Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2006   by Andrew Ross

Conversation Starter

I don’t generally focus on media coverage here. I just find that too often when media talk about the media it gets, well, a little “inside,” and I think we have all had enough over the years of the CBC leading off its nightly newscast with a story about the CBC.

Nevertheless, the impact of what is said in the media cannot be ignored. It seems that we live in a world where people seem to get their so-called wisdom from television, newspapers, and the Web more than they do from stepping outside and actually talking to people.

People believe what they watch and read, and they sometimes believe it more than they do their own experience.

Which brings me to the point. A December comment by the president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association in my local newspaper had me feeling distinctly un-Christmaslike.

Car dealer Paul Stern, who has a regular space in the Toronto Star’s automotive section by virtue of his position with the association, stated that the aftermarket misleads consumers with its advertising, and then used innuendo to cast doubt on a transmission repair chain’s claims that its people know what they’re doing as well or better than dealership personnel, and that its inspections during a fluid change were really just a way to increase the total sale. “Some consumers may be forgiven for thinking that technicians at these franchise outlets will inevitably find things to fix, and a fee is always attached,” he wrote. Yeah, like nobody’s ever been charged for anything at a dealer after a spring inspection?

There were several scathing comments like this, attacking the integrity of the aftermarket at large in his comment. What really got me feeling like someone had just left a great big box of you-know-what under my Yuletide tree, however, was his comment that the technicians in the aftermarket are simply not as capable as dealers’ techs at diagnosing or repairing major engine components. They are the specialists, the experts. They have the tools and the knowledge, not the aftermarket.

“Quite often, automotive aftermarket shops and franchises will refer work to new car dealerships, because they lack the expertise or the right tools to please their customers.” It was an incendiary comment, one that struck to the very heart of those who are proud of this industry.

And every blessed word of it was absolutely true, which is what is really maddening.

Every time I have the opportunity to discuss business, tools and information with technicians or service providers, they tell me that they rely on dealership personnel to help them out. Sometimes it’s a friendly tech willing to hustle over a diagnostic tool to help out; sometimes the information needed is as simple as confirming that a part number is the right part.

The fact remains, however, that most independent garages would be stuck more than they’d care to admit if they didn’t have a good relationship with the local dealer network.

It’s not about being smarter or even better trained, as many techs have come through the OE training and apprenticeship programs and worked at car dealerships, before opting for the independent employer. Many go back and forth between the two.

The reason is, of course, that the dealer networks have access to tools and information that the independent is blocked from getting in Canada, a key point that Mr. Stern fails to mention in his dissertation.

The battle to give the independent sector access to the tools and information to serve the consumer well has gelled into the Right to Repair campaign, which every sector of this industry must acquaint itself with and spread the word about. This is not new, but it bears repeating as often as possible.

Most consumers have no idea how much the dealer networks have control over the critical tools and information needed to fix their car. Tell them.

Tell them every time you get an opportunity, at the counter, on the ski slopes, at the bar, wherever, because right now the conversation is still dramatically one-sided in the media, and that is hurting all of us.

–Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

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