Tom Sullivan, an ASE-certified master mechanic, has worked in almost every imaginable type of mechanical repair shop throughout his career. Sullivan began tinkering with his dirt bikes and cars in 1978 and eventually worked for a number of different dealerships, privately owned repair shops and even an antique car operation. In 2010, Sullivan purchased Sullivan’s Family Auto Repair.
Sullivan’s Family Auto Repair is located in Virginia Beach, Va. The shop is located near a number of different military bases that account for a number of the fleet accounts to which Sullivan’s Family Auto Repair caters.
With these fleet vehicles headed toward electric, Sullivan saw an opportunity to differentiate his shop by offering hybrid services. He began researching different options for charging electric batteries online and stumbled across Hybrid Automotive's Prolong Battery Systems. The shop has used the system for about 10 months. At the time of Ratchet+Wrench’s interview with Sullivan in May, his shop was the only one in a 100-mile radius that offered the service.
How It Works:
Customers interested in Prolong Battery Systems first need a cable hooked up to their batteries. Sullivan says it’s a simple installation and that the battery does not need to be removed from the car, which saves a lot of time and hassle. After the cable is installed, the next steps are based on the needs of the vehicle.
If the vehicle is showing any fault codes or the battery is clearly failing, the battery goes through a three-cycle process that takes about two days. First, the cable is hooked up to the charger in the shop. Then, the vehicle’s battery is discharged, recharged and balanced three different times. This process will restore the battery close to its original condition.
If there are no fault codes, customers can select a basic maintenance service that keeps the battery healthy and decreases the chance of it failing. For maintenance, the cable is once again hooked up to the charger and the discharge, recharge and balance cycle is performed once.
Sullivan says that he selected the Prolong system over others on the market because it seemed like he would get the best return on investment. At $500 for the basic unit (the shop has two and is currently looking at the newer version), the system was less expensive than others on the market, some of which would have set him back tens of thousands of dollars. The more expensive models would have allowed Sullivan the option to charge and monitor individual cells, which was something Sullivan didn’t need to have.
Sullivan adds that the system seemed incredibly easy to use and he feels comfortable with a B-level technician supervising the process. With a more expensive and complicated system, Sullivan says he would have had to take one of his top techs away from other work to perform the service.
The need to have anyone supervise the process is one drawback that Sullivan mentioned, which is why he’s currently looking at the newer model. Because his current system requires balancing at the right time, it’s important that someone monitors it. With the newer system, he says that this won’t be an issue. The complete battery restoration takes about two days with his current model and basic maintenance is around seven hours. Sullivan says that he believes the new system will cut that time in half.
“Since we’ve started marketing this, customers have been knocking our door down to get this,” Sullivan says.
Within six weeks, Sullivan says he was able to recoup the cost it took to purchase the two $500 units. It paid for itself within the first few jobs, but it took a while to get the word out and attract customers. The cable installation will set customers back $150 and takes roughly 30 minutes.
Sullivan says he now charges about $500 for the basic package and anywhere from $1,500–$1,800 for the full battery restoration, depending on the issue.
With the new marketing efforts Sullivan has put in place, he projects that the shop will sell 4–6 basic maintenance packages and 3–5 full restorations per month. Prolong products also allow shops to sell the products and different packages directly to customers but Sullivan’s Family Auto Repair is not currently offering that as an option.