Malone Motors

Submitted by Ben on Fri, 01/22/2021 - 15:14

Immediately after graduating from high school in 1994, I worked for a summer at Malone Motors, a Cadillac dealer in Bartlesville, as a "gopher," doing odd jobs in the service department. It was an odd choice of job for an honors student bound for a liberal arts college, but it was what I could find with no real work experience and no real expectation that anyone should want to hire me.

The setup in the service department was that there was a manager whose office door was pretty much always closed, and there were two floor managers who stood at a desk and interacted with the customers and told everyone else what to do. The floor managers and one of the mechanics were in their 20s and recent graduates of my high school, but all the other mechanics were at least 40. Everyone in the department was male, and there was a definite locker-room atmosphere. I was at the bottom of the pecking order, and everyone knew it.

The mechanics played practical jokes on me to amuse themselves and each other. The floor managers didn't prank me directly but may have cooperated and didn't do anything to stop it. The department manager scolded anyone he could catch when he happened to find out something had happened.

That said, most of the pranks were fairly harmless compared to things I did by accident, being inexperienced and largely unsupervised. When I screwed up, everyone covered for me and I never faced a consequence besides my own conscience. Everyone knew I was only there for the summer, so firing me or causing me to quit would have inconvenienced them more than me.

What concerned me more than the hazing was the number of things they pulled over on the unsuspecting customers. There were things that we knew to be broken that were not disclosed; there were things that we knew to be optional that we did without asking and then charged for; there were parts that were designed to break, could not be repaired, and could only expensively replaced; there were violations of safety and pollution regulations. Having no experience with any other dealerships, I generalized and for years thought all dealerships and all service departments were dishonest and not to be trusted. It's one of the main reasons I didn't own a car until I moved in with Jessie.

The biggest of these scams was something called a "Pro Lock," which I am unable to find any evidence of on the Internet. Maybe Malone was the only dealership installing it. It was described to the customer as an extra, electronic key that could be removed from under the dash to prevent the car from being hotwired. Malone installed a Pro Lock on every new car without asking, adding $1000 to the list price. If a buyer didn't want a Pro Lock installed, they could pay an additional $500 to have it removed or order a custom car without one.

The keys had four electrical contacts, and the idea was that a chip inside the plastic handle of the key was matched to the particular car. However, I quickly learned that there were master keys (which had black handles instead of blue) that would work in any car. I later learned that the blue keys also worked in any car! They were all the same. I also watched a mechanic without a Pro Lock key handy bypass it in less than a minute.

I think back on this job whenever I take a car in for service and get a ride home from the dealership. Most of the "gophers" are retirees, and that was the case back in the '90s as well. The main difference is that they have cell phones now, which would have saved me a lot of driving around town!