Rob Dahm is a man of many varied and particular talents. He’s a successful entrepreneur, runs a YouTube channel with nearly 200,000 subscribers, owns the unluckiest Lamborghini Diablo in the universe, and he’s an avid Mazda RX-7 enthusiast. But when he tried to ship a very peculiar engine to America for one RX-7, the universe—and mishaps at UPS—had other plans in mind.
What followed for Dahm was a year-long series of increasingly costly blunders that included allegations of corporate negligence, a very expensive misplaced engine that mysteriously popped up on eBay, and an ongoing fight with UPS that Dahm says borders on blackmail.
The story begins late last year. Dahm, in his infinite wisdom, decided that if the stock two rotor Wankel engine is good, then three rotors must be better—and four better yet. The issue was that while Mazda did produce a three rotor engine featured in the JDM-only Eunos Cosmo, a factory four rotor engine didn’t exist anywhere on this mortal plane.
Fortunately, there was a company willing to make a custom, completely built-from-scratch four rotor engine that will fit in a Mazda RX-7 FD chassis and bolt up to the stock transmission. Unfortunately, that company was located in New Zealand, and it cost the equivalent of an entire moderately used Mazda RX-7 FD to bring it over. But Dahm decided to go for it anyway.
Dahm told Jalopnik that on Dec. 14th, 2014 that he commissioned a brand new four rotor engine to be built by Precision Engineering for the grand total of 10,916 NZD, which is just over $8,600.
It took almost four months to order parts from Mazda, machine and fabricate parts and assemble them into a deliverable package ready for a trek across the planet. For this, Dahm paid an additional $2,000, including PayPal fees and losses from currency conversion rates.
That’s when things took a turn for the worse.
Three days after the tracking number was supplied, UPS transported the package from New Zealand to a dispatching facility in Louisville, Kentucky, with on its merry way to its new home in Dahm in Michigan.
Except the $10,000+ boxed-up pile of bespoke engine parts never got past that point, Dahm told me.
Dude, Where’s My Engine?
After the trail went cold in Kentucky on March 30, Dahm said he called UPS and promptly asked them the produce the whereabouts of his prized package. He said they replied with a hearty and wholly unsatisfying shoulder shrug, because the person who had to file a complaint or claim with the company had to be the person that initially sent the package. That would be Jeff Bruce, the owner of Precision Engineering in New Zealand.
Because the shipment came from his shop, Bruce would also be the only person UPS would talk to regarding the matter, so everything from then on had to be arranged in the world’s most inefficient game of telephone. Dahm said Bruce went through the proper channels to get the issue dealt with, a lengthy process that took many strongly-worded emails and spanned over four months.
By June, one glaring bombshell presented itself to Dahm: even if the claim was processed and the price of the contents was reimbursed, Bruce had only insured the package for roughly one third of its cost to Dahm in order to save himself money on shipping and customs costs.
In an email to Dahm, Bruce declined to pay completely out of pocket to pay for the lost package because he claimed it left his shop, and therefore anything after that point was completely out of his hands. However, he did agree to start the build anew if UPS coughed up the cash in the originally insured amount, even if that meant he had to eat the additional costs. (We reached out to Bruce, but haven’t heard back yet.)
At this point, Dahm said he was past the statute of limitations for filing a chargeback on his card, the shop owner was still trying to find the package through UPS’ channels, and five figures of American greenbacks were slowly flushing themselves down a toilet destined for oblivion.
Even though the shop owner wasn’t budging on replacing the parts or re-doing the build without at least some sort of lump sum paid upfront, the way Dahm sees it, the real blame and culpability lay with UPS.
What Can Brown Do To You?
The shipping company dragged its heels in finding and reimbursing the package for the minuscule amount that it was initially insured for and handled the situation with the poise of a third-world coal mine collapse.
To add insult to injury, UPS had the bare-faced audacity to send Dahm to collections for an outstanding $30 invoice regarding his lost package.
Needless to say, Dahm wasn’t happy about this. So in late October, he took to YouTube and produced something that illustrated exactly how he felt about the situation: a re-enactment of a famous scene from The Fast And The Furious.
One short week after the video went up, Dahm received a flood of messages and captioned memes expressing concern and support for his situation.
