Winter maintenance packages are a route to profit
A sure sign that winter is coming is when you start seeing hockey equipment being advertised. This increases the blood pressure in most people because that also means school is starting for the kids, dead leaves have to be raked and no more lounging out back with a cool malted beverage for comfort. Add to that, the car has to be checked over so it survives one more Canadian winter. As most cars on the road these days are on a fairly strict regiment of maintenance, does the annual rite of winter maintenance really make sense any more?
Depending on where you live, this winter service is critical.
“What has changed dramatically in our industry in the last six or seven years is that winter tires are back,” said Bruce Eccles, owner of Eccles Auto Service in Dundas, Ontario. “We have a clientele which is definitely interested in getting their vehicle in (for winter service). Of course, when the customer comes in to get their tires switched to winter tires, you can sell them your winter service package because the obvious thing is the car is there.
“As soon as we have it in the shop, if we do a good job at the counter, you ask if you want the winter package. Most people understand that the winter months are hard on the car and they want to have it looked at.”
Steve Bowles owner/manager of the Auto Centre Dufferin County Inc. in Shelburne, Ontario, said that every fall they have a big promotion for their winter maintenance package.
“It gives the customer extra value,” he said of his promotions. “We monitor the results, and it does generate more work.”
Although winter tires are not mandated in Ontario, many of his customers do have winter tires. The cost of the package includes a tire swap if they are on the rims.
In Quebec, where winter tires on vehicles were made mandatory by the province since November 2008, it is inevitable that most vehicles will make their way to a service centre before the first snowflakes fall. “We do sell winter maintenance. We always offer our customers a package to remind them that winter is coming,” said Jean Bouchard, owner of Centre De Service Automobile De Boucherville Inc. in Boucherville, Quebec. He noted that, “we do maintenance year-round and there really is no difference than what you do in the winter, summer, fall or spring. We always offer what Mitchell suggest for that car – and that’s the best way to do it.”
He said swapping tires is usually extra, but noted that most of the people in Quebec have their tires mounted on rims. “About 80 per cent I would say.” So the swap is fast and easy.
If a vehicle owner does not have the tires mounted? “With the new machines we have today we don’t damage the tires anymore. In the old days if you took a tire off rim you would scrap it,” Bouchard laughed. “Today, taking tires off the rim is no problem.”
“There is definitely more and more regular maintenance now,” said Graeme Tremblay, manager of The Garage in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We don’t really have any winter maintenance package for here in Vancouver.”
Vancouver is one of the few places in Canada that gets very little of a traditional Canadian winter. Tremblay said that cars are well built these days and do not need too much special care. But venturing out of the confines of the lower mainland and into the mountains is a bit different.
“In B.C., certain highways and areas mandate winter tire usage,” according to Tremblay. “If you were to head to Kelowna, you would get stopped and turned around if you do not have a set of winter tires. A couple of years ago they really started to enforce it.”
Winter maintenance, “is basically regular maintenance,” said Richard Dansereau, co-owner of LAD’S Auto Repair in Calgary, Alberta. They do not have a winter maintenance program at their garage. “Every one of our clients is on a maintenance plan. We do everything that is required on the car over and above what the manufacturers recommend. We try to make sure they, the customer, understands that maintenance is important to the vehicle.” He said that Alberta has no laws for winter tires, but, “at this point about 50 per cent of our clients have switched to winter tires. Driving around Calgary, you need them even more than going up to Banff, in the mountains. The reason is that winter tires give you great ice traction. All those cars pack down the snow and turn it into ice. It makes the traction worse in the city. It is probably better to drive to the mountains on all-seasons than to use them in the city.” He likes tires on the rimes as, “Taking them off the rims you risk damaging the tire.”
Where winterizing one’s car for winter is absolutely necessary is in Canada’s North. In Yellowknife, for example, getting cars ready for the winter gets under way at the start of September according to Brian Hixenbaugh, owner of Autotech Inc. in Yellowknife, North West Territories. “We get winters here with months in the minus 30s to minus 40s. We definitely do winter maintenance. People in southern Canada do not see these extreme temperatures that we do here.”
There is a different approach to winters for vehicles up north. “We recommend a battery blanket, the 0W30 oil, we check if the block heater is functional, in Volkswagens we use the oil pan heater,” he said. “Everybody here has a block heater. We check if the coolant is functional to a minus 45 level. When cars come up from the south we have to adjust the coolant,” he notes.
Proper oil is very important in the freezing conditions of North West Territories. “We use 0-20 and 0-30 oils up here in all of the vehicles that we maintain,” he said. “We deal with lots of Hondas and Toyotas, and a lot of them have already gone to 0-20 and 0-30 oils.”
He said using these light synthetic oils is crucial. “We will use 0-30 in a lot of the vehicles. The difference between the 0-20 and 0-30 is that at the end of the day it is about the emissions. The manufactures need to drop the number. It also helps consumption because it is easier to swing a crankshaft through 20-weight oil than it is through 30-weight oil, I guess.”
Getting customers to buy into a winter package is a matter of selling it according to Eccles. “Selling is selling,” he said. You have to do a good job at the front counter. In the shop, “You check the obvious. You check the battery, coolant, brakes, steering, wiper blades, make sure the windshield fluid is not the summer grade. The reality is, for the most part they are basically the same maintenance procedures,” he said. “Cars are so much better now than they were years ago. When I started years ago we used to have to drain the antifreeze nearly every year and replace it with new stuff. Now of course you don’t do that.”
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