Grand Theft Auto

Oman, and most of the Gulf Countries for that matter, have a very low incidence of crime, including theft.  But, whereas the more familiar types of street-crime and violence are largely subdued by a culture that relies heavily on a Quranic thou-shalt-not (or else!) mentality, white collar crimes, and shady-dealing in general, certainly occur.

From the Wall Street Journal.

The experience I am about to relate has been echoed and seconded by many of my friends and associates here in Oman.  It’s not an uncommon one, even back in the U.S., although the scope of larceny and the almost invincible monopoly that car dealerships have here in Oman, with only one company licensed to sell each brand of car, makes the matter much more frustrating and lends a familiar (though larger scale) fleecing a definite air of being Not Quite Right.

Here’s what happened:

1.  I took my Volkswagen Jetta to the sole VW dealership in Oman because the alternator died.

2. They tried to charge me 400 Omani rial, or 1038.96 US dollars, for a new alternator.

3.  I looked online, bought one from a website and had it shipped here for about 300 US dollars.

4.  The dealership replaced the alternator in an impressively timely fashion and even came in well under the labor estimate they provided me.  I was happy.

5.  Then, just as I was about to sign for the car, the sales rep in the maintenance department told me that the A/C unit was no longer working.

6.  The A/C was working when I brought the car in.

7.  They said it wasn’t.

8.  I said it was.

9.  I got mad and reverted to a stereotypical Type-A American neanderthal approach, going red-faced and making a scene in their precious glimmering showroom (they sell Audis and Bentleys from the same building).

10.  The manager came out.  We ‘discussed’ things.  We had tea.  He said he would personally check on the car.

11.  I called the US Embassy to see if there was any legal recourse, any sort of consumer-affairs bureau or hotline I could contact in the event of being unable to come to terms privately with the manager or the company.  (There is, actually, a newly established hotline that went into place after the recent protests here in Oman, one of the government’s responses to claims of ministerial corruption.  The number, if you need it, is 2481-7013.)

12.  In the meantime I asked the sales rep from the maintenance department for an estimate on how much the A/C would cost to fix (it has been 110F or more every day for the last two weeks here in Muscat, A/C is a lifesaver!)

13.  Quote for new compressor, new condenser, new A/C fanbelt:  1800 Omani rial = 4675.33 in US dollars.  The helpful sales rep, himself a hired Philipino worker who probably makes about 1/3 the pay a similar guy would make in the US, noted how much I had saved by ordering the alternator from America and had a good chuckle, with his Indian co-worker, about the outrageous prices his own company charges for parts.

14.  I prepared to really dig-in my heels and fight with the management over the damage their maintenance workers OBVIOUSLY did to my A/C unit.  My position, from which I told myself I would not budge:  “The thing worked when I dropped the car off.  It sure as hell better work when I take it home.”

15.  With a smile on his face, the manager returned to me, maybe fifteen minutes later, saying:  “All is fine.  A/C is working.”

While, superficially, this was a great relief (I was able to drive the car home that day and have had no problems with it since then) I have come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a charade, a ploy to get me to do more work on the car, work that WASN’T EVEN NECESSARY.

If this sort of thing happened in America, on this scale, Ralph Nader would actually have a chance to win the Presidency.  Blah.  Not Right At All.

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3 responses to “Grand Theft Auto

  • Aflah

    nice article Buchholz ( with the boot camp tune)

    just a clean up for you

    the help line was on way before the protest but people were not aware about it . i guess for 3 reasons

    1 . the inflation rate was too low in oman ” why should i care about 400 baisa increase on cucumber or 3 rials on babies milk
    2. the ads and publication of this service was really bad and merely few people knew about it.
    3. it was ( and i quote , it was) a habit over majority of ppl that what ever the government do is right and for the good sake for us

  • guitta

    your story my dear reminds me of what I taught you when you were here (in the US)I told you ,you have to BARGAIN, DEBATETRY ALL SORTS OF ARGUMENTS when you go overseas to do business otherwise ,THEY WILL RIP YOU OFF,I know it is not right though….

  • Benjamin Buchholz

    Aflah . . . thank you for the clarification. I think the reasons for the hotline ‘not’ being well-known are almost as compelling as not having a hotline in the first place.

    Guitta . . . I didn’t include this extra bit of detail but when the company first quoted me 400 rial for the alternator, I walked away, told them ‘no thanks’. The sales rep called me 15 times that day, each time lowering the price further. In the end he brought the price down to 180 rial, less than half of what the original quote was, but it was still a worse price than ordering the part online from America and having it shipped.

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