Among the well-wishers was a promising bit of correspondence from a subscriber by the name of Abel Ibarra, with a link to not one, but two eBay auctions in Liberty, Missouri containing parts for a very particular, very rare engine setup.
With the knowledge that this engine was one of only four that existed in the world in exactly this configuration, and the only one that wasn’t in an already assembled car, Dahm, understandably, felt his package had been stolen at some point in the process and put up for sale online.
Operating under this assumption, Dahm contacted local authorities and made plans to have his property seized from the eBay seller, something which required his actual presence and a flight to Missouri.
When Dahm alerted UPS of the engine’s whereabouts and the fact that the police were two coffee breaks away from raiding a random eBay seller’s house, UPS casually mentioned that the package wasn’t stolen—it was auctioned and that the engine was legally the property of the seller.
Having no other choice, Dahm called off the police seizure and simply bought the engine from the eBay auction. It was purchased through a nearby friend’s address and bank account just in case there was any trickery afoot that could be tied back to Dahm, and the four rotor engine was finally on its way, after a year of waiting, ironically enough using UPS as the carrier set to deliver it.
After seeing that the seller was indeed likely upstanding and purchased the engine through no ill will of his own, Dahm contacted him and learned that the parts were not stolen after all. Rather, they were sold as unclaimed property, a designation describing a case in which a delivery attempt was made, but nobody was there to claim the item.
The Mysterious Disappearing Rotary
Then again, the package was auctioned in Missouri. Dahm lives in Michigan. I’m no expert in the matter, but I don’t think that it’s standard protocol to have your customers travel 600 miles to get their package—it’s sort of the point of shipping a thing in the first place.
Ultimately, that’s the biggest, most pervasive mystery of this whole thing, and as of this writing there’s no official or unofficial explanation of how it happened.
By this point the $10,000 project that was supposed to take four months to deliver had taken more than a year and tipped the financial scales at closer to $20,000, not to mention untold hours of stress and research as to why the hell huge shipping corporation like UPS would ever let something of this magnitude happen.
When the package arrived at its rightful owner, with original packing slip still attached, by the way, Dahm contacted UPS to see what could be done as far as reimbursement for having to pay full retail price for something he already owned.
In a phone conversation, Dahm said they let him know that while they could probably get him the cash for the engine he had to buy a second time, they wanted Dahm to take down the video lambasting the company for their obvious missteps.
That’s what has Dahm so outraged: instead of worrying about making a customer who had been incredibly patient with a clusterfuck of a situation whole again, UPS’ first priority was to make sure they eliminate any bad public relations that they might get as a consequence.
And late yesterday, he released a new video updating the world on the situation:
As of today, Dahm reports that he still hasn’t received a dime from UPS, despite them losing his package, selling it out of state and then practically blackmailing him to take a personal video down so they would theoretically play ball.
I reached out to UPS and Susan Rosenberg, the company’s Public Relations Director, who said the package may have simply shed its label and was therefore undeliverable. The email read,
We’ve seen the video posting and are trying to get more details. UPS folks have been engaged with Mr. Dahm for resolution, though the process has taken place over an extended period.
In general, inventory is collected in a lost-and-found warehouse where contents may be missing or separated from labels. It is repeatedly reviewed to match descriptions and identifiers provided by shippers and intended receivers. Our process for claims begins with the shipper documentation and the value they have declared on contents.
Packages get lost and lines get crossed all the time. That’s understandable for a company that has millions of moving parts. The issue that I have, and I’m sure Dahm will echo this sentiment, is that there were so many chances to get it right; to treat a customer than paid your company a four figure sum to do a job right, and not only was that not done, but the paying customer’s issue was given the same attention as a DMV suggestion box.
Dahm feels like UPS simply didn’t give a shit, and that’s the most damning aspect of this whole thing. I won’t be trusting UPS with any of my expensive overnight parts from Japan anytime soon, and I doubt Dahm will either.
I wish Dahm luck in having UPS honor his year-long claim, but I wouldn’t hold my breath at this point. In the meantime, he’ll be chronicling the engine build on his YouTube channel. Fingers crossed that the apex seals don’t blow on the first pass.
On second thought, that would be pretty entertaining.