The expression ``used cars'' means many things to many people. But to savvy service managers, used cars point to new service opportunities and improved customer relations. If you're a tire dealer who offers automotive services and you don't see opportunity here, it's time to review your mission statement.
You repair vehicles for a living. But as I have emphasized repeatedly in this column, premier service centers do more than repair vehicles-they sell customers peace of mind. Of course, peace of mind translates into reliable transportation and stress-free driving. Dealing with used cars is nothing more than an extension of this philosophy.
What's more, owners and managers who recognize it as an extension of their business philosophy report that it generates lots of legitimate service sales, boosts customer confidence, helps bond newer customers to them and even strengthens the bond between good existing customers and the business.
Service personnel who are worth their salt should be perceived as experts in used car choices. After all, they encounter pattern failures on most makes and models, becoming walking encyclopedias of this information.
More and more owners and managers I meet are marketing this knowledge effectively by offering whole-vehicle inspections for prospective buyers. Typically, these inspections include a thorough undercar check-out, visual brake inspection, engine analysis and road test. Some shops offer different levels of inspections, one more in-depth than another. This gives people the option of choosing how detailed an inspection they think they need.
Thus far, the prices I see for used car inspections range from $75 to $200, depending upon the type of inspection chosen. The customer gets a printed evaluation of the vehicle's condition, including recommended services.
If the vehicle needs a lot of work, smart managers prioritize the work ahead of time on this printed report, so the customer can see what needs to be done if he does purchase the vehicle.
As with regular service work, prioritizing reduces the risk of shocking the customer with one large quote and scaring them away. Plus, listing and prioritizing needed repairs here usually results in closing service sales on legitimate work that otherwise would have gone unsold.
Printed reports include caveats reminding customers the vehicle is a machine. Although it tests ``good'' today, technically it can still break down later on. Some owners promote their used car inspection service with signs in the customer waiting room or with flyers they attach to work orders. Others advertise it via the taped message telephone callers hear when they are put on hold.
One shop owner I know does at least several used car inspections per month-not to mention selling several used cars per month. Coincidentally, he also has traveled throughout Europe, where consumers routinely seek good used cars from their favorite technician or repair shop. He argues that service shop owners don't capitalize on this service in America simply because they don't recognize the opportunity.
More and more service personnel I know are saving customers time and aggravation by referring them to other good customers who happen to be selling vehicles. Remember, not everyone can handle or wants to tackle long-term loans and/or large monthly payments associated with new cars. Instead, they're seeking basic, reliable transportation without the new-car frills.
Equally important, they appreciate friendly, professional help finding appropriate transportation. Helping match prospective buyers and sellers within your own customer base minimizes or eliminates headaches such as placing and answering used-car ads, taking and screening telephone calls from the ad etc.
Plus, what source is more credible than a service manager who produces a lengthy service history on a good used car his shop has maintained for years?
Finally, keep a current used-car price guide (NADA's, Kelly's etc.) handy so buyers and sellers can see the range of wholesale and retail prices for themselves.