An Indefensible Status Quo

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Last month I wrote about warranty and the relationship we share with our manufacturers and suppliers. It was not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last.

Last month’s column was different, however. It was incomplete. It developed a description of the problem we face with regard to the warranties offered by the manufacturers and suppliers we have chosen to support. But, it offered no solution.

This month, I’d like to propose that solution to resolve at least two of the aftermarket’s most immediate and compelling problems: our problem with voluntary and continuous learning and the excessively high rate of allegedly non-defective returns submitted for warranty consideration.

Warranty is an issue because it exists just a step away from the problematic universe of product liability, which is almost always accompanied by the threat of litigation. Companies are forced to offer warranties to demonstrate confidence in the products and/or services they offer. But, in doing so, they expose themselves to the potentially dangerous and costly reality of litigation.

Consequently, they exercise great caution in what and how they are willing to warrant and to what extent. The cost of a replacement part that failed in service is fixed. The associated costs of installation and inconvenience are for the most part open-ended and unknown. So, few companies are willing to go beyond sliding another part across the counter.

The result of the disparity that exists between the reality you and I are all too familiar with and the ideal is one of contention and mistrust that is both debilitating and counterproductive.

The question then becomes: Is there an alternative that is both reasonable and fair?

I would suggest there is and it addresses many of the critical problems we contend with every day. It would be based upon a new level of trust and cooperation forged between the repair community and the companies that support us.

Manufacturers and warehouse distributors across the country are rightfully concerned about the high rate of allegedly non-defective returns they are forced to accept, many of which are associated with a claim for labor. It is estimated that more than half of all returns show “No Trouble Found” when submitted for analysis. While most shop owners and technicians might disagree, the reason for this is generally accepted to be the technician’s failure to follow recommended procedure or generally accepted practices—a botched installation based upon lack of knowledge, understanding, education, training or ability. Or, the reason might be use of the local parts store as a diagnostic tool, seeing which part (of many) actually solved the problem.

One of the other points of contention that exists between our community and the aftermarket is our unwillingness to take advantage of the training and educational opportunities provided by both the manufacturing community and distribution. Regardless of the quality, we can all agree the cost involved in creating and delivering these programs is obvious and when they are not fully utilized the resulting frustration is understandable.

You and I are frustrated every time a part submitted for warranty is challenged; returned “No Trouble Found.” We are equally frustrated knowing that our partners in distribution and manufacturing have no idea what the true cost of a failed part really is (see last month’s column) and that the replacement of that part, in and of itself, is no longer adequate or acceptable.

The solution should be as evident as the problems themselves and that is a true partnership between the manufacturer and their distribution partners and members of the repair community. It’s an affiliation that goes beyond counter mats, stools, clocks, hats, window stickers and jackets. Based upon mutual respect and self-interest, it’s a relationship that recognizes members of the repair community as an extension of the marketing and sales efforts of manufacturers and distribution.

If there is a problem with education in the aftermarket, create a relationship that actually demands training as a prerequisite for warranty consideration or at least a different, more comprehensive level of consideration. Have the manufacturer deliver educational and training materials necessary to explain form, fit and function as well as the proper way to diagnose and install a component and then have the technician, through the shop’s relationship with the manufacturer, certify the correct procedures will be adhered to.

If we bind ourselves to one another, if we truly commit to a relationship that goes beyond brand preference, if manufacturers teach what needs to be done to do the job correctly and we commit to follow those instructions, the question of warranty should become non-existent.

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