Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2000   by Jim Anderton

Maintenance Free

Let's face it, Canadians marketing automotive services, as well as technicians "in the trenches" face a major obstacle in developing the satisfaction necessary for customer loyalty. Unfortunately, tha...


Let’s face it, Canadians marketing automotive services, as well as technicians “in the trenches” face a major obstacle in developing the satisfaction necessary for customer loyalty. Unfortunately, that obstacle is built into the consumer psychology of Canadian vehicle owners: automotive service is an expensive annoyance. It’s hard to say when Canadian vehicle owners began to expect their vehicles to run forever without maintenance or repair. It’s strictly a guess, but I think that as new-car prices have risen in step with extended maintenance intervals and increasing build quality, manufacturers have given consumers long periods of low-maintenance motoring, followed by severe repair “sticker shock” as the vehicle ages. On a cost-per-kilometer basis, modern cars are cheap, probably less costly to maintain and repair than ever before, but consumers pay more for them, finance over longer periods, and drive much more than ever before. Somehow, however, this increasing involvement with our vehicles hasn’t been followed by a matching interest in their well-being.

A case in point: the 1962 Ford. A co-worker once purchased a big, beautiful ’62 (sometime in the mid-‘Eighties, as my hazy memory recalls) with the original factory service interval sticker still intact. That glove-compartment label suggested service about every 1200 miles, primarily for chassis lubrication. Imagine suggesting that a customer bring their vehicle in every 2000 kilometers today! At the same time, that slow-turning 352 V-8 didn’t operate in the high-temperature, high-rpm 300,000 kilometer environment expected of today’s engines. Despite this, how often have you broken the bad news about a broken timing belt and been met with anger or disbelief when the customer learns about a destroyed head? And how long did that belt survive? 200,000? More? The only certain thing is that “it’s your fault” that the repair is expensive. On the other hand, advice to bring the vehicle in regularly for maintenance is often perceived as a “rip off” and ignored.

Can this cycle of consumer dissatisfaction be changed? Probably, IF motorists can be convinced that picking a new technician for every job means that no one ever gets to “know the vehicle”, or the driving habits of its owner. Oddly enough, there are MGB owners here in Toronto who trust their precious machines to one and only one mechanic, who often services the car through multiple owners. Why would owners of the simplest vehicles support a good shop, while Turbo-MFI-All-Wheel-Drive pilots go to Wal-Mart for an oil change? I suspect that the sports car shop presents itself as a team of specialists, while local general repair operations are perceived as commodities. Few people change barbers as often as Canadians shop around for vehicle service and repair. It’s ironic that the owner of a ’62 Ford feels the need for a close rapport with his technician, but looks for bargain pricing in modern vehicle repair. Go figure.