All auto repair shop service personnel should take precautions against stinking up customers' vehicles. Common sense and forethought are the keys to accomplishing this goal.
Repeatedly, I have emphasized that meeting or exceeding customer expectations is the key to long-term success for every tire dealer and service shop operator.
However, my field experience suggests that some folks simply don't get it. They don't recognize that the car owner expects his or her vehicle to come back in the same shape — no worse than — its condition when it arrived for maintenance or repairs.
So, the minimum expectation is that service personnel won't harm a vehicle while it's in their care.
Now, the more common damage to vehicles involves dings, dents, scratches, etc. However, offensive, new-found odors in a vehicle may harm your business' reputation every bit as much — if not more than — a scratch or grease spot.
For years, the majority of those purchasing automotive services have been women.
Experience shows that women are much more likely to notice and criticize foul odors than men are. These are excellent reasons to avoid stinking up a vehicle.
Another challenge is that an objectionable smell that's obvious to an outsider may elude one of your technicians or service writers.
The reason is that they've become so accustomed to this odor that they overlook it. Sadly, it may take multiple complaints for them to recognize the problem.
The source of the odor could be something such as gasoline, cleaning solvents or cigarette smoke.
Back in the 1960s, I worked in a traditional service station where I had to mop the lube bay every evening with fresh gasoline.
It wasn't long before I didn't notice the pungent odor of gasoline. That said, I began a routine of removing my work shoes before coming into the house again and promptly changing out of my uniform.
Occasionally we parked cars in this lube bay overnight. I didn't notice a gasoline odor inside these cars when I moved them outside in the morning.
But the customers did — and they weren't happy about it.
Smoking may be another source of odors that workers overlook because they've become accustomed to it.
For one thing, smokers tend to be much less aware of the cigarette or cigar smell than those around them.
What's more, they're much less likely to notice how that odor permeates their clothing as well as things in their work space.
I have seen this lead to awkward situations. For instance, a service writer asks the most experienced tech in the shop (a heavy smoker) to road test a vehicle with the car owner on board.
The owner, a former smoker, blurts out that the tech smells like a walking ashtray to her.
Or, a tech who smells of smoke spends considerable time inside a car on a task such as heater core replacement.
Although the repair turns out fine, the car owner is unhappy. Even though the fellow didn't actually smoke inside the car, his cigarette or cigar odor lingered enough for a non-smoking customer to notice it.
What's more, I have seen a tech who smokes leave one of his shop manuals on a car's console overnight. The next morning, that interior smelled like smoke.
I respect that we live and work in an imperfect world. But that said, I urge readers to be proactive about potential odors — especially smoking.
Some bosses keep extra uniforms handy and require techs to change them often.
Others keep fans and deodorizing equipment handy to cope with potential odor problems. At the very least, they can rely on the services of a local odor-eliminating specialist.
Coach employees who smoke to be extra cautious; urge the non-smokers on your staff to be vigilant for unusual and/or offensive odors inside a vehicle.
Always note any existing odors on the work order or in the customer history when the vehicle arrives — not after your crew has touched it.