The single biggest challenge to selling automotive maintenance today is vehicle endurance. The better tire dealers understand this factor, the more effectively they will sell their share of maintenance services.
In my last column, I encouraged service personnel to note the number of major mechanical failures they encounter that neglected maintenance actually caused. This is a vital first step toward believing in the need for maintenance and ultimately, selling maintenance more convincingly.
This time, I urge you to learn the cruelest fact of automotive life: Most vehicles are more durable than you think. Because vehicles usually tolerate considerable abuse before breaking down, consumers don't sense the need for periodic maintenance.
Regular readers know I'm a firm believer that perception is reality. As long as consumers perceive they needn't enter a service shop until their vehicles don't run anymore, a large chunk of maintenance services will remain unsold.
On the other side of the fence, service personnel need a perception realignment, too. Instead of griping about the cost and complexity of the major repairs they perform, they need to concentrate on the majority of vehicles that don't break down but are undermaintained.
During the last presidential election, candidate H. Ross Perot extended his considerable notoriety with an analogy to families having a crazy aunt in the cellar they don't want to discuss. I'm convinced vehicle durability is the ``crazy aunt'' service personnel tend to deny and ignore.
Fram's marvelous ``Pay me now or pay me later'' oil filter promotion aptly sums up the price of neglect. Anyone with technical know-how realizes the penalty for neglect is greater today than ever.
But the fact remains that consumers can ignore required maintenance for years without noticing any deterioration in vehicle performance and operation. Whether I'm working alone or doing hands-on homework in a colleague's service bays, I see countless vehicles still running on original fuel and air filters at 50,000-70,000 miles!
Not surprisingly, the owners of these vehicles tell me they have no recollection of ever changing coolant or brake fluid, either.
Recently, I've diagnosed and repaired General Motors cars and trucks as well as Hondas equipped with original belts, hoses, oxygen sensors and PCV valves after eight to nine years on the road and more than 100,000 miles' service! The owners all subscribed to the ``not broken-don't fix it'' philosophy. Coincidentally, none of these vehicles was subject to emission testing.
The owners begrudgingly agreed that throttle response wasn't what it used to be and fuel economy had dipped over the years. But they quickly attributed these things to the aging process. (Non-technical readers should note that the oxygen sensor, which provides the single most important input the engine control computer receives, exerts a major influence on fuel economy and overall drivability.)
In my personal conversations with motorists, it's clear no one had given them maintenance cost justifications such as comparing the price of a new oxygen sensor to the cost of wasted fuel.
Plus, neglected fuel filters can restrict fuel flow so severely the fuel pump strains itself trying to push gasoline through the dirty filter. Consequently, ignoring the filter is a common root cause of premature fuel pump failure.
When I explain this in layman's language, people always look amazed, fretting that no one told them they were gambling a $30-40 filter replacement against a $250-$350 fuel pump job! (By the time the driver notices fuel starvation-induced bucking and surging, the pump has already been strained.)
I talk to hundreds of techs and service managers at seminars and other trade events every year. Yes, they agree they regularly see vehicles pushed far beyond required service intervals. They marvel at the vehicle's endurance.
But no, service personnel don't automatically conclude they ought to sell the maintenance concept better than they have been. What worries me is they don't see any correlation between vehicle endurance and the need to promote the maintenance concept more aggressively and intelligently. They don't see that vehicle endurance should prompt them to increase the frequency of communication with consumers as well as hone their communication skills.
Vehicle endurance is a red flag signaling service personnel to reinforce, reinvent, translate or update the ``pay now or pay later'' maintenance theme.
Long-term, shops that wait for the vehicle to break down will lose out to those who woo drivers back with the truth: Maintenance doesn't cost-it saves!