Educating Customers

March 1, 2016
Explaining the importance of vehicle maintenance and repairs will help you overcome customer resistance

A customer came in for an oil change recently and upon inspection, I found a big problem—his tires were in terrible shape and needed to be replaced.

He wasn’t happy to hear the news. No one ever is. He asked how much the job would cost. I told him. His jaw dropped to the floor. He asked if it would be OK to replace only one of the bald tires. I said no, because the other had a huge bubble in it.

He asked if it would be OK to get the service today and pay next week. I value myself more than that. He wasn’t crazy about the idea of leaving his car in my shop for a week, but after a moment of hesitation, he charged the job to his credit card.

This is a common event at my auto shop. Do you know the feeling? Most people hate paying for repairs. There’s a good reason. A 2015 GoBankingRates survey found that 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings account. More than 20 percent have no savings at all.

Surprised? I hope so. It’s not fun to be broke. Folks like to blame the economy, but that’s not fair. According to the Department of Labor, we’ve had 70 consecutive months of job growth. The quality of jobs might be debated, but they are available.

In reality, low (or no) savings has more to do with self- control and a failure to plan for the future. Schools teach children how to tie their shoes. They should also teach them how to make a budget. Parents usually fail to pick up the slack. Their kids end up making regrettable choices.

This is happening right now. Millennials aren’t saving a dime. Their savings rate is negative two percent, according to a Wall Street Journal article on the issue. While student loan debt and a poor job market don’t help, neither does the YOLO (“You only live once!”) mentality that’s so prevalent in young adults. We should be doing more to encourage wise financial decisions.

If you’ve ever wondered why customers seem so cheap nowadays, this is why: Many of them are broke. There are many causes, including consumerism, stagnant wages, and failures in our educational system. You might be wondering how we can help these folks. But you’re in the auto business, you’re not a financial planner!

What you can do is to help drivers understand auto repair is no different than paying rent. It’s a totally necessary life expense. Try this approach with your customers: Frame the automobile as an extension of the human body. If your bones, muscles, skin, and hair are the human body; your engine, fluids, and tires are the auto body.

Neither body can protect someone without nourishment. The human body needs vitamins and minerals to perform at its best. The auto body needs coolant and motor oil to do its job. Failing to check or change those fluids could cause a breakdown.

Presenting the automobile in this way might feel weird at first, but I encourage you to try. It’s hard for people to care about car repair when they don’t see why it’s important. This analogy has caused many “Ah-ha!” moments in my experience. Let’s close with two more ways to help drivers that are strapped for cash.

First, you could prioritize jobs in order of importance. If a driver has bad brakes and a broken blower motor, which one do you think matters most? The answer is obvious. Fix the brakes now and make a note to follow-up with the driver about fixing their heat at a later date. Tell them to throw a blanket in their backseat and they’ll be OK.

Second, you can encourage drivers to be more proactive. Getting stuck with a repair bill sucks when it’s not included in your budget. Work to inform customers of the total ongoing cost of owning a vehicle—it’s the second largest investment next to their homes. Paying for maintenance will prevent more financially insurmountable repairs down the road.

I wish money grew on trees. It doesn’t. I wish people inherently understood the value of auto maintenance and repair. They don’t. Take the time to educate your customers and you’ll be amazed by how many more people can afford your services. 

About the Author

Audra Fordin

Audra Fordin is the fourth-generation owner of Great Bear Auto Repair in Flushing, N.Y., founder of consumer advocacy initiative Women Auto Know/Drivers Auto Know (, and author of “End Auto Anxiety: No Fear Car Repair and Maintenance for Busy Women.” Reach Fordin at [email protected].

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