Service personnel may sell more maintenance more often if they put these services into perspective for doubtful motorists. Never assume that car owners make the same comparisons and reach the same conclusions you do.
In my last column, I emphasized once again that routine, preventive maintenance always is the cheapest outlay any motorist makes on a vehicle. This was true when I first walked into a service station in the late 1960s. It's still accurate today.
When I observe transactions at service counters today, I'm amazed at the motorists who seem to lack any perspective on the cost and complexity of today's vehicles. Unless service personnel put these factors into perspective for them, they may never embrace proper, routine maintenance.
First, the cheapest new cars are within the range of $14,000 to $15,000. A reasonably decent used vehicle likely is about $5,000 to $6,000. Unless your “dot com” business just completed its initial public offering, six grand is still six grand. Fifteen thou is still 15 thou—these aren't trifling numbers. Traditionally, a piece of property costing these amounts is something valuable, something worth protecting. No, it's not something sensible people take for granted.
But experience at the service desk confirms that some motorists don't readily understand that performing the most-basic, most-essential maintenance—engine oil and coolant changes—pales compared to the market value of their vehicles.
And whether they paid $6,000 or $60,000 for a vehicle, the cost of maintenance amounts to protecting one's investment in that personal transportation machine. Second, field experience suggests many motorists don't appreciate the complexity and sophistication of modern vehicles.
Specifically, they think that high-tech always translates into low- or no-maintenance. Not only is this inaccurate, but the cost of neglect on modern machinery can be substantial. Considering the potential costs of neglect, the outlay for annual maintenance services should look even cheaper than the motorist imagined. What's more, the penalty for neglect should move them to err on the side of caution—invest in bit more maintenance rather than a bit less. For example, a neglected cooling system can leak and/or overheat.
Those robust, all-iron engines we worked on years ago often tolerated overheating. We could cool the engine down, replace a failed hose and the engine survived. In contrast, ask your techs how a modern engine reacts to overheating.
Today, an overheated engine often turns into a pile of junk. Neglected engine oil usually leads to sludge deposits inside the engine's oil circuits. When I was a teenager, we often opened up oil passages with a combination of solvent, compressed air, coat hangers and bottle brushes. On modern engines, we don't have nearly the easy access to these circuits.
More importantly, many of today's engines have fine-mesh screens inside these oil circuits. Accessing these vital screens can be extremely difficult. Even if you do flush the sludge out of the screen, the remaining sludge inside the engine collects in the screen again and again.
What's more, a sludged-up screen may deactivate the engine's computer-controlled valve timing system. Then trouble codes appear and the Check Engine light turns on. Next, the careless car owner hears that turning out the light and restoring good performance and fuel economy requires costly engine work.
Sometimes, it's easier and more reliable to replace the engine than clear out the sludge successfully. Some service personnel I know and respect are building electronic photo albums that depict the consequences of neglected coolant, neglected oil changes, etc.
After all, a picture's worth a thousand words. As one manager told me, “Pictures provide perspective. Perspective helps close the sale.”