Around the same time, another customer came requesting some of my specialty technical knowledge. Dude was building a custom motorcycle, and contacted me at great length by email, and eventually at greater length by phone. He wanted a good headlamp that would look a particular way when lit and unlit, and provide excellent low and high beam performance. No off-the-shelf standard parts would meet this need, but a combination of existent parts, make-to-order parts, and some skilled work by a specialist in Germany would create exactly what he wanted.
Rather than subcontract the German specialist, I would sell Customer the correct lamp and bulbs, and point him at the German specialist. I had the bulbs made and sent to him, sent the lamp to Germany, and sent an email to Customer and Specialist introducing them to each other and making it clear that the next phase of the project, modifying the lamp, was between the two of them. Fine, everyone seemed to understand and agree.
This was still early-mid pandemic, and postal services all over the world were still taking longer than usual; by and by the customer became convinced the lamp had been lost on its way to Germany. I wasn’t so convinced, but—eh!—in the name of good service, I sent out another. It arrived at the German specialist’s shop not long after the first one.
Specialist did their usual highly craftsmanlike work on the first lamp and invoiced the customer for that work and return postage…and that’s when things went wrong. Customer threw a big American temper tantrum at both me and Specialist (grammar and syntax is customer’s own):
The invoice is all german and said us 144.87 so I sent that promptly then during the night they want more money my whole project was delayed because of this for months and then this money thing i blew a gasket and just decided to stop shelling out money now I have three bulbs I might as well throw away, out about 400 dollars, months of waiting i’m so pushed I don’t wish to even discuss it!
i got taken for a ride and will never make the mistake again i’m done with your service the numbers do not match and will not argue about this further i have already spent about 400 US dollars and waited for three months now my whole project has gone from being completed this year to next year and fouled me up so you can collect your money from [firstname lastname] and he can have back this precious housing.
not only this nonsense but i in good faith bought three bulbs at a cost of a little over 90 dollars is so i will have to put those on e bay to try to recover part of what I have spent this was a big lesson for me and that lesson is, not to allow someone like [firstname lastname] get involved with my project next time I will find my own parts and company in the USA to do any work needed.
i lost 400 dollars and that is a lesson I will not forget!
Alrighty, then! I sent email to Specialist:
I have received a semi-coherent tantrum in an email from [Customer]. He seems to be upset over what he thinks are unreasonable extra costs related to his headlamp. I asked him for clarification, but he said he’s too upset to talk about it (which seems silly and melodramatic to me).
I apologise for having sent you a troublesome customer—he seemed reasonable at first, to me; if I had thought he would make a nuisance of himself, I would not have inflicted him upon you.
The package can go out, the difference is still missing: €28,21. This is the bilingual invoice we sent [Customer]:
Neuverspiegelung Reflektor im Kadmiumgelb/Resilvering Reflector in yellow:
64,65 € (without VAT)
Glas demontieren und verkleben/Lens removal and installation with adhesive:
30,20 € (without VAT)
Versandkosten USA oder Kanada/shipping cost USA & Canada:
So I, knowing there was little point, nevertheless sent this to Customer:
[Specialist] just sent me a copy of the invoice they sent you, and I gave it a careful look.
It is bilingual, in German and in English. It is also in Euros, not in US Dollars (which makes sense, given that they’re in Europe). They didn’t invoice you for 144.84 US Dollars, they invoiced you for 144.84 Euros. The Euro symbol € appears next to each amount on the invoice.
The “extra” money they asked you for wasn’t some kind of a scam, it was because you misread the invoice as calling for a Dollar total rather than a Euro total.
So, you made a mistake. Not me, not them. Which is fine, it happens; we’re all human and we all make mistakes. The thing to do is go “Oh oops, yeah” and fix it; no harm/no foul.
Looks to me like your custom lamp—exactly to your specifications—is done and ready and waiting, and you’ve got the bulbs for it, and you could have it in hand just as quickly as the world’s postal services can get it to you these days.
All you have to do is go “Oh, oops, yeah” and fix the error.
No reply, so—probably because I felt he deserved another blood pressure spike (when you’re self-employed the boss is a damn jerk who watches you every moment but can’t fire you, but one perq is you don’t get hauled into HR and written up)—I called Customer on the phone. As soon as I identified myself, he began emitting showers of sparks: “I’m DONE with the headlamp! I’m out $400 and they demanded more money for no reason! It’s a scam! I’m DONE! GoodBYE!” and hung up.
So I sent him this final message:
I was going to offer you a refund, but you hung up, so I’m left to conclude you’re more interested in being pissed off than in being served. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
No reply, of course. Seriously, I would’ve accepted the bulbs back for a full refund, and/or worked with him to arrive at some other satisfactory arrangement, if he really didn’t want to remit the twenty-five whole, entire dollars owing to Specialist. Oh well, he got to feel he’s right about being wronged, and that was the main thing. I sent €28.21 to Specialist, and the lamp and bulbs are on my shelf.
So those are some of my stories from my decades at the obscure speciality fringes of the auto parts trade. Sometimes I’ve been a winner; when I was a teenager Fram sent me, free of charge, about 300 metal ’61-’69 Chrysler-product PCV valve, OE items made by Stanadyne, when I squawked by mail after noticing that item had been dropped from the new year’s cattledog. They even paid for the shipping.
Sometimes I was several rows back from the winner’s circle; I stored that collection of PCV valves for years and then sold the majority of them in one go to an old-Mopar parts house for something like $2.73 apiece; they then sold them in a hurry for something like $39.95 each. Oops! Sometimes I was able to help out the community I was part of at the time; I found an Australian source of good fuel caps for ’60-’66 Valiant-Dart-Lancer-Barracuda cars and imported a big bunch of them. Made a lot of car owners happy, but getting hold of the caps was something of a hassle and I didn’t do it again.
New real OE turn signal switches for ’62-’69 Chrysler products have been a more enduringly good experience; I’ve sold about six hundred of those over the last 12 years, and counting…
…just by word of mouth; I don’t advertise, not even for the lighting stuff. I never have, except for those early business cards, not set in all-caps.
So there you have it: how I’ve moulded and channeled a weird fascination with car parts and fixation with car lights into food in the fridge and paid bills.