November 29

Disappearing independent vehicle service shops and the impact on ownership


Trust me, this is an awful feeling

There’s a big change happening in the auto industry that’s catching people unawares. Essentially, we are moving from a mindset of ‘fix it when it breaks’ or ‘fix it when the light comes on’—that has been there since motor vehicles first arrived on the scene and is still very much entrenched in our thinking—to a culture of long-term preventative maintenance. Let me explain.

We are often slow to change our deep-seated beliefs and culture. Developments in technology typically race ahead of the popular psyche and we have to play catch-up to keep with the program. Changing our habits can take even longer, as we fight to maintain the old and familiar that we are comfortable with – even when it has long passed its sell-by date. Many of us prefer to hold on to a vehicle for as long as we can until a big repair bill comes up, forcing us to make the choice of replacing the vehicle or investing in its repair.

Breaking the myth that cars don’t wear out

While we have grown used to, and even expect, ever more sophisticated technology, our old habits around looking after our vehicle beyond the first few years have stayed somewhere in the 1950s. It’s understandable. Any meaningful understanding of vehicle repair and maintenance has been effectively removed from our consciousness by an industry that’s hell-bent on seducing us with nice feelings about our vehicles and shoving anything potentially negative under the carpet. Modern vehicles are sold with the illusion that they never break. Aided by sophisticated computer technology that does a great job of masking wear and tare, they give the illusion (heavily promoted by their manufacturers) that nothing ever wears out—just as long as we adhere to the manufacturer’s warranty service schedule and replace the vehicle as soon as the warranty runs out.

Any meaningful understanding of vehicle maintenance has been removed from our consciousness auto manufacturers

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But that isn’t what generally happens. People do keep cars longer than five years. The majority of vehicles on Canada’s roads are older than five years. The national average age of a private car is 12.7 years and it may surprise you to know that, if a vehicle is looked after properly, it can easily last 20 years or more. So, for those who keep their car for longer than the manufacturer ideally wants them to, or for those who buy a used vehicle, the ‘it never breaks’ belief can be a problem. Because, sooner or later, it will. Guaranteed.

How can you find out the true condition of your vehicle?

Getting a true picture of what your vehicle needs in terms of proper maintenance can be more difficult that you would think it would be. Ideally, it is best to have a good relationship with a qualified Red Seal technician. While they may be more accessible in after-market independent shops, in dealerships they are hidden away from clients. Vehicle owners can only speak to sales reps and service reception staff; not the technician who works on your car. The qualified technician in a dealership is a Red Seal technician approved by the Province of BC and, secondly, has specific training for the brand of vehicle he is working on. Independent shops also have Red Seal technicians with additional training that is brand-specific.

However, Red Seal technicians working in a dealership cannot talk to you personally and their remit is just to service the manufacturer’s warranty. After the warranty runs out, the dealership wants sell you a new car, so naturally they are not concerned if the car is no longer reliable. On the other hand, independent Red Seal technicians are concerned to tell you the complete condition of the vehicle at any age, so you can make sound decisions on the care of the car. Additionally, if you are dealing with an independent shop, you often get to speak with the technician. This produces a higher level of understanding and trust in the process.

When your auto warranty runs out, dealerships want sell you a new car. They're not concerned if yours is no longer reliable

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Independent service shops are disappearing

The communication problem is compounded by the fact that it is getting more and more difficult to find an independent service facility. Property prices and taxes, reduced margins in business, a lack of new qualified technicians coming into the trade, service shops closing down, pressure from manufacturers and many other reasons are to blame. When an independent service facility is found, people often think they are expensive. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, they have been seduced by salesmen with a ‘the warranty will cover it’ attitude and, any way, there have been no serious problems with the vehicle up till this point. Secondly, because the manufacturer’s warranty services were designed just to keep your vehicle on the road for five years, there are probably a slew of other problems that are now showing up, that should ideally have been dealt with before, but were not. For these reasons, your initial introduction to your local friendly maintenance and repair shop may not be a happy one. It’s easy to make an unfair evaluation of an independent shop, but it’s not their fault, it needn’t be that way and that’s why a change in vehicle ownership culture is happening right now.

When the vehicle gets to the point of breakdown or an expensive repair job, it’s already too late. What is ideally needed is a proper planned maintenance program from new, which will ensure cheaper and relatively trouble-free motoring for a very long time.

Proper planned maintenance from new ensures cheaper, relatively trouble-free motoring for years

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People are often nervous about taking a brand new vehicle to an independent shop, especially given the heavy inferences from their dealership that their warranty would be voided if they do. However, this is not the case if the independent shop is properly qualified. Indeed, they should be comforted to know that they are, in fact, getting a much better deal.

Things do wear out - seriously

It’s roughly 47% cheaper to maintain a car properly than wait till it breaks and then repair it. Also, you get a lot more peace of mind driving a vehicle when you know it is in good condition. The best way to have that confidence is by having a good, long-term relationship with an independent shop and their Red Seal technicians who inspect your vehicle regularly, get to know it and keep you properly informed as to its condition. They can also advise you as and when anything needs to be done, so you may never have to suffer the costly inconvenience of a breakdown or unexpected repair and have to hunt around an ever-decreasing number of local facilities that may be able to fix it. And, of course, you can budget, well in advance of necessary repairs, because you are fully informed, in advance, by technicians who understand you, your driving style, your budget and the conditions in which you drive (all these can make a huge difference to your peace of mind).

Armed with this knowledge, a customer who understands the reality of the ongoing cost of owning a vehicle and the value of a sound relationship with a Red Seal technician, an independent shop can keep customers happy, and vehicles running safely, reliably and smoothly, for many years.

The days of ‘fix it when it breaks’ are firmly consigned to the history books. Ongoing vehicle maintenance served through excellent relationships is the new, pain-free culture.

When it comes to vehicles, the days of ‘fix it when it breaks’ are history

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Do yourself a big favour. Get with the program.

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