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Oil Change Intervals: No longer a means to maintain car counts?


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Years back it was common to perform oil changes every 3 to 5,000 miles, and we would see customers 4 to 5 times a year. Today, you are lucky if you see customers once a year for an oil change service. 

So, what are you doing to maintain customers on a more consistent basis? 

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My customer base responds well to their on-board, in vehicle, service reminders that for the most part have made service reminder stickers on windshields obsolete. When needed we still use reminders on windshields but the majority of vehicles now have condition based service reminders and don’t require a windshield sticker. Our stickers include when the next OFL is needed and also any additional work that is needed now or in the future. The stickers fulfilled their intended purpose but I do find that most drivers pay more attention to a service reminder message or light on their dash. I also indicate future needs on customer invoices and verbally review these needs with our customers when they pay their invoice. Extended service intervals certainly reduced how often we see a customer but I also sell gasoline and diesel which brings regular customers to my property weekly or more often which certainly helps.
This is straying from the topic but I think it needs to be said: When we perform an oil change we all face extended oil change intervals, under engine shielding, the popularity of AWD which adds the need to inspect F&R differential & transfer case fluid levels. The time consuming procedures needed to verify proper oil level on completion when the vehicle manufacturer fails to provide a dipstick. The vast inventory of unique oil filters and all the different oil grades that are needed in order to do the job properly. And last but not least the various, ever changing methods required to reset service reminders. This means that our entire industry needs to wake up and rethink what the financial compensation should be for performing an oil change on today’s vehicles or we will financially die on the vine. Sure, years ago we could offer a cheap oil change, bang it out quickly, no shielding, very few AWD vehicles, every vehicle had a dipstick, 20 oil filter numbers offered 90% coverage, three grades of oil, every vehicle got a service reminder sticker and even though you saw this vehicle 3-5k miles ago you spotted a valid need of additional work needed. Those days are gone, vehicles are built better and we can’t afford lost leader oil changes when the oil change may be all you get from the visit. Our customer base is mostly leased vehicles, retained for three years and then replaced with new. Many manufacturers offer free oil changes for the first 12 months which further erodes our opportunities. If your customer base is largely older, non-leased vehicles then maybe you can continue that practice but as years click by we will no doubt look back at the effort, liability and time taken to complete a task that we were under compensated for as a mistake.

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Great points JimO, especially with regard to the time it takes to do a proper oil service these days, and the time needed to reset the maintenance lights. This all leads to rethinking the costs and what to charge the customer. 

I do think that we need other ways to get our customers into our shops. Years back we would see customers 4 to 5 times a year for an oil change service, and the oil change was a lot simpler. 

 

 

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My apology for straying from your topic but when i thought about it I envisioned shops offering cheap oil changes or free oil filters attempting to increase oil change numbers to what they once were. That is a practice that I would not want to see happen. 
Extended oil change intervals definitely reduced car count but so did so many other things such as 100,000 mile or more spark plug change intervals. The complete absence of caps, rotors, wires, points and condensers. Many steering and suspension parts such as control arm bushings, idler arms, pitman arms are no longer on vehicles and what took their place sometimes lasts the life of the vehicle. Drive belts last two to three times as long as what we had years ago. Water pumps rarely fail and the average life of a radiator has certainly increased over the years. Incandescent and halogen bulbs are gradually fading away and being replaced with LED bulbs that may never need be changed. I used to replace at least one washer pump a week and I think currently I see maybe one in a month or two. I am thankful for TPMS, cabin filters, Honda and Acura service codes and electric parking brakes that prevent DIY brake work.
If the farmer needs to increase milk production he could try milking the cows more but that is a futile effort and ultimately he needs to buy more cows. We can try to offer more services such as ADAS calibrations but that may be difficult for the average shop. Adding a car wash or detailing? Key programming specialist? Custom, aftermarket wheels? Specializing in off road vehicles, lift kits, suspension modifications and accessories? Small engine repair?
For the last 20-30 years I have noticed that the marginal shops in our general area eventually failed, in most case they turned into a non-automotive use and our car count increased. Just think of the number of car dealers that closed over the years never mind small shops. This trend seems to be continuing but at a much slower rate. I guess the only answer I have is to follow the dealers and perform a service and not just an oil change when cars are in your shop. Look up and review maintenance schedules and have trained techs that notice items that need attention. 

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3 hours ago, JimO said:

My apology for straying from your topic but when i thought about it I envisioned shops offering cheap oil changes or free oil filters attempting to increase oil change numbers to what they once were. That is a practice that I would not want to see happen. 
Extended oil change intervals definitely reduced car count but so did so many other things such as 100,000 mile or more spark plug change intervals. The complete absence of caps, rotors, wires, points and condensers. Many steering and suspension parts such as control arm bushings, idler arms, pitman arms are no longer on vehicles and what took their place sometimes lasts the life of the vehicle. Drive belts last two to three times as long as what we had years ago. Water pumps rarely fail and the average life of a radiator has certainly increased over the years. Incandescent and halogen bulbs are gradually fading away and being replaced with LED bulbs that may never need be changed. I used to replace at least one washer pump a week and I think currently I see maybe one in a month or two. I am thankful for TPMS, cabin filters, Honda and Acura service codes and electric parking brakes that prevent DIY brake work.
If the farmer needs to increase milk production he could try milking the cows more but that is a futile effort and ultimately he needs to buy more cows. We can try to offer more services such as ADAS calibrations but that may be difficult for the average shop. Adding a car wash or detailing? Key programming specialist? Custom, aftermarket wheels? Specializing in off road vehicles, lift kits, suspension modifications and accessories? Small engine repair?
For the last 20-30 years I have noticed that the marginal shops in our general area eventually failed, in most case they turned into a non-automotive use and our car count increased. Just think of the number of car dealers that closed over the years never mind small shops. This trend seems to be continuing but at a much slower rate. I guess the only answer I have is to follow the dealers and perform a service and not just an oil change when cars are in your shop. Look up and review maintenance schedules and have trained techs that notice items that need attention. 

What you say is so true.  We are at a crossroads in our industry much like the old blacksmiths of the late 1800s. Those that looked at the automobile as death to their businesses, didn't make it. Those that saw opportunity became our early auto repair shops.

What we need to focus on is not what was, but try to prepare for what's coming. I have been in the auto business for nearly 50 years and technology has always been both an obstacle and an opportunity. What is coming will change our business model, that is for sure. But we need to find ways to capitalize on what's coming and adjust our business models to meet the needs of the future. It will not be easy, but I have faith in the independent shop owners. Why? We have confronted adversity before and always found a way to survive and thrive. 

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