOT centre scratched his head and pointed out that it would have passed even without the chip repair. So there was no need for Volvo Reading not to do the MOT in the first place…

Unanswered questions

In several conversations with different people from National Windscreens, I was given different answers to the same questions. So someone was lying, in addition to their overall lamentable level of customer service. I also got the impression that the repair was only made because the new windscreen hadn’t arrived and they didn’t want my car taking up space in the workshop for at least another day.

But what about the Volvo dealer’s (Waylands Volvo Reading) role in this? Why did they advise that the chip could not be repaired and would require a new windscreen? Were they lying too?

Maybe the dealer’s service department was simply wrong – or maybe they couldn’t be bothered providing a free chip repair as advertised (I used to work in car dealerships. These sort of things do happen when someone in the service department can’t be bothered or is a bit busy.).

For now, we’re just pleased that it passed the MOT inspection.

What does the law say about windscreen chips?

The MOT requirement is that if a chip or crack is more than 1cm long, it must be outside the driver’s line of vision (a zone 29cm wide directly in front of the steering wheel). A crack more than 4cm long anywhere on the windscreen is also a fail, but that wasn’t the issue here.

The chip on our car was at least couple of centimetres outside the designated zone, although that’s based on my rudimentary inspection with a 30cm plastic ruler, rather than an official measurement with approved instrumentation at an MOT testing centre. It certainly didn’t appear to be borderline.

No-one cares about the customer

What this whole saga shows is that the car industry is often unbelievably customer unfriendly. This drama could easily have been averted on multiple occasions. If the Volvo dealer had measured the chip properly, a simple chip repair could/should have been undertaken and the car could have had its MOT test on time.

If the insurance company covered the accredited Volvo dealership to fit a new windscreen, rather than insist on its preferred supplier (which is presumably cheaper for them), it all could have been resolved on the same day rather than a week later after much running around and a lot of hassle.

[Technically we could insist on the Volvo dealer fitting a windscreen, but the excess jumps to £300. We’d also have to pay the £1,320 up-front then get the balance refunded to us eventually after submitting all sorts of paperwork to the insurance company claims department. This is obviously deliberate to dissuade customers from choosing to go that way, despite it obviously being far and away the best solution.]

National Windscreens has been a failure at every level. Not actually getting the windscreen in on time, coupled with a complete lack of customer service from start to finish and zero interest in sorting out their own errors. Short of actually breaking my car while repairing it, I’m not sure how they could have done any worse.

There is no reason (apart from stinginess) why National Windscreens couldn’t get a perfectly suitable windscreen from the nearby dealership and install it to make up for their screw-up in not having the part ready to fit on time. The only thing stopping them was stubbornness.

Any large company has contingency provisions in the case of supply delays, so the excuse of “We can’t do that” is unacceptable. There was a suitable part available not 500 yards away from where my car is waiting for it, but no-one at National Windscreens was prepared to do the right thing, let alone offer up any alternative (like maybe sorting me a cab home and then another to bring me back when the work had finally been done).

The industry needs to do better than this

Why should paying customers have to put up with this deplorable level of service?

In no part of this whole saga did any of the companies involved prioritise the customer’s interest. It was simply buck passing, excuses and denials.

And it’s not like this was an isolated incident. A fair chunk of our readers who have made it this far into the article will be able to recount similar sorts of incidents at some stage of the car buying/financing/owning/selling journey. Certainly, whenever people find out what I do for a living, they all tend to feel the need to share their tales of woe.

There’s no point in car manufacturers and other large automotive businesses spending millions of pounds on marketing and advertising if your staff drop the ball badly on actually doing their jobs or looking after your customers.

As for customers, we simply can’t accept being treated badly by companies we are paying to provide expensive products and services. Usually, the only real power we have is to vote with our wallets. If a company doesn’t do a good enough job, take your money elsewhere.

Accordingly, our family will be sending the Volvo somewhere else for a service next year, we’ll be switching our car insurance to a provider with a better windscreen supplier, and we’ll certainly never again be having a car window repaired or replaced by National Windscreens.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.