Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2003   by John G. Smith

Business by the Numbers

Trained techs dominate complex work; Canadian Tire top do-it-yourself destination.

Canadians may be willing to tackle simple tasks on the family car, but they continue to leave intricate mechanical work to trained professionals, according to the Automotive Industries Association’s 2003 Car Maintenance in Canada Report.

The news culled from an analysis of 28,000 repairs and purchases offered little comfort to Andrew D’Ornellas, an Ajax, Ont. technician who was spending his summer vacation under the hood of his ’95 Neon when the document was released.

“The last thing I wanted to do is touch a wrench,” he says of his time off. “The cylinder head gasket on this thing is leaking. I’ve been putting it off for a year, but it’s making a mess in the driveway.”

Granted, having worked as a technician since 1978, D’Ornellas isn’t the average Canadian consumer. The top do-it-yourself task is an oil top-up, with 89 per cent of consumers willing to reach for the dip sticks on their own vehicles, along with the 72 per cent replacing their own headlamps and wipers, and 71 per cent switching their own small bulbs.

The tasks most likely to be “mechanic-installed” in 2002 involved transmissions, with shops assuming 91 per cent of that business, although a mere four per cent of consumers required such repairs during the year. So, too, did vehicle owners turn over 82 per cent of paint jobs and work involving clutches or steering components, the study found.

Automotive repair is big business across the country. The 19.3 million wipers replaced in 2002 would stretch from St. John’s to Victoria if they were placed end-to-end. And the 58.8 million oil changes required more than 1.2 million bathtubs full of oil.

Fluid replacements are the simplest job for people to understand, says AIA spokeswoman Denise Faguy, suggesting why the task was so popular. It was at the top of her mind, too, with a 2000 Honda CRV that was in the need of an oil change after a recent vacation.

But who earned the business? “New car dealers remain the leading channel of distribution to consumers with 25.4 per cent of the market. Independent repair shops (20 per cent) and Canadian Tire (18.5 per cent) closely shared the spot for the second-largest channel,” the study concluded. “Specialty shops were next at 11.3 per cent, followed by auto parts stores (seven per cent).

“Regionally, new car dealers were weaker in the Western provinces, as were independent repair shops. Canadian Tire was strongest in Ontario and weakest in Quebec. Specialty shops performed best in Ontario and significantly below the national average in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec. Auto parts stores were noticeably more popular in British Columbia, while service stations were stronger in Quebec.”

Regardless of where they went, Canadians replaced 19.3 million air filters, 6.1 million headlamps, 7.1 million small bulbs, 28.9 million spark plugs, and 22.9 million tires, the study found. Top tasks included almost 21 million oil top-ups, 6.6 million brake jobs, 5.1 million coolant replacements, 2.5 million batteries, and 1.44 million alternators and generators.

New car dealers continue to dominate mechanic-installed work, with 34 per cent of the business in 2002 — a slight drop from the 37.2 per cent of the market they held in 2001. Independent repair shops followed that with 27.9 per cent of the business, leaving specialty repair shops with 16.2 per cent of the work.

Of the mechanic-installed tasks, new car dealers dominated routine maintenance items such as coolant replacements (40.7 per cent), oil changes (38.7) and air filter replacements (38.6). But independent shops were the most common choice for the more-complex jobs that are likely to be performed on older vehicles, the study found. That group of shops conducted 65.7 per cent of mechanic-replaced ignition wire sets, along with 60.6 per cent of hose replacements and 58.3 per cent of clutch work.

Specialty shops, meanwhile, were the most likely source of professionals conducting paint work and body work, with 71.5 per cent and 69 per cent of the in-shop business, respectively.

Canadian Tire tended to account for simpler mechanic-installed tasks, with 19.4 per cent of battery replacements, 18.1 per cent of tire replacements, and 12.9 per cent of wiper changes.

Consumers were most likely to turn to shops in Quebec and Ontario, while those in B.C., the Prairies and Atlantic Canada were the most likely to tackle work on their own. Men, meanwhile, were the most likely to count themselves as do-it-yourselfers, handing just 63 per cent of their work to shops. Eighty-one per cent of women turned to technicians.

When it came time to source do-it-yourself parts, consumers were quick to stuff their wallets with Canadian Tire bucks, giving the retail stalwart 44.8 per cent of the business. Auto parts stores followed at a distant second with 21 per cent of the market, leaving department stores at 9.5 per cent, and car dealers at 6.7 per cent.

Parts for simple tasks such as wiper blades, bulbs and spark plugs were most likely to be sourced at Canadian Tire, while auto parts stores were the favored suppliers for new suspension, steering and brake components. Department stores saw most of the do-it-yourselfers in their isles looking for oil, coolant, air filters or batteries. And new car dealers were most likely to sell them products such as touch-up paint, fuel pumps and belts.

“The traditional mechanic installed aftermarket typically sees vehicles in the 5-to-12-year-old category,” adds AIA President Ray Datt. “This report confirms that almost 50 per cent of vehicles on the road will now be in that category.”

Vehicles aged 8 to 12 years account for 32.1 per cent of the market, with those four to five years old representing 15.4 per cent. Vehicles more than 12 years old represented 23 per cent of the rubber on the road, with anything newer than three years accounting for 16.8 per cent. Vehicles aged six to seven years accounted for 12.6 per cent.

In terms of anticipated growth, the automotive aftermarket business is expected to grow 1.6 per cent this year, 1.4 per cent in 2004, and by an annual rate of 3.3 per cent by 2006.

The study, based on 2,500 telephone interviews, was prepared by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

The complete report is available free of charge to AIA members, while non-members can purchase a copy for $400. Members will also be able to access a CD-ROM — complete with charts and graphs used in the study — for a nominal fee of $35.

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