Subaru Service Essentials - Tire Review Magazine

Subaru Service Essentials

In this age of extended service intervals and exaggerated claims of longevity with little maintenance, selling service at a fair price is becoming more difficult. To help boost service sales, consider building a planned process for servicing your customers' vehicles.

I’m a big fan of the recent crop of History Channel shows, but my favorite is “American Pickers,” mostly because they dig up a lot of old car stuff. I can relate, since I’ve been collecting a lot of the same stuff for years. Maybe I can get them to come and clean out my garage at some point!

A lot of what Mike and Frank do is attempt to get the best value for their dollar, while still being fair to the person they’re dealing with. It’s a business after all. Frank uses the “bundle” technique to keep costs down and build value into the transaction by offering to purchase a number of items together at one price.

My stint at being a service advisor for a number of dealer service departments over the years gave me a lot of experience in “bundling” services into a package. Having a service plan or “menu” built value for the customer. It also provided the service department with reliable income. Though there are good and bad points to service menus, the basic idea is a good one, and works well for any kind of automotive service or repair facility.
photo 2
My point here and the point of this article is that building a planned process for servicing your customer’s vehicle is something to consider. Especially in this age of extended service intervals and exaggerated claims of longevity with little maintenance, selling service at a fair price is becoming more difficult.

You can start the service sales process by becoming informed on what you can do that will not affect a customer’s factory warranty. Then, determine what is the minimum necessary to maintain the warranty, so that you can service your customer from day one. You can build value from that point.

Creating a Plan
So, where do you get a service plan that will do what is needed? The easiest place to look is in an owner’s manual, or several different manuals to get an idea of what minimum and suggested service is needed. Remember that in the U.S., very few people actually drive their cars under “normal” service conditions, meaning just about every car or light truck should be serviced by the “severe” or “heavy-duty” service guidelines. photo 3

Maintenance schedules are also available from most online repair information providers. On-line repair providers also provide the reasonable time necessary to provide a quality service that can be presented as a comparison to individual services to build value for a planned service package. These sources also provide information on specifications, fluids and capacities.

There are a number of other on-line sources for maintenance schedules. Within a few minutes, I was able to locate and download the schedules of several Subaru dealers within 50 miles of our shop, along with sales pitches on bundled services from some.

You should be aware that there are several maintenance schedules for each vehicle, depending on equipment, but, more importantly, based on the primary use of the car in for service. That means whoever greets the customer at the counter, or discusses a service on the phone or online, needs to ask questions before a service cost is estimated or the service is sold. photo 4

Once a maintenance schedule is decided upon, it can easily be customized for use on different vehicle makes and models. Establishing an arbitrary, set total cost for all vehicles is probably not realistic with the variety of models, even with one brand.

The Basics
Whatever the mileage, type of service or inspection, there are some basics that I consider essential to making and keeping customers.

When I started at a large dealer facility as a service advisor, initially there was no standard inspection or even a set of service guidelines. I designed and presented to management a simple, but comprehensive, inspection sheet that was required to be filled out on every service by the technician.

Though there was an immediate response from the technicians that they weren’t paid enough to do an inspection on a LOF ticket, it quickly became obvious that the increase in additional necessary repairs made the inspections worthwhile to everyone. The customer was given the inspection sheet, and it was well received as it allowed them to plan for future needs. photo 4a

Here is a short list of what I consider to be the very minimum inspections for every vehicle you service:

1. A “before service” road test for any vehicle in for more than an LOF.

2. A full undercar and underhood inspection.

3. Visual inspection of the braking system for any indication of excessive wear or fluid leakage.

4. Inspection of tires and tire pressure (in case there are warning lights on).

5. “After services” drive for all cars. 

A simple checklist that can be given to the customer noting that this inspection has been performed (signed by the technician) will go a long way in creating customer confidence.

A Full Service
When I went to perform the 30,000-mile service on my employer’s 2008 Subaru Outback wagon, I went to the owner’s manual first and noticed that very few things are actually recommended for replacement under the “normal” service guidelines. There are a lot of inspections and standard replacement items, like the oil and filter, air cleaner element, coolant (unless the car uses Subaru Super Coolant) and brake fluid. photo 5

That is the case for normal (federal) service. There are additions for California service, and, as noted above, Severe Service.

This particular car is used for a number of tasks in our shop, from running down parts to transporting people to meetings and classes. In addition, it’s used to haul around a boat, get us into remote fishing and hunting areas, and as a grocery getter. The car sees severe service on a regular basis.

