Saturday, November 8, 2014

Snopes Busts a Move - an Asshole Move

Not everyone is perfect.  But using your Urban Legends forum to air your personal grievances is sort of unprofessional.

In a recent posting, the people put up as a "legend" to debunk, their personal diatribe against GEICO.   It was embarrassing to read, as it was so unprofessional, and it gave me a glimpse into their personal lives and made me realize that they are not very astute people.

What they did was akin to the idiot who says his car is a "lemon" and then paints "lemon" all over it and parks it in front of the dealer, hoping to shame the dealer into taking it back.   It rarely works, of course, as with today's lemon laws, why bother?  It just paints you as a jerk - and usually the folks who do this have unrealistic expectations.  And the dealer actually likes it, as it generates more showroom traffic as people slow down to gawk.

Let's take a look at Snopes' rant and dissect it:
"Earlier this year I received a modest inheritance upon my father's death and, seeking something meaningful to do with that money, I spent it on the purchase of a pre-owned recreational vehicle (RV)".
Wow, that was brilliant!   Get a lump-sum inheritance and then blow it all on a depreciating asset!   RVs, as I have noted time and time again, are problematic on a number of levels.  They are very complex vehicles and take a lot of maintenance and care on the part of the owner just to keep in reasonable condition.   Unless you are "handy" with tools, forget about owning a home-on-wheels, unless you want a money-pit-on-wheels as well.   RVs and Boats are not something that the average Joe should buy, and blowing an inheritance on one is just, well, stupid.

In addition to the engine, transmission, and drivetrain (which are all light- or heavy-duty truck components, which are not cheap to fix!) there is a  gas-powered refrigerator (which costs twice what the one in your house does) a rooftop A/C unit (ditto), a generator, a 12VDC wiring system, a 110VAC wiring system, a water pump, toilet, sinks, grey-water and black-water tanks, and so on and so forth.  Take a small house, put wheels on it and drive it down the highway?  What could possibly go wrong?   Especially when so many are so cheaply built, too!

And what happens to average Joes, is often buyer's remorse.   People pay a lot for these very complex toys, and then get all pissed off then they break - and break expensively.   This is one reason I don't own any expensive toys anymore, particularly as I get older.   Even with an Engineering degree, I tire of playing Mr. Fix-it and Mr. Handy-Man with boats, cars, and RVs.   We all do.

So why is Snopes pissed at GEICO?
"Unfortunately, even though we had the RV fully inspected prior to purchase, within several weeks its engine caught fire while it was in use, burning up much of the electrical system wiring and leaving me stranded without lodging or transportation far away from home. No problem, I thought; I'll file a claim with GEICO, and it will be quickly resolved. After all, an engine fire is the sort of thing that clearly falls under my comprehensive coverage, and my "Emergency Expense" coverage also calls for GEICO to pay "reasonable expenses for temporary living facilities [and] transportation back to your residence ... if the insured RV is inoperable due to a covered loss and is over 50 miles from your residence."" (emphasis added).
Here is where it gets tricky.  Comprehensive insurance doesn't cover car repairs, nor does it cover loss of use or temporary living facilities if the car (or RV) breaks down.  The key here is whether an engine fire is a "covered loss" or merely a breakdown of the vehicle.   If your motor seizes, that is a repair expense, not an insured loss.   Without knowing more about the nature of the fire, it is hard to parse what actually happened here.   But what is telling to me is that the Snopes folks gloss over the event, and then make the conclusory statement that it is "clearly covered" by the insurance (the latter being an opinion, not a statement of fact).
"Two months after filing my claim, I'm still waiting. GEICO has said nothing to me about the resolution of the claim, they have neither offered nor paid out any money towards the repair or replacement of the RV, and they have neither offered nor paid out any money towards defraying my out-of-pocket costs for lodging and transportation back home. (It's completely useless to have "emergency" expense coverage for transportation and lodging costs when an insurer takes months and months to decide whether they'll even pay it.)"
They waited an entire two months, and no money?  Well, that's just downright unreasonable!   I waited nearly a year for my car to be repaired and the insurance settlement to be finalized when I wrecked my car.  Clearly, GEICO is unreasonable for not cutting a check right away, without investigating the facts first, seeing what the repair costs would be like, getting estimates on repairs, and the like!  Stupid GEICO!  They should just hand out money, no questions asked, right?   Uh, right.

This comment also illustrates how people over-insure themselves.   The major expense here is having the vehicle catch fire.   What seems to be galling them is that a motel room was not paid for.   You are better off simply not insuring trivial things like "loss of use" than to try to insure them.   Not only will you save a lot of money in premiums, you will spend less in the long run.   If the motorhome catches fire, take it to a mechanic and buy a bus ticket back home.   Problem solved, for less than $100.   Playing lawyer to have them pay for a motel room is just stupid, in my opinion.

