Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2012   by CARS Magazine

The Economics Of Selling Maintenance

If you have not read Jim Anderton’s Rant, stop right now and do so.

If you have not read Jim Anderton’s Rant,
stop right now and do so.

Now that you have had time to pick your jaw up from the floor, what more can be added to the horrors Jim Anderton has recounted? Yes, we all have likely had a vehicle owner drive up to our shop’s front door in a vehicle that long-ago should have been condemned and consigned to the scrap heap. They are not only risking their own lives, but the lives of everyone else on the road.

There are some who will resist to the bitter end spending a single dime on vehicle maintenance and repair, proving the adage that human stupidity is the most common element in the universe after hydrogen. Thankfully, not everyone allows their vehicles fall into such states of disrepair.

If people forgo certain vehicle maintenance and repair work, it is not because they are cheap. It comes down to simple economics. If you can, take a look at the recent survey by the U.S.-based Northcoast Research. This firm publishes a monthly index surveying fifty independent service shops in ten major U.S. states, including several major auto parts suppliers. Looking at the trend lines from September of 2009 to April of this year shows how vehicle maintenance work and parts sales tracked with the slow down of the economy. That is not surprising. I’ve written about this subject before and everyone who owns a service shop in Canada has likely seen a similar trend.

People hold off on a wide range of discretionary spending during economic downturns, one being vehicle maintenance and repair. No one wants a tire to fall off the car while going about their business; they will hold off as long as they can on less critical and non-safety-related work. One positive trend is that people are holding onto their cars longer, as the NDP Group in the United States and AIA Canada have discovered.

Maintenance work, however, can only be deferred for so long. Brakes, shocks and struts have to be replaced at regular intervals, just as you have to regularly replace a vehicle’s oil and filter. Studies in Canada and in the United States have found millions of untapped maintenance and repair dollars because of deferred maintenance work.

When will this windfall happen? Probably not very soon because the same economic trends that have pushed people to defer maintenance work are still in play. That is not to say progressive service shops can’t finds ways to tap into these maintenance dollars. Maintenance work can only be deferred for so long before problems, sometime serious, begin to happen.