With History of Innovation, Oil Change Industry Shapes America

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Max GlassburgWeb

The introduction of the first fast oil change stations in the late ’70s and early ’80s marked a revolution in the auto industry. These dedicated service stations could efficiently and affordably change the oil in your vehicle, no matter what make and model, and they freed American drivers from the tethers of dealership service that tended to be more expensive, farther from home and showing no real difference in the quality of services rendered. Obviously, the fast oil change business model caught on, and nationwide chains and independent quick lube stations, alike, soon emerged as America’s primary providers of oil changes.

If you offer competitive pricing and high-quality service, no dealership should be able to compete in your realm of services offered. However, to diversify and compete with the dealerships, as well as other lube stations, you need the right equipment. Oil change stations commonly include smog and emissions test services. Since these tests are necessary to keep vehicles road legal, they’re a fast way to increase your profits.

Of course, with increased competition, nothing stays the same forever. While fast, simple oil changes and smog tests may have been good enough once upon a time, success today is contingent on your ability to diversify. Another revolution occurred only a few decades ago, which reinvented the wheel, so to speak (or at least how shops like yours have been able to service them). It occurred when the low-rise pit lift was invented. It came in two varieties: a flush-mount option to place over a pit or a version with ramps to drive a vehicle right on top. Original versions of this lift type could service vehicles up to 6,000 pounds. Available today, it’s great for most vehicles under its listed weight capacity, including low-stance sports cars and higher-stance trucks and SUVs.

Newer low-rise pit lifts can raise as much as 9,000 pounds. This means medium- and heavy-duty trucks and SUVs become serviceable in your shop. What’s more, these vehicles tend to feature more expensive oil changes, so that’s another boon for your business’s bottom line. A 9,000-pound lift can be considered essential for a quick lube station, unless for some reason you live in a crowded urban environment where all you ever see are hybrids and smaller, fuel-efficient sedans, crossovers and other “city cars.”

Even if you don’t have the room or desire to outfit your shop with a full-size two-post, a 9,000-pound pit lift gives you a ton of leeway to service different types of cars, trucks and SUVs. Of course, it’s not just the oil change capacity that counts. A fully functioning lube station should be competing with every single chain auto shop and independent service station in a 10-mile radius.

There are a few relatively easy and affordable ways to compete with the other shops. For one, use your resources to your advantage. A pit lift is frame-engaging, giving you instant access to the vehicle’s wheels. This means, in addition to your pit lift, adding two other nifty pieces of shop equipment will open up a world of possibilities. Namely, consider what a tire changer and a wheel balancer can do for you.

Tire changers come in many varieties. Whatever options and convenience features you choose (e.g., rapid-speed turntables, advanced bead breaker control), it’s important your technicians are properly trained, so they don’t accidentally scratch expensive rims or puncture any tires.

Wheel balancers are the other piece of the full-service puzzle. Some balancers require you to input the wheel data manually, while others offer “wands” that decrease floor-to-floor time quite dramatically by automatically detecting tire offset distance from the machine, tire width and diameter. Once your tire changer perfectly outfits a wheel with a new tire, you need to be able to balance the tire/wheel assembly quickly and accurately. Poorly balanced wheels are going to mean bad reviews and frequent returns from unsatisfied customers, and they may just reject your business entirely. They have other options, after all.

A good wheel balancer should take only a few seconds or so to display extremely accurate weight placements that are off by no more than a few hundredths of an ounce. If you want to do a high volume of business, move off the old bubble balancer and invest in a modern piece of equipment. Your techs and customers both feel the difference. And your bottom line will say the rest.

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