THE IRF “SWEET SPOT” CONTINUES TO GROW AS AVERAGE VEHICLE AGES REACH NEW HEIGHTS
It’s a good time to be in the independent automotive repair business. But, the secret to your success will hinge upon your ability to earn and then maintain a vehicle owner’s trust.
For IRFs, there are plenty of post-warranty period customers to go around. In fact, last year, the average age of light vehicles on the road in the United States was 11.5 years, according to research reported by IHS Automotive. That was a record — one that could be broken in 2016 as there will be a modest increase to 11.6 years.
Perhaps more interesting numbers for IRFs came from the data released by IHS. They reported that the “sweet spot” for an IRF to find customers should be beyond the usual 6- to 11-year-old vehicles (those most recently out of warranty) and to those vehicles 11 years and older.
IHS reports that there are 81 million vehicles in the 6- to 11-year-old category. Extend the age range to 6-13 years and the customer base for IRFs goes up to 108 million. Extend the age by just one more year and there are 120 million vehicles on the road that are 6-14 years old. (Source: IHS Automotive)
RELIABILITY IS AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH
“There’s no question that new vehicles are built better and are more reliable than at any time in history,” said Tom Hosmer, Product Line Manager, Maintenance Portfolio at Mopar.. “People are holding on to their vehicles longer, so the role of the IRFs to keep these older vehicles running at peak levels is critically important.”
That’s where Mopar comes in. Choosing and installing Authentic Mopar Parts for maintenance and repairs helps keep vehicles running longer.
“Mopar Parts are different from aftermarket parts,” says Hosmer. “Mopar Parts are initially engineered for a certain product so they can perform for that vehicle. The IRF wants to do the repair once and do it right. The Mopar part is going to do that for you.”
The longevity of vehicles and the growth of the older vehicle segment are a testament to proper care. “A vehicle that has lasted 10-12 years is great,” says Hosmer, “but if you want to take it to another level, stick to the factory parts.”
MAKE AN OLD CAR NEW AGAIN
So, how do you build trust and strengthen your customer satisfaction ratings? Give them what they need, when they need it, and do it all for a reasonable price. If you want to drive your customer satisfaction ratings upward, surprise and delight owners of older vehicles by making those old vehicles feel new again.
The proper installation of the best parts – at the right time – can make any old car feel like it’s (almost) new again. Here’s how it’s done:
10 Ways to Make an Old Vehicle Drive Like New Again
1. Battery – Inspect for things like corrosion on terminals. “We preach to all technicians to proactively test batteries during inspections,” says Hosmer. “Often the customer does not indicate there is a battery problem or they just don’t know the vehicle is not cranking to the best of its ability. We recommend you test the battery every time an older vehicle comes in versus waiting until the customer complains. Or worse, when that customer becomes stranded somewhere. It makes a customer feel good to get that kind of health report that you checked and their battery is good.”
Extreme hot or cold environments and other variables affect the life of an automotive battery. Be sure your customer knows 4-5 years is a typical lifespan of a battery.
2. Suspension – Shocks & Struts – Look for weakness or leaking on shocks or struts. Determine if the ride quality that was originally engineered into the vehicle remains. “Talk to the vehicle owner and get their take on what they feel and what they believe the ride quality is,” Hosmer suggests.
“Typically, a road test would be the best practice for IRFs to feel for a suspension problem.
Does the vehicle nosedive when braking? Does the vehicle squat hard in the rear during acceleration? Combined with the visual inspection and simple bounce tests on each corner of the vehicle, a skilled tech can diagnose suspension problems pretty quickly.”
It’s not unusual to hear someone say they have 100,000 miles on their original shocks and struts and “they feel fine.” Odds are they don’t know what new shocks should feel like.
3. Steering – Excessive amounts of play and “slop” in the steering is dangerous and a red flag to most drivers. “Techs should be inspecting for things like leaks and torn boots on steering racks that can lead to a premature failure down the road,” says Hosmer. “A compromise of the boot can allow dirt inside and premature failure of components. Internal components wear much quicker when contaminated. Listen for groans and noises coming from the steering rack that are an indication of an existing or an upcoming issue.”
Mopar. remanufactured steering components are factory engineered to proprietary specs and have been proven superior in side-by-side comparisons with aftermarket units.
4. Brakes – “If you’re performing a road test, listen for noises like squeaks and squeals, grinding and any unusual sounds, but a good brake inspection can catch most problems or wear issues,” says Hosmer. “When you’re looking at the inboard and outboard pads, if you see uneven wear patterns, there may be an issue of a caliper hanging up and that can lead to a failure. If you catch that type of issue early, it can increase customer satisfaction and save them money in the long run.
“There are plenty of vehicles, including trucks, that require drums and shoes,” Hosmer says. “It takes a little more time but it’s time well spent to remove the drum and inspect it properly. The customer has come to you because they trust you and they rely on you.”
Mopar. and Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar offer a complete line of factory-specified brake components for most makes and models that come into your shop, including loaded brake calipers that save time and money during the install. Every vehicle owner should be protected by maximum brake performance.
5. Starters and Alternators – Older vehicles may crank longer at startup, but new life can be returned with a new starter. “Inspect and test a starter to see if it’s pulling more amps than when it was new,” says Hosmer. “If so, it’s putting more load on the battery. A starter that is beginning to fail is draining more off the battery. If you catch that early enough, you could save that customer the cost of a new battery.
“Test an alternator to see if it’s putting out enough amps. With all the plug-in electronics like DVD players and phone chargers, it’s important the alternator is putting out the proper amperage for the vehicle.” For all those reasons, it’s critical to replace an alternator with a unit designed to handle the demands of that specific vehicle.