Note also here is the tendency by many to view insurance policy claims like a Chinese take-out menu ("I'll have one of these, and one of those") and an accident as an all-expenses-paid spa vacation.   People like to brag about how "everything was covered" when they wrecked their car, and how nice the rental provided was, etc.   Sure, you can get coverage like that - but you pay through the nose for it.   And 9 times out of 10, people who want the spa-vacation insurance are never happy with the outcome, as was Snopes, here.   Accidents are supposed to suck.   Life is like that.   Insurance is provided to make you mostly whole, not make you 110% whole.
"Calls to that claim examiner's supervisor also roll over to voicemail and go unreturned. (Despite the company's assurance that supervisors have a policy of returning all calls within two hours, a week after asking to speak to a supervisor I'm still waiting in vain for him to respond to a single one of my innumerable voicemails). If I manage to circumvent GEICO's Voicemail Hell system and actually get a live GEICO employee on the telephone, they invariably transfer me to yet another voicemailbox or, failing that, simply hang up on me. Not only has GEICO declined to resolve my claim, they've refused to even discuss it."
This part is also pathetic.   If you are not getting a response from any service provider, calling them again and again and making a nuisance of yourself is not the answer.  Call center operators are allowed to hang up if a caller is abusive, uses profane language, or is just harassing.   And I can only guess what happened here.

A better approach is to get all your documents together and submit them by mail and send all inquiries by mail, preferably certified mail.   This way, you have documented your communications.   Call centers are fine for paying your premiums and inquiring on your policy.  They are a lousy way to file an insurance claim.

I suspect what happened here is that the fire was deemed to be a repair item (it "ate up the wiring harness" but did not burn down the coach) - if indeed it was a fire and not just wires melting.  A vehicle repair would not be deemed a covered loss (unless they bought an extended warranty that covered repairs, and GEICO doesn't offer those).   If they had let the coach burn to the chassis, that might be another story.   But we will never know for sure, as Snopes is being a bit evasive here.

I have dealt with evasive clients long enough to recognize the signs.   When a client is vague about the facts of a case, presents only the facts in their favor, and makes conclusory statements (not supported by facts), then there is definitely an "other side to the story."  And this story smells to high heaven.

But what is really, really disappointing is that Snopes is using its platform as the internet myth debunker to publicly air its private grievance with GEICO (which oddly enough is being presented as an Internet Myth).   This is unprofessional and moreover, well, kind of dumb.   It won't accomplish anything either - except to make Snopes look stupid.   Just as no one takes seriously the guy who parks his car in front of the dealer with "LEMON" signs on it, no one is going to take Snopes seriously, either.   About this GEICO matter - and in the future about their opinions on anything.   They have squandered their most precious commodity - integrity - for a trivial insurance claim.

I have noted in the past that Snopes is a pretty good site - although they have their blind spots (basically, anything having to do with Israel or Judaism).

And it won't get GEICO to pay up, either.   You see, once you do a stupid stunt like this, there is little point in GEICO paying up the claim.   Why bother?   Snopes has already shot its wad - fired the one, puny weak bullet in its arsenal.   Whatever damage Snopes has done to GEICO's reputation has already been done (and I suspect it is little to none).   Snopes has no leverage anymore in negotiation.   If anything GEICO would be motivated less to negotiate at this point.   Once you pull the trigger on an Internet flame war, well, you've lost the battle.

I've seen this on BMW sites - people who say "we should sue BMW" over a window regulator or whatever, end up getting nothing.   When you rant and rave that "BMW's are crap!  I'll never buy one again!" the folks at BMWNA are not going to help you.  Those who contact the zone office and asked nicely (and presented their documentation) get a new window regulator.

If Snopes feels they have a legitimate claim (and they need to look deep down in their heart and be honest with themselves - was this an "accident" or a "repair item"?  And are they just having buyer's remorse over a hugely expensive mistake in their lives?) then they should go through written channels.   If that doesn't work, they should then hire a lawyer, if the claim is of any substantial amount.

But phone calls?  Flaming people online?   Not likely to get results.

By the way, I just got my bill from GEICO for insurance.   It has gone down again and I pay about $350 for six months coverage on two cars.   No junk add-ons (like "loss of use" coverage) and a $1000 deductible.   As for my RV?  It isn't even insured.   It is only worth $5000 on a good day, and insuring trivial items like that is just a stupid waste of money.

I don't expect to be "made whole" in an accident.  Instead, I buy less-expensive vehicles that I can afford to walk away from and insure myself enough to be made at least partially whole.   It is far more cost-effective and less stressful that buying expensive shit, expensive insurance, and then playing lawyer with the insurance company and getting all bent-out-of-shape when they don't pay up.

If you want to own expensive, complex toys in life, you have to be so filthy rich that you can really "afford" them (meaning being able to afford to walk away).   For the average citizen, such things end up being costly and regretful mistakes, as they cannot service the items themselves, and repairs can only be performed by obscure specialists who charge exorbitant rates.

This is why I sold my boats.   This is why I never bought an airplane.   This is why I have a simple and cheap RV that I can work on myself.   This is why I am down to one BMW (which takes 8 quarts of $15 motor oil and has $500 tires).   You can't insure yourself from expensive toys.  The folks who try to do so, with "spa vacation" policies or extended warranties inevitably end up unhappy, as the policies don't pay out, or don't pay out as much as they thought they would.

It is a lot easier and a lot less grief to simply walk away from materialism and "things".   You want to go camping?  You can RV on a budget.   But you can't do that in a motorhome.   And an "inexpensive" motorhome is a recipe for disaster.

Sorry Snopes!  No sale to your GEICO rant!

(but my Berkshire Hathaway stock continues to climb in value)