Another Side to Safety Inspections - Tire Review Magazine

Another Side to Safety Inspections

Got a number of letters and comments about my May 2009 column concerning the value of safety inspections to independent dealers in these tough times.

And while I stand by my basic premise, a few of you are quite right to suggest that such so-called “courtesy inspections” can also become the expressway to business hell.

Here are two notes I received, from people whose opinions I respect:

While I respect you and you are on the top of any list, why such an editorial on safety inspections? We have been doing this since I became a tire man in 1969. Just like checking the air on all of the tires and including the spare. I don’t get what’s the big deal. I guess that’s why we are busy.

Thanks and chat with you soon.
Alpio Barbara
Redwood General Tire Service
Redwood City, CA

When I was in the field, just before Bridgestone and Firestone merged, I got to see, first-hand, exactly what PMAs taken too zealously can do to a business. It does not work out like Bill Ihnken describes. That I know for certain. Saw it first-hand!

Maybe the ghosts of Pete Johnson and Lindsay Vaughn have returned in the likeness of Bill Ihnken. Instead of this company store operation, they work at that company store operation.

Pete, Lindsay and others preached the same mantra. It sounded so damn good. It was a miserable failure. Here’s how and here’s why…

1. Customer comes in for a simple oil change. Not another car in any bay right now. Tech drives it in to the bay and starts off taking off the lug nuts. Thirty minutes later the customer, looking out to see his tires off, brakes being inspected, asks how much longer and what are they doing to my car. The guy behind the counter says they are doing a courtesy safety inspection. It will be about another 20 minutes. So, here’s how you run off the customer for good. About one hour into a 15-minute oil change, the tech brings a laundry list of stuff, in priority order just as Ihnken describes, to the counter for the sales guy to sell. In regular P.C. Johnson format, the tech calls the oil change customer over, who is expecting a $29.95 bill, and presents a list of suggested services. The shocks and struts are critical ($680) or you’ll wear your tires and front-end parts out. The belts need replacing right away ($180). Those things need to be done now. The other, less critical things are: rear brakes are close to replacement ($600), radiator fluid needs to be flushed and filled ($120), battery guards need to be installed ($26).

If the customer buys this, it will be the last time they do it. Their expectation was to spend $29.95, not $900. If they don’t buy it, you still lost them because you wasted their valuable time.

2. Put it on the card. Old Pete used to really appreciate when his guys opened up new credit cards and maxed out the limits all in the same day. The top guys always ate steak at the weekly meeting, and they ate first. Others ate beans. Bring ’em in, get the car for the day, inspect the heck out of it. If it was a woman, they’d scare the crap out of them with safety stuff. Pressure buying. Credit card maxing.

3. After a while of #1 and #2 being done, you start to see less of #1 and #2. Word gets around. Those guys are looking hard to sell you stuff you didn’t even ask for. You get a reduction in car counts. And you push harder on the next guy. And so it goes. The snowball grows bigger.

Yes sir, the future looks mighty bright for TBC Retail.

The obvious problem is how to solve the resulting drop in car counts. And that is look for only obvious and related simple things. If a guy comes in for an oil change, he gets a free 21-point inspection or a mini-PMA under hood. Just like what you’d expect at a fast lube. No tires off, no brake inspection. You can add on $35-50 per car. Not so bad. But adding on $245 to an oil change is trouble. It’s the Bill Ihnkens and Pete Johnsons that really give our industry a black eye.   
Steve Hutchinson
Vice President of Marketing
Toyo Tire USA Corp.
Cypress, CA

I agree with Steve’s assertion that an out-of-control PMA program is doom. Strange as it seems, the day after I got Steve’s note, our friends at Canadian Technician magazine talked about the same issue, and repair shop owners provided a lot of similar feedback.

So I guess the issue is this: restraint and control. A simple 21-point program, a written report with timeframe recommendations, and far, far better customer education is the way to go.

The real problem, perhaps, is that most consumers don’t know boo about cars or tires, so when a $29.95 oil change suddenly becomes a recommendation for $900 in service work, the customer is left with a bad taste in their mouth. The list of recommended service may well be correct, but if its not presented properly the customer is thinking “rip-off” and not “safety.”

I just went through multiple repairs on a few of my vehicles. We go to a local tire dealer, and his guys do a great job with courtesy checks. While this was not a case of a $29.95 oil change gone wild, I did end up with a laundry list of issues that needed attention. We went through the list together, prioritized the work, and moved forward.

If you have comments to share, send to me at [email protected].

– Jim Smith

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