- Car Care & Maintenance
The Big Money Maker for Today's Automobile Dealers - Auto Service
Car on Wrecker
Auto Service Center Evolution
I guess I really am getting old. One sign will be when I can sit down with my kids and talk to them about the way things used to be done. Things like Auto Service.
Once, and really only a couple of decades ago people wanted a service guarantee on their new car.
One that guaranteed when and if any of the major items on their new automobile broke down, they would be able to get it fixed by the manufacturer.
A simple thing really. Buyers of old would say; if I am going to spend this kind of money for your car, then I want it to be a good car. And, if it breaks becaue of your design or manufacturing process, then I want you to fix it.
But things have evolved, it seems
The old days of mom-and-pop automobile dealerships are long gone.
Gone, along with the automobile that you could open the hood and recognize all of the major parts of the drivetrain.
Open a hood today, and what do you see? A company Logo stamped ot a large piece of metal that fills the majority of the open space.
No more Engine, battery, belts, altermators, etc. just, a metal thing that requires a trained company mechanic to do anyting with.
In those old days, the dealership was required to have a service center that could change the oil, repair belts, exhausts, carbeurators, and such devices for you.
Because these were the things that needed to be changed or that regularly went bad.
The Automobile & the Computer
Then one day, someone decided to put a computer into a car. You know, just to monitor those darned pollution levels.
Now, there are literally dozens of computers in the typical automobile, and each exists to monitor, and control different functionalities of the modern car.
Not to mention the numerous computers that also exist to manage the passengers comforts and entertainment, as they drive.
Profits from car care.
Well, mom-and-pop lost their franchises back in the 80's and 90's.
Now a dealership has the name of a figurhead over the doors who might, just might, have been allowed to buy a small percentage of the business, but probably just owns the mortgage on the swanky buildings.
The manufacturers now control just about everything that goes on at a dealership, from the final sale price to the trade-in allowance for your old car, to the interest rate that you get on your loan.
And they control every thing to do with servicing your car.
For one thing, the parts used to service a car are now so expensive that no manufacturer is going to allow some clown mechanic to replace the wrong part and claim it was a warranty repair. That part had better be bad!
Today, before a mechanic picks up a wrench, he logs onto the manufacturers service site, links up with a specializt and gets told what he can and cannot do for each step of the service process.
The potential expenses of servicing an automobile and the potential profits from serviding one that is not covered by a warranty, are both far too large to be left in the hands of some local mechanic, or even service manager.
These are corporate concerns, and the corporation wants to make a profit.
The story below is a true one from one of my trips to a national car dealership and what I went through with them. Oh, and my car was not under warranty, so I was a true target for potential extra profits.
A book on Auto Repair for Dummies
I purchased this book a couple of years ago as a reference book for my son. I borrowed it back later and I found that it is full of useful tips for someone who wants to learn how to do some of their own car maintenance.
Auto Dealerships and their Service Departments
I recently needed help with my car and I went to a local Automotive Dealership to get the job done. And, boy, was it an upsetting experience for me.
One of my cars was four years old at the time and the Battery had given up the ghost, as they say.
Being an Electrical Engineer, I took my personal electrical multi-meters, my charger, and other tools out to the garage, and confirmed to myself that the Battery was indeed bad. I also checked that the Alternator/Regulator was applying the proper voltage to charge a good battery.
I then checked the electrical connections, and the other common indicators until I was confident that I did indeed need a new Battery.
I jumped the car battery, and drove to two different (Major National chain) auto parts stores, and each of them told me that they would sell me a battery, but that they were not allowed to install the specific one that I needed on my car.
Each of them told me that the vehicle's internal computer memory could be erased if the battery was not changed properly on my vehicle, and their company policy did not allow them to change my battery because of this potential liability.
Smiling, at me, they said that they could sell me the battery, but they could not change it for me, themselves.
A sense of foreboding began to grow in the back of my mind.
Automotive Dealerships doing more than you wanted done
Well, I was obviously frustrated, but I assumed that they knew what they were talking about. So, I went home and contacted the closest dealership and talked to them.
The Service technician I talked to said that the vehicle memory could indeed be compromised, if the Battery was not changed out properly, so I made an appointment with them to stop by and get a new Battery installed.
Here is where the plot thickens!
I pulled in for my appointment, and the service tech told me to pull into the bay and give him the keys.
Well, I told him that I wasn't in the habit of writing blank checks to anyone, and I told him that I wanted a price for the parts and for the labor.
I saw a quick flash of what I can only describe as agitation flash across his face, which he covered with a strained smile as he walked back to his little technicians desk and computer.
Watching this reaction, I immediately fell into a mode of what I would call a mixture of distrust and fear.
He came back to me with a form with a half a dozen carbon copies, and print so small I would defy one with perfect eyesight to be able to read. He told me to sign in one spot and initial in another.
My personal warning signals started turning into alarms, so I made him explain what I was signing, and I made him detail the charges he had on the form.
Essentially, it is the same form all dealers service shops use, in that basically, they state that I exonerate them (the Dealership) of anything and everything and that I (the Customer) am responsible for everything that might happen, and especially that I will pay the bill.
Anyway, the price of their battery was in the range of the others I had priced, and the installation charge of almost $100 was what the average Joe has to pay for just about anything that uses corporate labor in our country today.
I accepted this charge because it was to include using their computer to diagnose that my cars alternator/regulator was indeed working properly.
