Friday, March 14, 2008

Factory Air

When I moved to the Orlando, Florida area in 1981, my best friend tried his best to coax me into moving back to New Jersey. "Why do you want to live in Florida?" he asked. "All you do is go from your air conditioned house to your air conditioned car to your air conditioned job." He was right, but so what?

"So do you, in the hot summers of New Jersey," I said in response. "In the winter, though, you go from your heated house to your heated car to your heated job. Besides, I don't have to shovel snow." I had him on that one. He and his wife moved three years ago to escape the brutal winters and to live among the seasonal snowbirds of South Florida. There, they found out that it's downright next to impossible to live without air conditioning, unless your home is surrounded by trees that supply plenty of shade and you have ceiling fans in every room. Your car, on the other hand, is something that must have this very necessary accessory, or you will fry from the heat.

That little fact reminds me of an experience my father went through years ago. My folks moved to Florida in 1977. In 1986, he picked out a brand spanking new Mercury Topaz with ice cold air that was sitting on the lot. My father has always known just about everything there is to know about cars. He always has, as long as I can remember. To this day, we could be sitting around watching an old movie and he'll know every make, model and year of every car that appears in it and what kind of engine it has. For years, he owned and ran a front end alignment business in New Jersey.

While looking the shiny new car over, something didn't quite look right to him. The air conditioner. "Is that factory air?" he asked the sales rep.

"Of course it is," the rep responded.

"Are you sure this is factory air?"

"I absolutely guarantee this car is equipped with factory air."

"OK, then, I'll take your word for it, but it sure doesn't look like factory air."

"Trust me, it's factory air."

And off the lot my father drove after inking the deal.

Years later, and out of warranty, that good old factory air broke down. He took it to a mechanic friend to look at and figure out what was wrong. "This isn't factory air. It's after market and I can't fix it," he said.

"You're kidding. That dealer swore to me it was factory air. Are you sure?"

"Trust me, it's not a Ford air conditioner."

That infuriated my father and you don't know how bad his temper is when he's been lied to, especially about cars. He tore out of there and raced over to the dealer. He drove right up to the service department and called one of the reps over. "Would you take a look under my hood and tell me what kind of air conditioner it has?" he demanded. When in a state of rage, my father has been known to use several choice words he didn't learn in Sunday School. "When I bought this car new, your sales rep swore to me this car came installed with factory air! He lied to me!"

"No, sir, he didn't. It is factory air," he answered.

"No it isn't! My mechanic told me this is not factory air. It's Mickey Mouse. You're all a bunch of liars!"

"Sir, please come with me," and they both walked to the parts department where the rep pointed to a long row of boxes. "Do you see those boxes over there?" Printed in big, black, bold letters was the name of the after market automobile air conditioner, FACTORY AIR. Yes, the brand name was Factory Air. "We'll be glad to fix it."

"I don't think so." It turns out the dealer was the only place that carried the parts to repair it. There's nothing wrong with Factory Air, but you can't just drive to your local parts store to replace parts and you can't take it to any mechanic to get worked on, either, which is probably why the dealer did it that way. It's cheaper to install at the dealer level than it is to order it from the car's manufacturer, where, down the road, you can find replacement parts. Call it a captured market. You want it fixed? Bring it back to us or suffer.

In any event, eventually I ended up with the car and that's when I learned you can't drive in Florida without air conditioning. I never did get it fixed, because dealers have always had a reputation for gouging customers, but when you think about it, no one lied to him and no laws were broken. After all, it was "factory air," but it sure was a shady way to do business in the hot Florida sun.

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