Automotive Repair – Change is the Name of the Game! Better-built cars are driving a new reality in the automotive repair world. Are you still trying to be successful “fixing” cars? Maintenance - for both vehicles and customer relationships - is the new model for succes.
Jeff Webster - Technical Editor
New technologies drive higher quality
The automotive industry has undergone a significant shakeup… for
the better! New cars are more reliable than ever before. And
that’s despite the fact that they are also more complex than
ever before. The thing about technology is that it feeds on
itself. Innovations build on each other and changes come
faster and faster. Today, it seems as if new technologies occur
with every new model year.
At the same time, the economic reality is that more people are
driving their older vehicles longer. What does that mean for
the average repair shop? It means that waiting for repair
jobs to come to you doesn’t work anymore.
Success means recognizing a new reality!
Scheduled maintenance is the profit center that is here to stay,
and that may mean changing the way you do business.
Especially when it comes to building relationships with your
ATI (Automotive Training Institute), a highly regarded training
and consulting firm, says, “The game changed while you were
busy fixing cars.” ATI’s instructors teach shop owners to
stop aiming at repairs, which they call the “wrong target.”
In the competitive automotive service business, repairs just
won’t cut it anymore.
Besides, cars needing fewer repairs, increased competition is
another dynamic driving a transformation in the auto service
business. In just seven years – 2002 to 2009 – 9,200 shops
went out of business in the U.S.* Between 1998 and 2010
there were 43,000 fewer service bays.** Every uto
repair business is looking for ways to bring in customers – and
keep the ones they have.
Here are some factors conspiring against you:
Cars today don’t break as often
Many repairs are more complex and less efficient to fix
Manufacturers are promoting extended service intervals and
fewer preventive maintenance requirements
Extended warranties are heavily promoted
New car dealer have learned to be more competitive
If you are waiting for repairs to drive through your bay doors,
you are relying on an “event driven” business model. You
have little control over your work mix. You do what lands on
From emergency fillings to scheduled cleanings
The dentistry business used to work like that – waiting for
“repair work” to walk in. Fillings, extractions, root
canals. Then, fluoride was added to municipal water supplies.
People became more aware of the need for dental hygiene.
They learned to floss. Toothpaste became more effective.
Cavities virtually disappeared. Dental associations recognized
that “repair-oriented” appointments were declining. Their
world was changing. The industry responded quickly
and developed strategies to protect dental practices from
going the way of the public phone booth.
Now, dentists focus on maintenance, prevention and cosmetic
dentistry. Before you leave the office, your dental
hygienists schedules an appointment six months in advance.
Vacations can be scheduled, and everyone leaves the office at a
reasonable hour to go home and spend time with their
families. A dentist’s workday is no longer event-driven; it is
So, what do you do first?
Educate your customers about the importance of scheduled
maintenance: From transmission service to timing belt
replacement. From oil change to tire rotation. From windshield
wipers to replacing the cabin air filter. From seasonal
inspections to preparation for a road trip. You know what
needs to be done, but you need to get your customers on board.
Start with information at the counter:
Maintenance Schedules and Tables
Technical Service Bulletins
Courtesy Inspection Forms
System Descriptions and Diagrams
Timing Belt Replacement Tables
Props, samples, posters, third-party validation of needed
Most customers want to be informed of their car’s service needs.
If the vehicle is new, they want to keep their warranty in
force, while protecting the resale value. If the vehicle is
older, they want to keep it running safely, reliably and
efficiently. Once you empower them to make the
decision, they join with you in a common goal — maintaining
Automate the process
Get a website. Today, most consumers search for goods and
services on the Internet. Make sure you use a system that
optimizes consumer searches, so your shop ranks high in the
search and becomes more visible. Turn Internet searches into
customers. Include customer testimonials to persuade drivers
that your shop is their best option.
Preschedule future work and install software that automatically
sends out email reminders. None of this is very expensive
anymore, when compared with the cost of doing nothing. It
simply means asking your customers for their email
addresses. They probably expect it and will usually
Discuss a car care strategy with your preferred customers, and
create a “customer type” notation in your customer database.
Create a page on your website that lets your customers view
their service history. Start to help your customers accept
scheduled auto maintenance the same way they accept
regularly scheduled dental cleanings.
Along with scheduled maintenance, courtesy checks are an
important potential revenue source. Consumers today expect
complimentary courtesy check as a normal component of the
maintenance service. Often, components in need of legitimate
repairs are uncovered during courtesy checks: brakes, hoses,
belts, tires or leaking power water pumps. Courtesy checks
are most effective when they are formalized and defined:
“30- point courtesy check,” etc.
Technology and a focus on quality have made vehicles extremely
reliable. Unless a shop owner is willing to work long hours
for low wages, a shop can no longer succeed on repairs
alone. Regularly scheduled maintenance and an emphasis on
business management are the forces that drive profitability
in today’s competitive world.
*AAIA 2011 Aftermarket Analysis
**Based on Lang Marketing 2010 Report