6. Tuneup – A “tuneup” on older vehicles can range anywhere from spark plugs, to wires, to fuel injectors and coils, to engine control modules. “All of our replacement ECMs and PCMs come loaded with the latest software updates,” notes Hosmer. “That’s a big advantage over aftermarket parts and brings new life back to a vehicle. Tuneups now are less about sparks plugs and wires and more about software updates.”
Defective, dirty and clogged fuel injectors dramatically degrade performance while putting a big hit on fuel economy.
7. Belts/Hoses – Just like with some vehicle owners who have original shocks at 100,000 miles, hoses can last a long time. But as you know, they can fail at the most inopportune time. A careful inspection of hoses and belts is critical on higher mileage vehicles, but age is also a huge factor. “Inspect for cracks and swelling on hoses, look for signs of leaks near clamps and feel for soft, spongy areas,” says Hosmer. “Some vehicles that are 10 years old and older may not be driven daily and that’s when hoses can deteriorate quicker just by sitting around.”
Inspect belts for cracking and fraying, and listen for squealing that could indicate a pulley that is failing. A bad pulley can cause premature wear and an ultimate failure. “New belts and hoses won’t give your customer much of a new car feel, but hopefully they can feel the confidence of the new parts,” Hosmer notes. “They depend on you to find these potential problems and keep them out of trouble.”
8. Fluids – Follow recommended fluid change intervals in the owner’s manual and impress upon your customers the importance of replacing fluids, from oil to the rear differential (see story on page 11). “Back in the day, you could put 5-30 or 10-30 in just about any engine and you’d be fine,” says Hosmer. “But now we have engineers from our partners in the industry developing fluids for specific vehicles for precise applications.” That’s true with today’s new vehicles but you can find it on many of the vehicles an IRF will service, too. Proper weight engine oil is important to maintain proper drivability. Oil changes must occur on schedule to keep internal components properly lubricated. They are especially important on older vehicles.
Refer to manufacturer recommendations for possible fluid exchange and change of transmission, coolant, brake and rear end fluids. Oil changes on newer vehicles are often indicated by diagnostic systems based on algorithms that consider all types of vehicle use input like extensive idling, throttle position, age, mileage, etc. Older vehicles without sophisticated electronic monitoring rely on miles and time. And a good old-fashioned inspection of the oil.
9. Tires – “Tire specialty shops will almost always start with a good tire inspection, but proper treadwear, inflation, balance and alignment are critical to a properly handling vehicle, so every shop should make that part of a basic inspection,” says Hosmer. “We encourage all IRFs to inspect tires and wheel alignment if they’re equipped for it. Proper attention paid to tires and alignment will bring back a new car feel on the road.” Add a thorough inspection of wheels, looking for cracks and dents, to any inspection. With millions of miles of bumpy roads, hidden damage to wheels is common.
10. Chemicals/Detailing – Here’s an opportunity waiting to happen, and Mopar. has a long list of cleaning and detailing chemicals for vehicles or for your shop. “You might not think about certain services, but there are unusual opportunities to increase customer satisfaction like detailing of vehicles,” says Hosmer. “Make their vehicle new again, inside and out. In fact, we sell a complete line of products including a zipper lube for Jeep. Wrangler soft tops. Weather and time take a toll on soft tops. Especially out on the dusty trails, dirt and sand. Debris gets into the zipper, making it difficult to open and close. Freshen the zipper like new and they’ll thank you for it. We also carry special cleaners for the Jeep soft tops and the windows to remove the hazing that may set in on some harsh-environment, older vehicles. Finish the job with a “carpet odor remover and carpet cleaner good for any vehicle.”
Bonus – Wiper Blades – “This is another area where there’s new technology,” notes Hosmer. “A lot of vehicles have the old conventional blades, but there are new blades with new engineering for “cleaning the window and for aerodynamics.” While it may seem like a little thing, replacing worn and torn wiper blades that “leave streaks and smears will give your customer a whole new outlook in their older vehicle.
Of course, the ultimate way to make a customer’s vehicle drive like new again would be an entire powertrain transplant, both engine and transmission, and Mopar can help there, too.
“If there’s no saving it, we can help there, too,” says Hosmer. “We make it easy with our engine and transmission replacement options. Just give your local dealer a call and let us help you get the job done right.”
RELATIONSHIPS BUILT TO LAST
With the average age of vehicles on the road reaching record levels, it’s more important than ever to stick to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedules when it comes to servicing vehicles.
“The roads are filled with older vehicles because customers are keeping them longer. With higher initial quality, it just makes sense for millions to keep their vehicle longer,” says Tom Hosmer, Product Line Manager, Maintenance Portfolio at Mopar.
Older, high-mileage vehicles can thrive with the proper, timely care as outlined by the manufacturer. “We publish maintenance schedules for a reason and we hope people will follow them,” says Hosmer. “We’ve engineered the vehicles and tested them extensively, so we know how long a maintenance cycle can go before problems may start to occur.
“Some items are ‘inspect as needed’ because of the heavy demand that certain customers place on their vehicles, but the point is that we’ve tested it and we can make the recommendation with total confidence.”
KEEP IT GOING
“It’s great that vehicles are lasting so many years longer,” says Hosmer. “Keep the same ride quality and keep the same high level of performance. Convince your customers to perform maintenance before degradation occurs.”
Mopar Parts are factory engineered and produced for every FCA US vehicle, and Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar parts are a high-quality alternative for nearly every major brand, including Ford, GM, Toyota , Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen .
Contact your local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep. or Ram dealer, or go to MoparConnection.com.
DON’T MISS IT
A recent AAA survey found that 35 percent of Americans have skipped or delayed service or repairs that were recommended by a mechanic or specified by the factory maintenance schedule. Don’t be one of them. Maintain your vehicle with authentic Mopar parts.