Buying a Watermelon and Auto Vehicle Protection Contracts

– L. Arthalia Cravin

watermelon 2010

Yesterday I decided to buy a watermelon at a United Supermarket in Amarillo, Texas. I had been refusing to pay almost $6 for a small seedless watermelon knowing they would be marked down for the 4th of July. Just as I expected, the Tuesday sales paper marked the watermelons down to $4.88, although in May, just before Memorial Day, the same seedless watermelons were marked down to $3.77.

A man was standing near the bin of melons as I walked over to pick one and I made the mistake of engaging in the usual small talk about how to pick a good watermelon. The man was patting the melons and I casually remarked that the best sign of a ripe melon is to look for the deep yellowish color on the bottom. Well, that set him off for some reason and he fired back, “I was a produce manager for 9 years and I think I know how to pick a watermelon.” Not to be outdone I fired back, “Well, I grew up in deep East Texas with watermelons patches all around the house and I know how to pick one too.” What got me is that this man “went off” over the usual small talk that happens whenever more than two people gather around a bin of watermelons. In fact, everybody I know has their own method of picking a ripe watermelon. Some folks say look at the stem and see if it has withered slightly. Other folks say thump it and listen for a solid sound. Still others say look for the deep yellowish-orange color on the bottom where the watermelon laid on the ground. I know personally that the last one works because two years ago I grew watermelons in my back yard. (See the above picture.) I had large yellow-meat melons that I kept looking at the stem and thumping until one day I turned one over and saw the deep yellowish-orange color on the bottom. As soon as I rolled it back over it popped open, literally saying, “Hey, it’s time to pick me.” I pulled it and it was perfect—the best watermelon I’ve had in years, grown in my own back yard.

Today I woke up thinking about my little run in with “Mr. Watermelon-know it all” at United. What occurred to me was that if United or any other store gets in a big shipment of watermelons, why should consumers stand around thumping, patting, or turning them over to look for a ripe one. Shouldn’t they all be ripe? Before those melons are picked and shipped didn’t someone do what we used to do years ago, and that is take a knife and cut a little triangle plug in a random few to see if they are ready to pull? When we buy bread that’s already wrapped in plastic or brown paper we can’t open the packaging to smell and examine the inside of the bread to make sure it’s done. We can’t bring our can openers and open canned goods to see if the veggies or fruit inside is okay. So why do we have to go through so much trouble thumping and examing to pick a “good” watermelon? Why not just go and pick one up, put it in your basket and get on out the store? After all, no one really knows what inside a store-bought watermelon until you cut it open. It seems that the same goes for these so-called extended car warranties or vehicle breakdown protection plans.

A few hours after the watermelon incident someone from Deep East Texas called to ask for help about her car. She had purchased a 2002 Izuzu in November 2012 for around $10,000, paying $375 per month for 3 years. Not long after the bought the car she received something in the mail about a “vehicle protection plan.” These plans target owners of older cars that are too old for the manufacturer’s warranties, and where owners have not purchased extended warranties from the used car dealers. In January 2013 she bought a vehicle protection plan from an outfit in Ft. Worth, called Tru Auto Protection, paying $111 a month that comes directly from her bank account each month. This past Sunday she was driving along, heard a loud “squish” sound and saw smoke coming from under her hood. She pulled over, called her brother who told her to just wait for him. He showed up and discovered that the top of the radiator had literally blown off. The car was taken to a repair shop and the mechanic told her that she needed a new water pump and radiator. She then gave the mechanic the information from her “vehicle protection plan,” to have the repairs made. Long story short, the vehicle protection plan excluded the entire “cooling system.” The quote to fix the radiator and water pump is $600. In the meantime, the folks who sold the vehicle protection plan are saying, “tough” but we don’t cover any cooling system problems. But they are still demanding payment of $111 a month for the balance of the 5-year contract that cost $2915.00. And of course she is still paying $375 a month on the note.

People who sell vehicle protection plans have been on the receiving end of lots of complaints for telling outright lies when they sell the plans. The sales people work on commission and will “say anything” to get you to buy. They will especially “say anything to a female.” If you saw “The Lookout” last night you saw, once again, how mechanic rip off women. In the auto rip off segment, they set it up with a deliberately blown windshield wiper fuse—for a man’s can and a woman’s car. The shops fixed the man’s car—no charge for the $4 fuse. The same fuse “problem” cost the female $170 plus all sorts of other outright lies and theivery, including the mechanic dropping a brand new air filter in the dirt and charging $25 to replace it. If you are a woman and don’t know “dap” about a car you will end up not knowing that the water pump is part of the cooling system. With the Izuzu, the customer said that “they told me” that everything was covered. When I asked what was in the written contract about cooling systems she said, “I didn’t read it” because “they told me everything was covered.” She then insisted that it was the water pump that went out-not the cooling system.

Buyer beware! Just like watermelons, you can’t tell what inside until you cut it open, but a watermelon might cost $6 but vehicle protection plans typically run into the thousands of dollars and you are stuck with them taking money from your bank account. Read the fine print on vehicle protection plans-before you buy. Don’t be fooled into being “scared straight” by a sales pitch quoting high repair costs. Repair costs can be high, but the problem is that these vehicle protectionplan folks use this tactic to scare you into paying for vehicle protection plans that they have no plans to honor. These contracts can be filled with all sorts of ways out of paying for the repairs. Once these folks get your bank account information and start collecting money they are literally done with “you sucker.” Be as careful about buying a vehicle protection plan as you would be buying a $6 watermelon. Inspect, inspect, inspect. Do your homework. Find out who has complained about the company. Demand a copy of their contract before you authorize payment. Go over it with a fine tooth comb. Nowadays, companies pay to have negative consumer complaints removed from Internet searches so you might not find anything, but always try Better Business Bureau complaints for the city where the company is located. Remember, these folks are out to make a buck off you and never pay out a dime if they can avoid it. Don’t be scammed.

Copyright 2013 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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