advice, Germany, money

USAA inconveniences and disappoints me yet again. And PenFed is not much better.

Once again, I had to call USAA about my card. This time, it was my debit card, which I tried to use to purchase a couple of sweaters from Novica.com. Granted, it was more than I would usually spend on sweaters… about $350. Well, USAA immediately declined that charge, which led to my spending over an hour trying to find the right phone number to contact someone who could fix my issue.

When I finally did get someone on the phone, I was admittedly pretty annoyed. But to his credit, he did manage to correct the problem, even though now I don’t want to try to use my cards for fear of having to make another phone call. USAA used to send texts to my cell phone when a suspicious charge came up. That way, I could authorize charges without having to be inconvenienced. But I guess USAA doesn’t want to pay for international texts now… so that means a significant decline in their service level for their customers who are overseas. I tried to use USAA’s worthless bot on their site, which only directed me to general articles that weren’t very helpful at all.

I also noticed that they no longer call me Mrs. Instead, they use my given name, which always makes me cringe. It’s not that I want to be called Mrs., per se. It’s more that I think that if you don’t know what name a person normally goes by, you don’t know them well enough to address them by their first name. Using the honorific is also a sign of respect… although I imagine respect is becoming a foreign concept in some companies.

At least this time, I didn’t have to use my cell phone. Last week, I had to call on my cell, which will result in international roaming charges. I did call on the cell the first time I spoke to someone this morning– it was the number on the “urgent” email I got, which led to the credit card services office. I went through the whole security rigamarole, only to be told that the phone number I used– the one USAA put in their email to me– was for the wrong office. Since I was trying to use my debit card, they transferred me to checking. Of course, no one was working because it’s Saturday and, at the time of my call, it was very early in the morning in Texas.

Later on today, I will be calling PenFed, because I think they blocked my credit card last weekend as I was trying to book our upcoming trip. I managed to book two places before the block kicked in. I didn’t get an email from them, but they didn’t let me use the card at Novica, either, and it says in my account I have to call them for the “status” of my credit card… even though I’ve already almost paid off last week’s big charges for our trip. Unlike USAA, it appears that no one at PenFed works on Saturday until later. So that will be fun. I may be somewhat less pissed off by that time.

I really think these overzealous fraud protections are very bad for business. Now, I am reluctant to use my credit cards. Novica will miss out on a generous sale, until I am feeling more up to buying something… and that might not be anytime soon. I get that international calls are expensive, but if I don’t want to use my credit cards, that will cost USAA money, too. They should at least make it so people can take care of these issues online, without having to call across several time zones and sit in phone queues on the weekends.

It’s cold and cloudy today, and we have some things to take care of before we take our trip. I did manage to set up travel alerts, so MAYBE if I use the cards next week, they won’t get automatically declined. There is something to be said for using cash, even if a lot of businesses, even in Germany, are moving away from cash, thanks to COVID.

I don’t know if we’ll do anything today, besides some chores that need doing. Next week, there will be some action on the blog… I hope.

Just as I was about to close this post, I got an automated phone call from USAA to verify the transactions… if I had gotten that call before they shut off my card, this whole gripe could have been avoided. USAA really needs to step up its game. Their policies are inconvenient and annoying, especially for people overseas.

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advice, anecdotes, cars

Adventures in German car repair…

The other day, Bill took my Mini Cooper convertible to the Mini dealer near Patch Barracks.  It needed services, but we also had a bad feeling that the clutch was about to break.  I had noticed the smell of “burning paper” after driving and was having some problems shifting.  We also heard a shimmying noise.

I once experienced a clutch failure in the United States.  I was a teenager driving my sister’s 1989 Hyundai and the clutch just up and died.  It was late at night and I was in the middle of nowhere.  We were well before cellphones.  I ended up driving that car at about five miles an hour to get back to Gloucester Courthouse, which is where I was living at the time.  It took forever and was super frustrating.  My dad, who had a ruptured Achilles tendon and a leg in a cast that went from his foot to his knee, had to come and get me

Not wanting to experience a busted clutch in Germany, we decided to be proactive.  Bill asked the mechanics to take a look.  First, they checked our owner’s manual and saw that the American mechanics never recorded their services.  We got a disappointing look for that.  Then, the guy told Bill that he’d need to keep the car until today because he’d run out of time to check out the clutch.  Yesterday was a holiday, so no one was working.

Today, the guy told Bill that indeed the clutch needs to be replaced.  So does some part that connects the clutch to the transmission.  It’s going to be an expensive repair because they have to take the transmission apart to get to the parts that need to be fixed.

My car is a 2009 model, but I don’t drive it much.  It has maybe 25,000 miles on it.  We did read that Minis made during certain years (2009 among them) have had some clutch issues.  Unfortunately, Mini never told us about it when the car was under warranty.  So this is going to cost us about 1500 euros (including the services).  Better get a VAT form.

Ah well… it’s only money.  And at least if the car is getting the clutch fixed, it’s being fixed in a place where people still drive cars with clutches.

In the meantime, I am reacquainting myself with our Toyota RAV4, which was once “my car”.  It’s totally different than the Mini is and has no clutch, which is very weird.  Hopefully, the Mini will be fixed by Monday.  I’m ready to put the top down.

My Mini before it was a problem car…

ETA: We ended up spending 2400 euros– about $2700– for an entirely new clutch system, new windshield wipers, and maintenance services.  It was painful, but Bill says the car now drives better than it did even when it was brand new.  I have a feeling the clutch was poorly manufactured and if I had driven it more, it would have been repaired under warranty.

Now that it’s fixed, time to put some miles on that baby.

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