September 21, 2012

How I Saved Over $800 Thanks To Total Strangers

by

When it comes to cars, I admit I don’t know a lot. I’m not embarrassed to say that. Other than putting gas in my car, I’ve always relied on the dealership to keep my car running. I buy the car, I get the service plan, I take it in when I’m supposed to. No, not a high involvement activity for me.

In the past few years though, the dealership prices have been going up. And while I’ve usually had a service plan and didn’t really have to worry about the cost, with my most recent car there was no service plan offered. I figured, OK, I’ll just pay as I go instead of doing it up front. Can’t be all that different, right?

Earlier this year I needed an oil change, or according to the on-board information it’s called an A1 service. At the time I figured this “A1” service meant something fancy. But, in reality it was just an overpriced oil change and a “complimentary” car wash. So overpriced I had to fork over quite a bit more than those $39.99 deals advertised in every Sunday paper. I felt like an idiot paying so much at the dealership.

When I began getting a notice that a “B3 Service” would be due soon I knew I needed to find out what that involved. According the owner’s manual it’s a required service but there’s not much help as to what exactly would be done. I called the dealership and was told it would cost almost $1,000! What? Am I getting gold-plated spark plugs? Diamond studded air filters?

The internet is an amazing place. I’m always astounded at the information we can now find while sitting in our own homes because just 10 years ago it wouldn’t have been possible. How we get our information now is so different.

So here I am, faced with a potential $1,000 bill for some “required” service. I drive a 2 year old Mercedes Benz SUV. Here in Phoenix there are Mercedes repair shops all over town. I called a few places but still couldn’t find out exactly what would be done. But after a quick search online I came across what is probably one of the most comprehensive online Mercedes Benz owner communities.

If you’re part of an online community, then you already know there are people out there who are willing to share their expertise on pretty much anything just because they can. As a first-time Mercedes owner, I found a very passionate group that is happy to help people like me. Not only do they have active threads about great local shops, there are moderators who make sure your questions get answered.

When faced with a potential $1,000 bill for who knows exactly what, it was refreshing to find people who would just tell it like it is. They gained nothing for telling me the truth. It was other Mercedes owners that told me the service was mostly just to check under the hood. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of checking! It was other owners from Phoenix who have given their honest reviews of local shops that helped me pick a shop.

It’s because of the online Mercedes Benz owner community that I saved over $800! Instead of going to the dealership, I found a guy who spent 27 years working at Mercedes Benz dealerships and now works for himself. Even better, he’s about 3 miles from me. I get to speak to the mechanic and not a service advisor. And because he makes money actually fixing the car and not by just keeping it for a few hours, I wasn’t charged based on some algorithm of how long something should take. And because he’d be looking under the hood to replace the air filters he said it didn’t take several hours extra to see if the hoses were in good condition. And because it takes less than 10-minutes to take a look at the wipers and see if they need to be replaced, I wasn’t charged an exorbitant amount of money.

I’m the first one to acknowledge that there’s a lot of terrible information on the internet. However, there are also fantastic communities of people who gladly help others. So next time you’re in need of some expert advice, look for an online community. Whether it’s travel, home repair, car maintenance or something different, everyday people are willing to share their expertise.

5 Tips On Getting The Most From An Online Community or Forum

1. Lurk for awhile – unless your question requires immediate attention, spend time in the community just reading. Find out who is active on the forum, what kind of experts are there, how active different threads are, where were the last updates. Knowing who’s in the community will give you great insight as to what you can ask and what answers you can expect.

2. Use the search function – for many online communities or forums you don’t have to have signed up to search the archives. While many people are happy to answer questions for a new person, if it’s just been answered you’re not making a great impression. It’s better to reference that prior thread or add to it rather than just jumping in expecting help.

3. Answer questions or offer support, if you can – despite spending time in the community, I wasn’t able to add to any of the conversations. I’m not well versed in things-Mercedes so I couldn’t add much. However, that didn’t stop me from offering support or encouragement to others. It’s important to become part of the community if you can.

4. Ask clear questions – what I found was that more people were willing to jump in to answer and offer help if the question was clear, to the point and rather short. Moderators were welcoming and power-users were quick to help. However, when users went on and on and the post read more like a dissertation than a questions, I noticed that it received little attention. I saw that more people were adding replies when the posts were “short and sweet”. If you’re asking for help, being respectful of how much time other users can give will likely garner better results.

5. Show gratitude – saying thank you is one of the only ways community members know what they offered was helpful. Even if you can’t use the information or it doesn’t specifically apply, showing gratitude to people willing to help a stranger goes a long way. I was actually encouraged to write this post because I received so much support after going back in to the forum to thank the folks who recommended the shop I ended up using. Even though I was new and didn’t know much, I felt respected and I wanted to share that same respect.

If you’ve had great experiences with online communities, I’d love to know which ones. That’s what this blog is all about – sharing, helping and encouraging!

Sara

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