Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2005   by Jim Anderton

The Perfect Car

What's the ultimate in winter preparation for the average passenger vehicle?

For decades, autumn auto service was a ritual. Antifreeze, thermostat change, points, plugs and condenser, carb adjustment, snow tires and an oil change. With extended maintenance intervals, multigrade oils and long life coolant however, regular maintenance just isn’t a seasonal sale anymore. Or is it? Winter driving is still a cold-weather activity and although the vehicles’ core mechanical systems are much more cold-tolerant than they once were, there are still sales to be had before the snow flies. Old timers used to call it “TBA” meaning “Tires, Batteries and Accessories” but a modern take might be called “SVC”. See if you agree.


Modern fuel injected engines will generally run reliably in extreme weather conditions, if they crank with enough residual energy to operate the electronics. Unlike other vehicle systems, there’s no way to simulate the effects of freezing temperatures in the Fall, so the next best strategy is to test the battery. Reserve and CCA (cold cranking amperage) have specifications, so there is a baseline for both you and your customer to make a battery replacement decision. According to Lisa Dyble, marketing manager for East Penn/Power Battery Sales Ltd., consumers are generally surprised by the cause of battery wear.

“It’s important to get your battery tested before winter because it’s the heat of summer that destroys batteries. You don’t notice it, however, until the cold weather when you require more power to turn the engine over. It’s especially noticeable on modern cars with increasing under hood temperatures. There’s a tendency for consumers to say ‘yeah, sure’, when a technician shows them a weak test result in the summer, because the engine turns over strongly. They’ll only notice it until the first winter frost. Eventually it won’t turn over at all.” Dyble notes that when it comes to cranking, size matters.

“The most important factor is CCA”, she relates. “Manufacturers have minimum values, but it’s a good idea to buy more if possible because of the effects of heat. Stop-and-go driving and heavy accessory use means that the battery with a higher rating will last longer.”

Some mobile auto service providers (notably the CAA) will sell a consumer a battery at the roadside, a controversial practice whose very existence suggests that preventative testing and replacement isn’t performed enough before winter. You have the technology!


Clear vision is so fundamental that it’s rarely mentioned to teenagers during driving instruction, but ABS and stability control don’t mean a thing if you can’t see what you’re supposed to avoid. Why is it that DIY big box retailers like Canadian Tire look like the pits at Daytona at the first snowfall? One reason is that the fundamentals of visibility, wipers and lighting, are often perceived as do-it-yourself items. Pushing back against the perception of these items as Saturday morning replacements means stocking high-quality parts and selling the convenience of professional installation. For lighting, halogen capsules (good or burned out) can be replaced with products that extend nighttime visibility considerably. “It’s not what you see when driving at night, but how soon you see it. Many drivers don’t realize that headlights just don’t just burn out; they dim over time,” declares Laura Peach, SilverStar product marketing manager at OSRAM SYLVANIA. A study conducted by the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, N.Y.), found that whiter headlights help improve drivers’ ability to see roadside objects such as street signs. The study also determined that whiter light also helps drivers improve their reaction time and avoid potential road hazards. Halogen capsules are a low effort, high perceived value replacement that doesn’t require advanced diagnostic skills to sell. Rear window defrosters are another example. A test as simple as switching on and fogging the glass with your breath can reveal a bad line or lines. Most consumers aren’t aware that they can be repaired and likely won’t make a special trip for this kind of minor job, so it’s important to catch it now, while it’s in the shop.

Bright lighting is meaningless if the windshield looks like frosted glass, making upsell wipers a necessary part of the winter service sell. Unlike capsules, however, they are easier for the consumer to attempt on their own, making the choice of premium brands preferable to get owners to buy in.

Cameron Young, sales manager, Robert Bosch Inc., reports that winter blades move well in specific regions: “Winter blades have pockets of strong sales, notably Quebec, British Columbia and parts of Ontario. In areas where there is severe weather, installers are prepared for it.”

On the vehicle, wipers look decidedly low-tech, so the way they’re merchandised in the waiting area can make the difference in sales. Do point of purchase displays and consumer sales material work in driving sales? Bosch’s national marketing manager, Ed DiCesare, says is simply: “Yes, they do. Our territory managers report that they’re key selling tools. We’re finding more customers realizing that there is margin to be had with a brand name. Branding is important in selling the product.”

Sometimes forgotten is that low temperature windshield washer fluid, both as a tank fill and in the trunk, is a natural complement to a wiper sale. Rain repellant coatings can also be applied as an added feature upsell. Reapplication requires warm temperatures so coatings can also drive an additional mid-season visit, too.


The third untapped profit maker for fall service has more to do with how the consumer feels about their vehicle than how it runs. Winter, especially in urban Canada, is a dirty season of slush, mud and salt. Many shops wash a vehicle before handing over the keys, but what about accessories such as winter floor mats? Another value-added upsell can be as simple as water repellant sprays for the interior and air fresheners for closed-window winter driving. Preparing weather stripping for winter is an underperformed service, and could be added to hinge, latch and lock lubrication. A minor windshield crack will inevitably expand as a cold windshield is defrosted, a fact few motorists know, as is the role of A/C in dehumidifying “recirc” air in modern vehicles’ heater/defroster systems. Both are additional possible service items.

Selling psychic preparation can include “glove box” products such as lock de-icer and gas line antifreeze, as well as the ubiquitous car blanket, snow brushes, flares, disposable flashlights, recovery straps and many others.

Pressure test the cooling system, check the alternator and battery, inspect brakes, suspension and steering for sure, but remember that maintenance of a smooth running vehicle isn’t as memorable as a fresh smelling car or a clean windshield, regardless of their relative importance. For the little things like wipers, lighting and fluids, you’re selling the consumer back their spare time. And these days, time is often your customers’ most valuable commodity.

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