AKRON (Feb. 17, 2003)—Tire dealers who offer automotive services should not become complacent about selling prescribed, required vehicle maintenance.
Complacency can occur from seeing motorists who were lucky enough to run a vehicle an unusually long time without maintaining it.
When it comes to automotive maintenance, veteran service personnel know that the old Fram filter tag line really applies: Pay me now or pay me later. Invest in relatively low-cost preventive maintenance now or risk paying needless, major repair bills down the road.
Whether it's automotive or non-automotive, any machine or piece of equipment can break down. But inside and outside the automotive world, maintenance still seems to be the best-kept secret to maximizing service life and minimizing needless down time.
In my travels, I meet many service writers and managers who aren't selling maintenance with the same zeal they once did. Obviously, selling maintenance becomes more difficult when the economy is slow and uncertainty hangs in the air. Many motorists fall back to the attitude of don't fix something that isn't broken. As long as the vehicle starts in the morning, they're content until the day it doesn't start.
What's more, the new-car dealers are siphoning off prospective service customers via outlandish new-car discounts and financing deals. It's easy to understand how these deals could lure away motorists who perceive that the cost of ongoing maintenance on an existing vehicle has gone too high.
In other cases, service work is lost because a poorly maintained vehicle finally breaks down and the owner's facing $2,000-$4,000 in repairs. Suddenly, 0-percent financing on a shiny new set of wheels may look very appealing to this motorist.
These service personnel I referred to a moment ago have revealed something very interesting to me in a series of separate conversations at various functions around the country. That is, they are losing their confidence in the true value of maintenance because they've seen vehicles run an unusually long time with little or no prescribed maintenance. Furthermore, they've had motorists take them to task for trying to sell normal maintenance simply because they've gotten by without it.
An old pal of mine from Miami has told me many times that when it comes to diagnosing and repairing automobiles, he'll take a big bag of luck over skill and knowledge any day. On the vehicle ownership side, a corollary to his philosophy is that a certain percentage of motorists will keep driving on good luck alone.
In other words, experience shows that a percentage of vehicles actually reach unusually high mileage in spite of being poorly maintained. Certainly good automotive “genes” help, but beyond that it's just luck—nothing more or less. Don't let a motorist tell you otherwise.
Many Tire Business readers have lived through these cyclical business slow downs or economic recessions before. But today's vehicles are better built than ever before and vehicle manufacturers are making life easier and easier for vehicle owners by reducing the amount and frequency of required maintenance. Simply put, automotive service providers—including tire dealers—are fighting for a share of a smaller pie that's getting smaller yet.
Therefore, I'll emphasize something I've said in previous columns: Don't be swayed or discouraged from trying to sell maintenance to each and every prospect, day in and day out.
The dollars accrued from selling maintenance is one issue. But the other issue is the potential dollars earned from visually inspecting each vehicle during routine maintenance procedures. This is a vital opportunity to catch pending failures before they occur and more importantly, before a competitor catches them. After all, it's tough to sell pending failures you can't see.
In the last recession, automotive service providers who had been selling maintenance most effectively weren't hurt by the slow economy as severely as their competitors were. In my travels, I'm hearing the same assessment today by owners and managers that I respect.
And yes, they see cooling systems, water pumps and timing belts, drive-belt tensioners and cabin-air filters, oxygen sensors and spark plugs that are long overdue for replacement. So go make that sale before the other guy does.