On this model, with the base 2.5L engine and automatic transmission, the 30,000-mile service includes a transmission fluid replacement. Some items that are not slated for replacement are the fuel filter (see Photo 1) and the transmission filter (see Photo 2), which is an external spin-on type.

One additional item is the cabin filter. The replacement intervals are all over the map, and mostly dependent on environmental conditions and use. The replacement is not difficult. On most models, lowering the glove box door by disconnecting the damper will allow access to the little drawer above the fan housing that holds the filter. Most people, once they see the condition of the filter, don’t feel bad about replacing it.

The Plan Rundown
I’m going to run through this service, just as I would normally do on any customer’s car. Since I’ve serviced this car since day one, I know it well. It has provided great service since it was new and only just recently got recalled for a minor emissions adjustment. Since I completed this service, the car has gone out of warranty, without a single problem. photo 6

1. Since I drive this car on a fairly regular basis, I know how it drives and if there are problems noted by the primary driver, I’m told about them and expected to repair or inspect the vehicle immediately. With regular customers, you need to ask if there are any problems, concerns or noticeable changes in the way the vehicle is operating, before you start the service. This is a service counter task that cannot be skipped. The service writer should ask questions, make notes of any responses and give them to the technician.

2. The pre-service road-test should be used to pinpoint any operational problems. Turn off the radio, close the windows and turn off the accessories. Listen, feel and pay attention to the readings on the instrument panel, especially for any signs of warning indicators

3. Rack the vehicle, open the hood and make a first careful visual inspection. Many of the basic inspections listed for underhood inspections can be completed in a few minutes. Fluid levels, belts (see Photo 3), hoses, battery connections and clips, holdowns, clamps and retainers can all be quickly inspected. Since a brake fluid replacement is recommended (see Photo 4), I used my vacuum unit to drain the brake fluid reservoir (see Photo 4a), fill it with fresh fluid, then mount the refill bottle on the reservoir before putting the car in the air.
photo 6a
4. Change the engine oil and filter. As with most cars these days, there are undercar covers but, at least with Subaru, access panels or cutouts are provided for access to the filter and drain plug. Use a fresh sealing washer for the drain plug (I prefer the OE-type that crushes). And, be careful when removing and installing the filter to avoid getting oil on the exhaust or burning your hands. While the oil is draining, inspect the underside of the car.

5. It’s easy enough to do a visual inspection of all of the important points in a few minutes. Check everything, using a small flashlight to highlight each component (kind of like CSI); it really does make it easier to spot problems. Start at one end, and work back or forward to compare mounting points and bushings for signs of uneven stress or wear.

6. Unlike earlier models, draining the front differential (see Photo 5) no longer means making a funnel to prevent filling the front catalytic converter shield with gear oil when draining. The rear differential has the fill and drain plugs mounted close together. The front differential is refilled through a dipstick tube on the passenger’s side of the transaxle (see Photo 6). The dipstick tube for the transmission ATF is on the driver’s side. Be careful when refilling either the front differential or the transmission to avoid overfilling (see Photo 6a).
photo 7
7. Flush the transmission fluid (rather than just draining and refilling it). Under severe-service conditions, fluid replacement is recommended every 15,000 miles.

8. Do a thorough visual inspection of the brake lines, hoses and calipers. Look for leakage, indications of overheating or excessive wear. If you’re going to remove the wheels, be especially careful to mark the positions of the wheels on the hubs, and properly retorque the wheels to prevent warping the brake rotors. On Subaru models, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, I normally don’t remove the wheels or rotate the tires to prevent causing a problem (another reason to do a pre-service drive) and a comeback.

In this case, the tire wear was very even and there was no indication of alignment problems that would make a rotation necessary. Brake condition at this point was very good, with well over 50% of the original pad thickness remaining. Measurements can be taken if you want to be more specific, and several methods and tools are acceptable.
photo 8
Use either a vacuum bleeding/flushing system or someone in the car to assist you in completely flushing the brake fluid, running fresh fluid in at the reservoir until fresh fluid comes out of each bleeder in -sequence. If you use someone in the car, be extra careful that the car is on the hoist properly and that the pedal is not pumped excessively or too fast to prevent pumping additional air into the system. On models with rear disc brakes, the parking brake is adjusted by the star wheel through a hole in the dust shield (see Photo 7).

