Airplanes are routinely inspected. Vehicles should be too, says Les Silver, citing safety and maintenance issues.
But auto technicians aren't performing regular vehicle inspections — at least not at most auto dealerships, says Silver, president and CEO of Mobile Productivity Inc., a supplier of automotive diagnostic and repair information.
“It doesn't get done,” he says. “Dealers need to create an environment where inspections are the rule,” he says. “It's a professional responsibility.”
Lack of inspections can create customer-satisfaction problems, such as when a car owner asks a service manager: “Why wasn't this problem found when I took my problem in for that problem?”
Then there are the missed repair-order opportunities.
“A Car Care Institute survey estimates 85% of vehicles on the road need some sort of service work,” says Silver. “The AAIA (Automotive Aftermarket Industry Assn.) estimates $62 billion in auto repairs are out there.”
Ironically, dealership service departments often get rapped for overselling, “when in fact little is getting sold,” says Silver. “Service advisors usually are just order takers, despite their title.”
He is hoping to change that with a dealership vehicle-inspection program his firm developed using modern computer software and hand-held gadgets. The system is intended to be friendly enough to get technicians to use it.
The finished product given to a customer is a concise, easy-to-read inspection report listing what's in good working order and what isn't, along with recommended action.
Silver outlines three steps to a successful inspection:
- Tell the customer in advance that it will be done. “Fix what they are in for in the first place, but tell them that, as a courtesy, you'll be doing a free inspection. Don't surprise them with it.
- The technician must do a thorough inspection, not a quick look-see.
- The advisor hands over the personalized inspection report, explaining recommendations and encouraging customers to take time to read the report before deciding whether to approve any repair work.
The reports list the costs for individual repairs. That's important, says Silver. “Dealers should be upfront with pricing. If you are not competitive, get competitive.”
About 160 dealerships now use Mobile Productivity's inspection program. Among them is Stillwater Ford Lincoln Mercury in Stillwater, MN, where service director Robert Cozatt initially worried about technician buy-in.
But, he says, “I had five of my techs sit in on a demo, and at the end one of them commented that he was going to make more money. The others started to get excited.”
The dealership, which services about 2,400 vehicles a month, credits the system for upsells increasing from a gross of $14,000 a month to more than $100,000.
The strong motivation to mechanics is the extra work they will get from the inspections.
Still, use of the system requires changing adult behavior, not always an easy thing to do, says Silver. “As children, if we had the same persistence as adults, we'd still be crawling on our bellies.”
Because the system relies on computer technology, he thinks younger auto technicians will adapt to it easier “because they grew up with computers and are comfortable with them.”
To ensure staff compliance, dealership management can systematically track if inspections are being done after service advisors write up repair orders and enter them into the dealership-management system's central computer.
Technicians, armed with hand-held devices, check off inspection points on the mobile computer screens. It takes less time (about 12-15 minutes) than if forms were filled out by hand, Silver says.
When inspections are complete, service advisors get pop-up notifications on their computer screens. They then download, print out and hand over the finished reports to customers.
“The service advisor's presentations should be low key, not a heavy sell,” says Silver. “More like telling customers: ‘Take some time to go through it,’ and then leave them alone.
“They'll likely ask, ‘What's this, what's that?’ And then, the service advisor truly can be an advisor.”