The cold snap that hit most of the country in early January was the onset of one of the coldest winters most states have seen in years.
And since cold weather can have adverse effects on vehicle systems, you probably experienced an influx of customers whose vehicles were towed in with dead batteries, or ones that were flooded due to ignition systems that could not fire the fuel. How many of those could have been prevented if a little maintenance was done to the vehicle before the foul weather hit?
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We’ve all had those preventive maintenance conversations with customers, but has a customer ever asked you to replace something that didn’t test bad? I had a customer tell me to replace a battery that was barely four years old and it was a 75-month battery. I told him that the battery tested fine and the charging system was working well.
That’s when he said something that I now say to my customers almost every day. “You don’t wait until you run out of gas before you put gas in, right? Why would you wait until your battery died to put a new one in?” He went on to say if the battery died it would be at the most inconvenient time possible, like when he needed to pick up his daughter from school or when he was supposed to be at a meeting at work. I share that story with my customers frequently and, as a result, I seem to be doing a lot more scheduled maintenance.
Let’s look at some VW and Audi maintenance schedules and see what we may have been missing that could help our customers avoid costly tows and generate some additional revenue for our efforts.
So here goes. Why is it that even though we’ve experienced many advancements in oil technology, we see more oil-related failures than we used to see? For example, VW and Audi 1.8L turbos that are sludged up, as well as Saab 2.3L engines, and Volvo breather assemblies that get plugged. We are seeing oil-related problems on many cars due to extended oil change intervals. VW and Audi recommend 5,000-mile oil change intervals, which are adequate. It’s up to us to sell customers on the benefits of using full synthetic oil so when they go over that 5,000-mile mark by 3,000 or 4,000 miles, it won’t be too detrimental to the engine.
Remember that old “pay me now or pay me later” commercial? It still applies, especially at our shop. Included with every oil change is a safety inspection. We are a AAA-approved shop and we use its inspection sheet to find other needed work on our oil change services. Inspection sheets ensure all vehicles receive the same checks every time. Belts, hoses, brakes and fluids are just a few things we inspect. Don’t forget to measure the tire tread. What might be fine for summer is not OK for winter. And, it seems to me that for as long as I’ve been working on cars, most people will buy tires from the first person who recommends they are in need of new tires. Be prepared to quote good, better, best options when it comes to tires because our customers really like choices.
Minor services are due every 20,000 miles. In addition to the oil change service, cabin air filters are replaced, as needed. Many customers don’t see the need for the cabin air filter and just as many don’t even know their vehicles are equipped with one. But, after explaining that all the air they breathe enters the car through that filter, objections to the added cost are minimal.
The safety inspection we provide is a more detailed check of key vehicle systems. A full charging system check and battery check are completed and, if possible, we’ll check the individual cells of the battery. If the electrolyte levels differ by more than 50 points, we’ll recommend a new battery. Remember, you don’t wait for your car to run out of gas before putting more in, do you?
Don’t forget to check your labor times on battery replacement. Some are easy to replace, but some vehicles require 0.2 to 0.4 hours. In the VW Touareg and more than one Audi, however, the batteries are located inside the car and book time is one hour.
We not only check the coolant level and condition, but also take the time to pressure-check the system and check for any leaks. VW and Audi have a lot of plastic coolant flanges, fittings and covers that can crack, with O-rings that can start leaking, and many are not very accessible.
Even if the check engine light is not on, we’ll interface with the engine management system and check for stored trouble codes on every service. We don’t bill for reading the codes and our customers love us for that. After we pull the codes, we’ll recommend some diagnostic tests for which we apply a charge.
It seems that customers are very willing to pay for diagnostic time to pinpoint a problem if we explain what the codes are and why we need to run the tests. We used to get a lot of resistance when they asked how much it would cost for us to look at the check engine light, and we answered $93. (Customers insist that because AutoZone does it for free, it couldn’t take that long, right?) If you pull the codes for free, but then bill for the necessary tests to diagnose the problem, you won’t get nearly as many objections to the added diagnostic charges.
The majority of the 20,000-mile services for most vehicles call for 1.5 to 2.0 hours, depending on the year and model. We bill 2.0 hours on every car and sell the benefits of all the extra services we provide.
We perform the major services between 40,000-75,000 miles, depending on the year and model. Most VW and Audi models prior to 2005 require the major services to be done at 40,000 miles. The maintenance intervals on later-model VWs and Audis vary, so check your vehicle repair information system or the owner’s manual to determine exactly what’s required. It seems that even the same engine will call for different spark plug change intervals (ranging from 55,000 miles to 60,000 miles to 75,000 miles), depending on whether it’s in a VW or an Audi.
We like to keep it simple for our customers. Because our weather allows us to use the “severe service” intervals, we recommend the major services be performed at 60,000 miles on the newer cars. In addition to everything that’s checked on the minor service interval, the spark plugs and air filter are also replaced.
The transmission fluid checks require the transmission to be at a specific temperature and it needs to be monitored with a scan tool, so keep that in mind when quoting the services. Transmission fluid and filter changes can also vary depending on what transmission is in the car, so we price those separately. The same principle applies to brake fluid and coolant flushes. Our recommendation is every two years on brake fluid flushes and coolant flushes every four years or 100,000 miles.
When performing vehicle inspections, it’s relatively common for us to find other necessary work. As an example in the older vehicles, the plastic breather tubes would crack and the suction pumps would fail, so we always double-check for oil leaks that may signal that the breather assemblies are not working properly. The newer cars are no different. Check closely and you may find broken breather hoses under the intake. Because of the labor involved, we’ll replace the breather valve and related hoses when making the repair. There are VIN# splits, so have the VIN# ready when looking up the proper parts.
When properly maintained, most cars will last more than 200,000 miles. If we educate our customers on what their vehicles need to run at their peak, and develop a maintenance schedule so they’re inspected a couple times a year, there won’t be many repair surprises that catch them off-guard. It’s less expensive in the long run to maintain a car than to buy a new one.
More than $18 million of unsold service work passes through our shops every year, and I decided long ago that I wanted to tap into the profit center. Convincing our customers of the value of preventive maintenance is as easy as asking them, “Why would you wait to run out of gas before you put more in?” Give it a try and you’ll be pleased with the results.