Auto Service World
News   August 12, 2010   by CARS Magazine

Ever fire your customer?

I've heard it hundreds of times ... a consumer complaining about the high cost of service and difficulty in ge...

I’ve heard it hundreds of times … a consumer complaining about the high cost of service and difficulty in getting good quality repairs for their vehicle. Was the issue with a dealer? A major chain? An independent?

In fact Mr. X – I’ll conceal his name for obvious reasons – did have difficulty getting his car repaired reliably. The machine? A Northstar-equipped Cadillac. With over 200,000 km’s on the clock. Bought as a third owner … for 2,500 bucks … see where this is going? The GM Northstar engine was a technical jewel, but one that in early versions developed a reputation for sealing issues, oil sludging, head bolt pulling, overheating and just about every malady that could be expected from a high-tech aluminium engine put into the hands of a largely geriatric owner group used to cast-iron low-maintenance pushrod technology. GM expected that owners with enough cash to afford premium machines like the Allante or STS would spend a little of it on maintenance. How wrong they were.

And now, twenty years later, these engines are showing up at the beater-end of the market, where considerably less well off owners can’t understand why their cars are so expensive to diagnose and repair. This defies explanation. Buy a house with a bad roof and a cracked foundation, and you have to expect some rot. Yet this elementary common sense seems to elude the owners of these “bargain” luxury cars. Doesn’t anyone wonder why these cars depreciate so quickly? This owner group suffers from a double frustration: disappointment in the reliability of their premium automobile and difficulty in finding affordable service.

The first is misguided. Manufacturers of luxury cars build for the new car purchase with an eye toward trade-in value. But by the third or fourth owner, all bets are off. Unfortunately, everyone who knows of a B-body Caprice or P71 Crown Vic taxicab that goes 500,000 km’s thinks that their V-12 Jag should do the same, with little or no maintenance. Some wise shops simply refuse to open the hood. Others do so only after preparing their customers for potentially expensive diagnostic and repair bills. A few just dive in and see what happens. A common issue surfaces when the owner can’t afford the full fix and opts for jury-rigged repairs and used parts … only to show up a week later complaining about the quality of the job.

Run, don’t walk away from these customers. If you can get to them before they make the buy, make them understand what they’re getting themselves into. Very complex, sophisticated cars are a joy to drive and draw technically interested guys like me like bears to honey. I can diagnose and repair them, but I don’t own one. Instead, I drive an F-150. Six cylinders, manual transmission and I wind up my own windows and open my own locks. There’s no Sirius radio, no GPS, no lane change alert or adaptive cruise control. A/C is a bit of a luxury, but hey, the truck is black. I can’t afford a new Cadillac, which is the condition in which I’d want to own one, so I keep it simple. If you can’t turn your customer away from that Maserati Biturbo, at least suggest or sell them a Civic or a Cavalier as a daily driver. That way, you can push the exotic around back and forget about it until they figure out that a new head costs more than the whole car.

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