By Dan Marinucci, Special to Tire Business
Tire dealers and auto service shop operators cannot be responsible for some customers' costly calamities because some motorists are and always will be clueless about proper vehicle care.
To me, recognizing and coping with this cold, hard fact is the first step toward reducing stress at your business. Now, I don't mean to sound uncaring or unprofessional, but some motorists are, frankly, users and abusers of machinery. There's no other way to say it.
Over the years, I have reported on and worked with various automotive service facilities, including tire dealerships, new-car dealerships, general repair outlets and automotive specialty shops. One challenge common to all of these businesses has been the devil-may-care car owner. This breed of customer ignores all manner of professional advice about proper vehicle care and maintenance.
Or they may appear to listen and absorb the counsel of capable professionals like you. But it seems your advice actually goes into one of their ears and out the other one.
The bottom line is that when these careless car owners leave your business, they don't respect or appreciate the value of sensible auto care any more than when they first arrived — perhaps with his or her vehicle on the end of a tow truck.
What's more, never be shocked or upset with their penchant for whining after the damage is done. I have been in some customer lounges when a motorist is venting his or her anger over another blown head gasket. Meanwhile, your service records confirm that this is the second time within three years that this vehicle has run out of coolant, overheating the engine.
Mind you, your technicians patiently checked and/or fixed all the potential leak points on this car the last time it was in your shop. However, leaks can and do occur on these man-made machines. You explained that fact and took time to personally coach the customer on checking coolant when the engine was cold. You also briefed him or her on watching for coolant stains on the driveway and parking space.
Yet apparently these lessons didn't stick. Realistically, how much can you coach a customer about avoiding car trouble?
Meantime, other calamity-prone car owners may maintain a calm, almost indifferent demeanor as they describe driving a damaged vehicle until it literally stopped dead in its tracks — obviously another tow-in situation. The person nearly pleads temporary insanity. When the warning light on the instrument panel turned on, perhaps the person floored the gas pedal in hopes of reaching the nearest interstate exit some 15 miles away. So your instructions to pull off the road at the first safe opportunity and call for road service seemed simply too difficult to remember, let alone execute correctly.
Another maddening, frustrating aspect of these breakdowns is the fact that the customer is not a simple-minded person by any means. Rather, they're bright people who seem capable of mastering mountains of minutiae at work or regurgitating reams of data about topics that interest them. That said, learning and remembering car care rules apparently don't interest these folks. Their personal rules amount to turning the key, putting the vehicle into gear and flooring the gas pedal.
Like it or not, actions have consequences. For example, that careless customer may blow past a stop sign at an intersection. There's a chance that he or she may talk the police officer out of writing a ticket, but the odds are that a traffic ticket is coming.
Similarly, some people neglect or abuse a vehicle and somehow get away with it, but neglecting a car is almost always a losing proposition. Getting away with neglect is very much the exception to the rule, and they need to be continually reminded of that.
Let's keep a clear perspective here: Years of experience confirm that maintenance and upkeep always are the cheapest expenditures that can be made to a vehicle. It must be the goal of your business to continually promote that message to customers — especially those who make a habitual practice of not caring for their vehicles.
Dan Marinucci is a free-lance automotive service writer and former editor of two automotive service magazines who writes a regular auto service column for Tire Business. He can be reached via email at [email protected]. His previous columns are available at www.tirebusiness.com.