Those two fluid sample tubes amount to a great “wow” factor. Make sure your customers take a look at the good thing you just did for them.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in an ongoing series. No, convincing your customers to observe proper maintenance won’t kill your repair business by making their cars last forever. Instead, it’ll give you a faithful following, provide lots of regular profit opportunities, ease your work, and generally make the world a happier place.
Here are the main reasons all of us need to be shifting our focus toward maintenance services: A big repair estimate, though perfectly honest, is a huge unpleasantness. Human nature being what it is, people don’t like to come back to places where they get bad news, no matter how nicely phrased it may be. Also, you can’t run a business day-to-day waiting around for something big to break. You need steady cash flow.
Since engines are lasting so incredibly long these days — we’ve been seeing them with 300K to over 400K miles on the odometer, and never a head off — the biggest potential monetary disaster motorists face is a trans overhaul or replacement. We interviewed a NYC cab driver who told us his fleet of Crown Vics averages three transmissions to one engine job.
We looked it up some years ago, and then it was said that over 13 million automatics fail every year. And whereas back in ‘79 the average cost of the repair was $300 (looked that up, too), you’re talking at least a couple of grand today, and maybe three times that on certain models. True concern for your patron’s financial well-being means helping him stave off such a budget-busting expense.
So, transmission fluid maintenance should certainly be fertile ground for “growing” your maintenance services. For what seems like generations, the carmakers weren’t doing anybody any good by saying the ATF needn’t be changed until 100,000 miles. That was for “normal” service, but we don’t know anybody that normal. Most people fall into the “severe” category, which requires a 30,000-mile interval. That’s what most of the techs and shop owners we know, and we ourselves, recommend, although we’re always distressed at how bad the fluid looks even after that reasonable number of miles.
You have, of course, recommended traditional trans fluid changes for years, especially to those of your customers who tow trailers or otherwise abuse their vehicles. But how good a job are you actually doing when you dump the pan and replace that poor excuse for a filter? You’re leaving maybe half of the old, burned-up and contaminated ATF behind — torque converter drain plugs disappeared in the ‘60s, after all.
But there’s a way to do better for your clientele, all the while making more money. That is, invest in a trans flushing machine. Pumping fresh fluid through the transmission, perhaps after a special cleaning/reconditioning chemical has been added to the old, will assure that most of the dirty, broken-down stuff is replaced. We’re not going to get into the virtues of one brand over another, but we’ll mention that you can expect to get up to 97% of the used fluid out, typically in less than 15 minutes.
There’s an old myth that some veterans still believe: If the trans isn’t giving any trouble you should leave it alone because new fluid can stir up contaminants. Perhaps there were cases of that in ancient times, but it’s our opinion that changes should be done every 30K, period.
If you want to take this service all the way, you’ll recommend synthetic fluid, in which we are big believers. Sure, it’s more expensive, but regular ATF simply can’t compete with its heat-defying properties. Now, of course, plenty of vehicles show up at your door that specify man-made trans fluid, so the sale is made automatically.
We should include some comments on this service we’ve collected over the years:
■ A successful California shop owner once told us, “We have a trans flushing machine and we’re absolutely thrilled with it. I feel a lot better about the job, and we’ve actually cured some shift complaints in the process. It’s easy to sell, and I feel I’m doing something for the customer.”
■ A Missouri shop owner said, “I’m one of those guys who still hasn’t made up his mind to do it
for a couple of reasons. I agree that it’s going to be a big benefit for the customer, but I’m afraid
I’ll encounter resistance to actually pulling the pan and changing the filter — they might just want me to flush, but I want to look for metal and clutch material in the pan. Also, you’ve got to sell it.”
■ An Illinois shop owner doesn’t see a problem with selling this service. “I have a lot of customers asking about it,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, I had my oil changed at a quick-lube and they recommended a trans flush. Can you do that?’ So, the quick-lubes are the ones who are educating the public, and they’re doing a great job at promoting it for us. Customers are starting to demand it.”
How much can you charge for this beneficial service? No independent we know of is better at selling maintenance than Mark Boege of American Automotive in Marlboro, N.J., so we asked him about pricing. “Our rule of thumb is if the car’s got less than 30,000 miles on it, or it’s had regular trans services every 30K, we’ll just do a flush without removing the pan, and we charge $149.50 for that,” he tells MT. “If it’s got more than, say, 50K, we want to pull the pan and replace the filter, which costs an additional $70.”
Finally, be wary of generic fluids. On many late-model transmissions, such as certain DaimlerChryslers, Fords, etc., the O.E. specs are unforgiving. Shop owners have told us that they’ve cured shift and rough engagement problems simply by replacing what’s in there with the right stuff, and have also confided in us that they’ve inadvertently caused trouble by using bulk ATF that was labeled, “Will also work in . . .”
Since you’re an MT reader, you probably run a first-rate operation, so we don’t believe you should skimp here. Buy the specified fluid even if you have to get it from the new car dealer, and charge accordingly. Of course, you should be aware of which vehicles are fussy about this, and apprise the customer of this extra expense at the outset.