Oh yeah, I had already told him that I was in a hurry, and I "just wanted the battery replaced. I had to meet my wife at a certain time, and he said that this would not be a problem. "Replacing a battery doesn't take long at all."
I handed him the keys, he drove the car over to another bay, and within two minutes a mechanic came out and drove my car into the actual service bay.
I dutifully went to the Customer waiting area, sat down and went into the standard customer coma watching Fox news on a small cheap TV.
Well for those of you that are among the mechanically (automobile) challenged, I can tell you that it takes longer to walk to the parts department and get the Battery for a standard vehicle, than it does to actually pull the old one out and install the new one.
Now, I said standard vehicle, and that means one where you open the hood and there is the battery sitting on a little shelf, sometimes with a hold down strap, and with two connectors attached to it. And, that is exactly what I had in my car.
I sat there in the waiting room for over 50 minutes, and I finally decided that it was time to go see what was going on with my car.
How Service Departments make extra money from their customers
I walked out to my car and there it was, up on a lift with both of my front tires removed, and the hood open with no one around. No One!
All of my alarms went off and I went quickly back to my service technician and asked him what kind of procedure required the removal of my tires to change the battery.
A dumbfounded look appeared on his face and then he said OH!
I, of course repeated this brilliant OH? back to him, and he then said; "Oh, we always do a courtesy service check on our customers vehicles".
I reminded him that I had not requested any kind of service check, courtesy or otherwise, and I wanted him to put my car back together ...... And Do It Now!
He then got that agitated look on his face, as he informed me that he could not do that until all of the Mechanics data was entered into the Computer.
I responded by telling him what he could stick into his Computer, and repeated that we had only discussed replacing my battery, no spend the day looking at other things to replace.
He turned his back on me and continued to type into his computer and I stood at his side and fumed, with my blood pressure heading into the stratosphere.
After several minutes of typing, he pulled a printout from his printer, and started going down a long list of problems my car had, and describing how they should be taken care of immediately.
- I needed new tires.
- I needed a front end alignment.
- My Brake disks had scratches, and needed replacement.
- I had carbon in my throttle body.
- I needed an oil change.
- and on and on.
I stood there, as he explained that these things should be taken care of immediately, and that is why they perform these checks, for the safety of their customers.
I slowly, enunciating clearly, explained to him that;
- I had come to him for a new battery only.
- I had explained that I had a time constraint.
- I had not authorized anyone to start taking my car apart.
- I had not authorized anyone, in fact to do anything additional to my car.
- I would never buy tires from an auto dealer. As I could, and had for years beat their prices for tires.
- My brakes had been checked and new pads were installed by another dealer, six months before, and at that time the "scratches" were there, and were no worse now than then.
- I had over 52,000 miles on my tires, and had looked at the wear, and although I did need to replace them that I had looked and the wear was even on them, with nothing indicating the need for a front end alignment.
- And, that, after what had happened so far, I didn't trust them to do anything to my car, even get it back together properly..
At this point, I stopped, took a long breath and told him to get my car back together, and give me my bill, and I then walked out to my car and watched as my car was re-assembled.
The mechanic finished and took a piece of paper to the service technician, and he typed some more on his computer, and then handed me the same document that I had signed before, with the addition of another hundred bucks, and told me to sign it.
I went into a dissertation about the occurance of "Cold Days in Hell", and explained that I had not fallen off of the proverbial Turnip Truck yesterday. I then went on to explain to him about the difference in a quoted price, and a higher one that he had pulled out of his derriere for no extra work.
He fumed for a minute, and scratched out the new price and took me to the cashier where I paid for the original over-priced bill and took my car away from that "den of inequity".
Am I welcome back there? ...... Probably not!
Would I ever go back there? ..... Not without cameras and witness'.
High pressure sales techniques used by auto service managers
Here is the heart of my complaint with this company and all of the others like them.
What started out as a good idea with dealerships and this was a good one: "Provide the customer with a free check on key parts to assure that they drive a safe vehicle".
What's wrong withn that, right?
But, it turned out that this was also a very profitable service.
The dealership gets paid for parts and labor to fix these things that they find.
And, I do use these dealerships for this extra service while my vehicle is under warranty.
You see, the manufacturer pays for most of these repairs over and above standard expendables. So it is a worthwhile thing, under warranty.
But, this recent visit reinforces my fear that I am being taken advantage of after my warranty has expired.
I honestly believe that they were actually looking for things to replace to make more money, and that this is a dealerships bread-and-butter today, especially in a weak economy.
Maybe some dealers do this more than others, but as we all know it only takes a few bad apples .........
Yes. The economy is bad.
Sales of everything are down, especially cars.
People and business' need to make money.
All of this I understand, but ...... many of them are ruining their reputation for the future, just for some extra profits today.
I will buy tires for my car.
Not from an automobile dealer whose pricing is rarely the lowest on quality tires, but from the one who sells me the best tires at the best price.
My Brakes were good and were functioning properly. Tell me I have small scratches on my disks, not that I should replace them unnecessarily.
Explain any deficiencies to me and give me an honest appraisal of potential solutions. The ones I need done now, and the ones I need to consider for the future.
The American public needs honesty and reality as the basic operating premise for any business they go to, especially in the automotive arena.
That is if American dealers want to grow and prosper for the long term.
There are more and more people like me. We want fair value for our money, and we want to walk away from a service visit with a feeling of confidence that we were taken care of and not taken advantage of.
How to Change Your Battery
When to change Wiper Blades
How to Check your Oil
© 2010 Don Bobbitt