9. Look closely at suspension bushings, control arms, sway bars and the mounting points (see Photo 8) for each. This is where I compare the relative positions of the individual parts from side-to-side to see if there are any glaring differences that might indicate wear, seizing or torn bushings or mount points.

10. With the car down from the lift, top up the drained fluids in the engine, front transaxle and transmission. Pull the air filter, and inspect and replace as needed. With the air filter cover off, the right-side spark plug wires can be pulled carefully (see Photos 9 and 9a). Twist them first to break the rubber-to-spark-plug-tube seal, and then carefully pull them straight out to hopefully prevent pulling the cable apart.

This is a very good reason to not let the spark plugs stay in there for 60,000 miles or more. At 30,000 miles on this car, the spark plug gaps were still at the factory setting and condition did not warrant replacement. The left-side (driver’s-side) plugs are still a bit of work to get to, but not as bad as on DOHC models.
photo 9
11. Look closely at the accessory belts. Adjust them if needed and look for any sign of cracking or heat damage.

12. Drain the coolant, flush the system if needed and refill it with fresh coolant of the correct type. Subaru recommends using a cooling system conditioner any time the coolant is changed. Either distilled or soft tap water is acceptable. Using a vacuum-type filler is recommended, but the system can also be filled using the bleeder on the radiator. Care should be taken to ensure that the system is full before driving any distance, by checking that the thermostat opens and there is flow through the radiator.

13. An “after service” road-test is recommended and it should be a minimum of five miles, to allow the car to get fully warmed up and give the technician a chance to recheck operation of all systems before returning the car to the customer. A quick underhood double-check is always a good idea after a road test.

Finishing Up
As a professional technician, it’s up to you or the management of your operation to decide what is appropriate for each individual vehicle that comes in for service. photo 9a

Your customer expects that you will do only what is necessary to keep his vehicle on the road, but he also expects that his vehicle will last forever without any serious failures. By performing an annual inspection and maintenance using a plan that covers every system, you build value in your work. You also build confidence in your customer’s mind.

I wonder when Mike and Frank are coming to the Pacific Northwest? I hope soon, since I’m running out of space in my garage.

Finding Hidden Treasure: Behind the Glove Box
You may be missing out on buried treasure tucked away behind the glove box, and some of it actually belongs to you.

We’re talking about cabin air filters here. And they represent an attractive profit opportunity for your shop, while being an important service for your customers and their passengers.

Most motorists, and even some technicians, aren’t aware that most cars and light trucks – including most imports – are factory-equipped with a cabin air filter to help purify the air being ingested by its occupants. And even fewer are aware of the need for regular replacement of these important filtration devices and the contributions they make to the health and comfort of the occupants of these vehicles.

The role of these filters is to capture and hold all kinds of particulates so that passengers don’t have to breathe offensive, and often hazardous, bits of debris. According to Chuck Kerrigan, director of marketing for Purolator (, cabin air filters are designed to collect dirt, dust, bugs, and even pollen and other materials from ambient air before it enters the passenger compartment.

Cabin air filters should be replaced every 12-18 months, explained Purolator’s Kerrigan. But most motorists don’t even know they have or need one.

“While early-generation cabin air filters were often an afterthought thoroughly buried behind heater distribution boxes or in some other clever hiding place, they’ve gotten much better at making these filters much more accessible,” said Kerrigan. “As a result, typical replacement time for imports built in the last decade typically runs anywhere from 5-15 minutes, modest labor time that, nevertheless, can and should be billed to the customer.”

In most cases, cabin air filter replacement is a service you can offer on the spot, possibly even as a “By the way…” when a customer comes to pick up their car after service. For instance, filter replacement in an older Hyundai Sonata can be performed in five minutes or less, so you could provide the service gratis and take your profit on the filter. Those cabin filters in late-model Toyota Camry models are, perhaps, a 15-minute job, still a while-you-wait job, but you would be entirely justified in charging labor for this service.

“And,” said Purolator’s Kerrigan, “there are always some jobs that end up being more complicated than expected, like some 15-year-old BMW models, where replacement can take the better part of an hour. But, once again, it’s certainly appropriate to charge for the labor involved. Cabin air filters represent an oft-overlooked combination of parts and labor that, with a little salesmanship, can be added to the service orders of most cars running through your shop.”

To learn more about BreatheEasy cabin air filters, visit

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