State of the Union address

Jan. 1, 2020
Millions of dollars of automotive maintenance goes undone or neglected every year. Our industry would be healthier if preventative maintenance needed was performed.

Millions of dollars of automotive maintenance goes undone or neglected every year. Our industry would certainly be a lot healthier if preventative maintenance needed was performed. Amazingly, or not, our industry is not alone in suffering the consequences of neglect. Pick another industry, and neglect can be cited as one of the root causes of poor performance or profitability. President Jimmy Carter eluded to this very problem in a State of the Union address during the late 1970s that was very closely reiterated by President Obama's most recent State of The Union speech. The message was essentially the same. To paraphrase President Carter, “We are a nation that indulges in excess, and therefore we will never reach our full potential until we resolve this problem as a society.” President Carter was referring to the OPEC oil embargo fiasco that led to rampant gas shortages and wild prices during his administration. History repeats itself, but now this apathetic neglect or obsessive behavior has infected a lot more than just our energy dependence. Nevertheless, let's just focus on our industry.

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Why do so many people neglect proper maintenance for their vehicles? If you could answer this question with a plausible solution attached, your net worth would make Bill Gates' net worth look like a single pixel on a 1080DPI HD 3D LED television that we all have in every room of our homes.

Recently, while watching a couple of movies on one of my many, many TVs, I noticed that each movie had a unique story line about intuition. One movie was eluding to the fact that a trained maître d’ can look at patron and determine their food order, how it's prepared, size of the tip and even if they'll order dessert based on that person’s appearance and demeanor. The other movie was about a shoe factory that was going out of business because they no longer produced a product that was viable in today's market. The main character had the uncanny ability to look at a person’s shoes and read their soul.

For the sake of a practical explanation, each was sizing up the customer or making assumptions based on a person’s representation of themself. In police work, it's called profiling, and is generally looked upon as racist or elitist behavior. However, marketing of this type is typically referred to as the art of the deal.

The old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover," is unrealistic. I think this phrase was first coined by a publishing company that suffered poor sales due to dull-looking book jackets. I know the connotations of such a phrase have a much deeper poetic meaning, but since selling auto parts does not conjure a Shakespearean sonnet, let's dispense with the pleasantries.

Obama's latest State of The Union speech touched on quite a few topics that, as American citizens, we have neglected, ignored or delegated to be unimportant. Most were business related, but two areas — obesity and education — provided a shocking insight of our apathetic psyche. It seems, as a nation, we are fat and stupid. We are fat because we are lazy and watch too much TV. We are stupid because our education system is delivered to the masses by the same proportional percentage of fat and lazy educational policies that are meant more to entertain and entitle, rather than to educate. A poignant example of our pandering to lazy consumers is all of these outrageous manufacturer warranties.

Twenty years ago, the standard vehicle warranty was 12 month, or 12,000 miles. So, for the first year or so, you really didn't worry about your car so much. It was covered. When the warranty ran out, you still had such a new car, or still owed so much on it, you took a little better care of it. Nowadays, my new car might come with a 10-year or 100,000 mile warranty, which may entice a buying decision, but numbs my sensibility in regard to preventative maintenance. I'm covered, right?

Granted, vehicles are made far, far better than in the past, but I think it was out of necessity and consumer demand to be entitled the ability to drive a car without worry or forethought for several years, that manufacturers had to build a product that would endure poor stewardship. Could this be true? If we make a product better does it allow for the required maintenance to be untimely maintenance? Verily, I say unto you, no. If we could get the average consumer to maintain their car appropriately, regardless of warranty, it would last even longer! In real life, if the consumer has an issue with their vehicle that stems from neglected preventative maintenance or misuse, they seemingly cannot comprehend why it's not covered under the warranty. It's as if consumers think a warranty will absolve their vehicle sins. "Bless me service writer, for I have sinned. It has been 25,000 miles since my last oil change, and the rods are knocking. I have an extended warranty.” They then expect to hear, “Your sins and poor judgment are forgiven. Read your warranty 10 times, and pay your $100 deductible. Go and be lazy no more."

Now I'm going to try to explain why I think no one properly maintains their vehicle. Vehicle owners simply don't. What car manufacturers and the aftermarket do to entice sales is heighten an owners’ sense of entitlement. Consumers are distracted by so much TV and online media that offer up even more entitlement sales promotions to get people off their larger-than-average rear ends to buy products.

This never-ending process of a dog chasing its tail has become the new normal. It's so normal, in fact, just like the maître d’ and the shoe salesman, I can spot these customers coming a mile away. No matter the level of service I provide, they expect everything for free, or at the very least, at an adjusted price. The car manufacturers have conditioned our clientele to believe everything has a warranty regardless of anything. This same sense of entitlement is reflected more so than ever in American life. The majority of people do not appreciate good service and bear no responsibility in maintaining most products they may purchase because their reward is guaranteed with an outlandish warranty of sorts, whether it be real or perceived!

Now, when I go out to a restaurant, the tip is automatically calculated in the bill! Even the restaurants feel entitled because the average consumer stiffs them on the tip, even if the service does not deserve gratuity! We give our children trophies and awards for things they don't deserve. We educate the masses and give As to students that had a hard time passing kindergarten. We warranty alternators and starters for customers that clearly don't deserve a warranty. Everyone cannot be a winner, and participants should never be rewarded for simply participating.

Until we in the automotive realm quit entitling lazy, witless or otherwise distracted, marginally educated consumers with warranties that are totally disproportional in shared responsibility, the amount of preventative maintenance left undone will continue to grow. The sad truth about all of this is that we on the front lines actually dealing with the customers and others attempting to redeem warranty recognize the real problem, but seemingly, the manufacturers simply don't care. They'll just keep making vehicles and parts and factor the nonsense into the price of the units they market. I wonder how many wheel bearings hub assemblies have been unjustly warrantied due to improper installation? How many U-joints replaced because the customer refused or neglected to grease them? How many fuel pumps or A/C compressors swapped out due to not following the rules of replacement? How many components and units are replaced every day as a “customer courtesy?”

The cost of ill-applied customer service warranty mongering is a huge sum of money, the cost of neglected maintenance, arguably an even larger sum, but the cost of changing habits and attitudes of the general consumer is almost insurmountable in size. Just like the maître d’ and the shoe salesman, you'd be smart to understand that a large percentage of your customers wear their entitled heart on their sleeves, readily visible. In poker, it's called a tell. In my business, it determines the state of the union of my products and my customers.

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