Electronic preventive maintenance for braking systemsJay Buckley
Today's vehicles are neither troublesome nor high-maintenance--so it is not surprising that many consumers don't give periodic upkeep a thought until something breaks down. When that happens, the repair costs are generally much higher than if they had spent a small amount up front to prevent the problem.
But whether the consumer needs simple preventive maintenance (PM) or extensive repairs, they are going to need the services of a professional. And while there is more money to be made on a per-job basis, if the consumer has, for example, ignored a dragging caliper and now needs a rotor as well as pads, hardware and possibly a caliper, there is also money to be made in preventing failure. There are relationships to be built too.
Q This brings up several questions. First, how much money is there to be made in PM?
Literally billions of dollars. According to the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association, nearly $40 billion worth of PM went unperformed in 2003. As a result, many drivers found themselves paying to fix problems they could have prevented, or even worse, buying another vehicle to replace the one they ruined by skipping needed PM.
Q What kind of PM could have stopped that dragging caliper from damaging the rotor?
Several types. First, performing a thorough routine service is a great form of PM. If, for example, the last technician who installed brake pads had also replaced the hardware, the caliper slides probably wouldn't have become rusted and stuck.
Another potential cause of a poorly-releasing caliper is a bound piston, which is often the result of brake fluid that has become moisture-laden and just plain crudded up. Periodic brake fluid flushing usually prevents this.
Finally, just having a qualified technician perform a periodic once over on the braking system can help detect anomalies like rusty-looking hardware or unevenly-worn pads--telltale indicators of a dragging caliper. A thorough inspection may also expose items like a failed hose, which can act as a brake-fluid check valve and prevent full caliper release--another potential cause of premature rotor and pad wear. Other potential problems, such as a rusted, weak brake pipe--which can cause partial hydraulic system failure and lead to disastrous results--may also be detected.
Q Are there any other advantages for my customers if they offer PM for brakes?
One of the biggest advantages is scheduling flexibility. Another is preventing consumers from getting irritated. They are both served simultaneously. Consider this: when a car or truck comes in "on the hook" it usually needs to be fixed as soon as possible and if the vehicle owner is a regular customer of the shop it might mean someone has to stay late to get the job done to keep the customer happy. Of course, the consumer often really needs to be reassured since he is probably not too happy about the breakdown and the fact that it could have been prevented.
Another advantage of PM work is that, unlike repairing breakdowns, it can be scheduled in advance. This does not mean the shop operator won't ever see a wrecker bringing in a vehicle 15 minutes before closing time. Instead, it allows your shop-owner customers to schedule much of the PM work for a time when they know it's going to be slow around the shop, and that is a better way to balance everyone's cash flow.
Q This makes sense but how do we sell the consumer on PM for brakes?
It really demands consumer education on automotive maintenance, especially since the OEs are both promoting their vehicles as "low maintenance" and then making every effort to land their vehicles' PM work. But there are strategies that can help your customers build their PM business.
One is a seasonal promotion. For example, winter is ski season in much of the country. Help your installers educate their customers on pre-vacation inspections with signage, co-op materials and promotional specials available from your suppliers.
Shops can also build long-term PM relationships with consumers by tracking their maintenance needs. Low-cost software is available to record service dates and project future maintenance scheduling. Depending on a shop's level of computer sophistication, post cards or emails can be sent to remind motorists to schedule anything from a brake fluid flush to a complete vehicle inspection.
Jay Buckley, the Bendix[R] Answerman, is a certified Michigan and ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) master mechanic with over 25 years of hands-on automotive repair experience and a degree from Denver Automotive and Diesel College. He fields hundreds of brake repair and maintenance questions every week by brake technicians in the industry. Both inside and outside of the classroom, Buckley's passion has always been cars.
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