Making Cars Last Longer - Tire Review Magazine

Making Cars Last Longer

(The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun) Americans are buying fewer cars. That means they need to make the ones they have last longer, which has been a benefit to the auto repair industry.

Beneath the ooze of axle grease and the grind of tightening lug nuts, the local automotive repair industry is humming right along.

New car purchases were down 18% in 2008 with 13.2 million vehicles sold, according to the National Automotive Dealers Association.

In February, NADA chief economist Paul Taylor predicted that 12.7 million new vehicles would be sold in 2009, another 4% decrease.

“The general gist of how things are going is that they (customers) are turning up now because more people are prone to fix cars instead of buying new ones,” said Don Ahrens, owner of Ahrens Auto Service Center.

“I do see where it is now taking an upturn from where it was six months or eight months ago,” he said.

Ahrens speculated that his business was up about 5% to 10% over last year.

Several shops throughout Gainesville cited steady or increased business.

“November was one of the better months that I have had in the past several years, actually,” said Jerry Polvere, owner of Jerry’s AC and Auto Shop. “We have been steady since.”

Polvere said his sales over the past four or five months have matched those of the same period a year prior.

Jorge Nunez, owner of Perfection Auto Repair, has not seen any negative effects from the recession, but hasn’t seen a boost either.

“We averaged about the same sales from last year … We have pretty much been the same ballpark figure,” he said.

Continental Imports Auto Repair and Service has seen a surge over the past two quarters, according to owner Steve Brotherton.

“My business is better than it has ever been in my life,” he said. “I have been doing this for 31 years … Every month in the last five months is better than any month in the last 30 years.”

The same trends are playing out nationwide.

Bob Crosgarosa, vice president of the TBC Corp., which owns Tire Kingdom and three other auto-repair chains across the country, said their automotive service business is doing better than it was this time last year.

TBC has 1,175 automotive repair shops scattered across the country, including Tire Kingdoms in Gainesville and Ocala.

Local owners gave varied reasons for their increased business.

Brotherton attributed the increase to the fact that he operates on higher-end vehicles such as Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and Honda. Normally, owners of those vehicles would be buying new cars.

“I’m getting the people from the dealerships who don’t want to buy a new car. They’re moving down to me,” he said.

Polvere attributed his strength to a loyal customer base that he has fostered during his 25 years in business and new customers coming in from word of mouth.

Nunez said he believed his advertising efforts played a role in keeping his business beyond the recession’s reach.

“We gain new customers every day because I’ve got a lot of coupons out there and good advertising out there,” he said. “I spend on average – per month – $1,500 in advertising.”

But even as the auto-repair shops maintain their sales, their customers’ payment trends reflect the weak economy.

Local owners have seen a marked increase in purchases made via credit cards, allowing the customer to delay payment.

“People put a lot of money on credit cards lately. A lot less people will pay you with checks,” Nunez said. “Sometimes, they will pay with check cards, very few with cash, but mostly credit cards.”

Ahrens said he now sees people pay by credit card 70% of the time, with 20% paying by check and 10% with cash.

Polvere extends a credit option to his customers through an in-store credit card. He speculated that use of the in-store card had increased by 20%.

Despite the cost of credit, Polvere implored car owners to properly maintain their vehicles.

“In the long run, it’s going to cost you more money to fix the car the longer you ignore things,” he said. “A simple brake job can turn into a catastrophe if you let it go.” (Tire Review/Akron)

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