Plastic Parts Present a Challenge for Fast Lube Shops

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He doesn’t remember the make and model, but Eric Frankenberger, president and CEO of Oil Changer Inc., remembers the moment six years ago when he reached for a radiator cap and the connection snapped.

“I hardly even touched it, and it broke off,” Frankenberger said.

He contacted a radiator specialist who told him not to be surprised. The piece, made of plastic, probably wasn’t expected to last more than 10 years by the engineers who designed it.

Looking back, Frankenberger realized it was beginning of a long-term trend.

“We’ve just seen more and more, whether it’s a radiator cap, coolant hose, air filter box or oil filter housing — there are a lot of pieces made of plastic,” Frankenberger said.

The result is a higher probability that something breaks while a car is being serviced.

“A customer pulls in. There’s no problem with their car. All of a sudden, you pop the hood, touch something and it breaks. The customer doesn’t understand. They didn’t have a problem when they drove into your shop, but now they have a problem,” Frankenberger said. “It’s one of those things the industry is dealing with. We are having to educate customers about what’s going on.”

Frankenberger wants to get the industry talking during his presentation “Oil Change Tech Tips — When Plastic Parts Fail” at iFLEX in May. He’ll talk about what’s driving the change to plastic parts, some of the common problems his staff encounters and how to prepare staff and customers to deal with potential problems.

“It’s not whether or not you have problems; it’s how you handle them,” Frankenberger said. “Being well informed and having a plan, in my opinion, is one of the main things you can do to retain a customer and probably build a customer for life.”

One of Frankenberger’s tips is to make sure technicians are aware of potential problems before they happen. Smaller shops may not see enough volume to recognize patterns, so Frankenberger plans on listing some of the more common parts that fail on different vehicles. He recommends disseminating that information among front-line employees.

“What I do is prepare internal documents for communication — things to look out for and things to communicate to customers,” Frankenberger said. “I think every organization should do something like that. How I do it may be completely different than how someone down the street would do it, but knowing what cars have the most common problems, so our technicians are aware of what can fail, helps us educate and take care of our customers.”

Specifically, when technicians anticipate problems they can say something to the customer before they start working on the vehicle.

“It may be just saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got this vehicle — just so you know, these dipsticks have a lot of failure rates. We’ll take a good look at it and let you know if there are any issues,” Frankenberger said. “Communicating with your customer before you start diving in will make it a lot clearer if an issue comes up. If you try to explain something after it’s already broken in your hands, it’s too late.”


Tire Technology and Fast Lube Shops

Another session at iFLEX will focus on the latest in tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). Because every vehicle sold in the United States since 2008 employs TPMS technology, quick lube shops are having to adjust. To help sort out what the technology means to different business models, Scot Holloway, CEO of Bartec USA, will present “TPMS and the Oil Change Business — A Chance to Embrace a New Opportunity.”

At the most basic level, shops are checking tire pressure as part of their routine inspection. In that scenario, it might not seem like TPMS poses much of a problem, but Holloway cautioned otherwise. The weakest parts of TPMS systems are the sensors located in the wheels. In older cars, the batteries in the sensors are prone to fail at any given moment. When that happens, a light on the dashboard indicates there’s a system failure.

“Say a vehicle comes into an oil change facility. They check tire pressure, change oil, do a few other things and the customer is on their merry way. And then 10 minutes later, their light starts to flash,” Holloway said. “In most cases what happened is the battery on that sensor failed. The problem is the time between the point at which the battery fails and the acknowledgement on the instrument panel. It could be a week, two weeks or hundreds of miles, depending on the driving pattern of the consumer. They’re going to come back and say, ‘Everything was fine before. You did something because now this light is flashing.’ You have to ask yourself, ‘How could I have prevented that?’”

Again, proactive communication with customers makes the difference. First, Holloway recommended to technicians, “test before you touch.” In other words, technicians should identify potential problems prior to performing the work.

“If you have a basic TPMS activation tool, you can do a quick test of all the sensors and make sure they’re functioning,” Holloway said. “That way, if there are subsequent issues, you can confidently say you tested the sensors and they were fine, so anything that happens afterward, it’s not on you.”

Conveniently, the TPMS tool will also give the tire pressure, so it actually aids in the routine inspection process.

For shops that do more than check tire pressure, knowing the effects of TPMS is even more important.

“The level of importance goes up if you’re taking the wheels off the vehicle and doing a rotation,” Holloway said.

For instance, some systems are programmed specifically to the tire and its position.

“So now the left front is on the left rear, and if you don’t reprogram those cars, then you’re going to get a false reading,” Holloway said.

For more information on iFLEX, visit:

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