Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2004   by Jim Anderson,Editor

Practising what we preach

You've heard me say it a hundred times. Changing a belt? Don't forget the tensioner! Changing an alternator? What about the battery and the belt? Bad CV joint boot? How about the diff housing seals? W...

You’ve heard me say it a hundred times. Changing a belt? Don’t forget the tensioner! Changing an alternator? What about the battery and the belt? Bad CV joint boot? How about the diff housing seals? Whether you call it “upselling”, premium service, complete service or something else, the idea is to look at the system you’re repairing as a whole and think about what’s going to fail next, then package the replacement into an existing job. Done right it saves the customer money, makes you money and eliminates several sources of possible failure for better vehicle reliability. It should make sense all around, but many of us in the industry go in the other direction, by attempting to “save” the customer money by dong the bare minimum to keep the single job total down. Nobody really wants to change a good working water pump just because you’re in there replacing a timing belt, but what about the odometer? If you’re changing that belt, and the vehicle is wearing the factory water pump, you have an argument for a preventative replacement. The key is to make sure that the customer knows the difference between “pay-me-now or pay-me-later”. It helps if you can show the book time for the two jobs to demonstrate how the preventative service keeps the motorists from paying for the “re and re” of the same components twice. And there’s another advantage. By grouping major failure items into one service, both you and the owner have some control over the timing of the vehicle’s next visit to the shop. If you wait until the car appears “on the hook” because of that water pump, you have a dissatisfied customer on your hands (“I thought you looked at it last week!”), or worse, a driver that perceives their car or light truck to be a money pit. Service bays are a huge driver of new vehicle sales in dealerships, both because waiting customers are a captive audience, and because there are some real bargains out there on new wheels. Sudden surprises leave an owner unsure about their vehicle’s long-term reliability, the one thing that new vehicles can offer, for a price. A recent newspaper ad here in Toronto offered Chevy Cavaliers at a clearance price of $9995! And for about $14,000 there are several choices, and not just from Korea. With low new-car financing interest rates relative to credit card debt, some consumers will fall into the trap. Sure, they’ll spend more each year that their average annual repair and maintenance bill for the existing vehicle, but $249 a month sounds great doesn’t it? In this business we have to always hammer home the fact that even if a repair seems expensive, it’s still cheaper in the long run. Unless the car breaks in half on the hoist (been there, done that … that’s a phone call you hate to make to the customer) cleaning up the old car or truck usually makes sense if dollars count.

So why am I writing this? Because as soon as I’m done writing this column, I’m going to change the belt tensioner in my wife’s ’91 Dodge Caravan. What’s so unusual about that? I changed the alternator three weeks ago, along with a new belt, but didn’t bother to replace the tensioner. Why? Because on a 3.3L Chrysler V-6 it’s a female dog of a job, considering it’s basically one nut and I just couldn’t face skinning my knuckles again. As a result, I got to learn the life story of a tow operator during a 220 kilometre haul from Huntsville, Ontario to my Toronto home. If I’d just changed the tensioner along with the new belt, I’d have saved big in both time and money. I didn’t practise what I preached, so I got what I deserved. Pass that message along the next time your customer wants you to cut corners.

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