How to Combat the Low-Maintenance Objection

Sept. 1, 2018
Most people either don’t have time or are confused about taking proper care of their cars, making the idea of low-maintenance or no-maintenance vehicles is a major selling point. But these kinds of vehicles don’t exist.

Most people either don’t have time or are confused about taking proper care of their cars. And with newer, more complex vehicle models coming out each year, it’s only going to get worse. That’s a huge reason people have become enamored with the “low-maintenance” vehicle. It’s a fast-paced world, and it’s only getting faster. The idea of low-maintenance or no-maintenance vehicles is a major selling point. It takes all the guesswork out of a service visit.

But these kinds of vehicles don’t exist. There’s no such thing as a low-maintenance vehicle. Promotions for low-maintenance vehicles don’t tell the whole story. Most are loosely based on perfect driving conditions in perfect temperatures for a specified number of miles. We don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world with extreme conditions, like temperatures above 90 degrees in the summertime. And stop-and-go driving. And towing boats to the lake. And the Kardashians.

People who buy low-maintenance vehicles can be confused and skeptical at service visits. When you ask them about performing a service and they give you an arms-folded “no, because I bought a low-maintenance vehicle,” then you’re going to have to help them understand why their low-maintenance vehicle still needs care. Sadly, it’s these same customers who re-visit a shop after 100,000 miles confused and frustrated that they have to pay for an expensive repair. Now, it’s a high-maintenance vehicle.

Dispel the low-maintenance myth

So how do you help your customers understand that all vehicles need maintenance? Well, first, let’s cut them some slack. We’re the automotive experts, not them. Vehicle maintenance is so under-communicated. It’s no wonder I see so many memes making fun of the uneducated car owner. But, a confused mind says no, so to get past the maintenance roadblock we’re going to have to do a few things:
  1. Educate your customers.
  2. Advocate for the vehicle.
  3. Work with your customer to tailor a plan.

Educate your customers

We all know that maintenance can be a hard sell. But why?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It rings true for many people. So if it ain’t broke, how do you get them to understand that, maybe one day, it will break?

Maintenance is pretty easy to understand, yet the importance of it gets lost in translation. Either you exercise and eat right, and your body stays in good shape. Or you embark on a donut diet and can’t make it up two steps without taking a break.

We know maintenance is important. How do we get them to know it’s important? Invest time in education. Most people likely don’t know (or care) what goes on under the hood of their car. What they do know is that repairs are expensive, and that they always happen at the worst time.

Your goal is to rewire that circuit board in their brain.

Low-maintenance = unexpected, expensive repairs.

Maintenance = no unexpected, expensive repairs.

Try explaining it using references they are more familiar with. People are guilty of maintenance every day without even knowing it. It’s an important part of life. Why do they brush their teeth? So they don’t get gum disease, tooth decay, and lose their pearly whites. They also go to the dentist every six months because that’s the recommended time between checkups. Why do they mow their lawn? So it doesn’t turn into an overgrown jungle (and to compete with their neighbors for “best lawn”). Find something your customer relates to. Use it to make a comparison to how he handles his vehicle.

Advocate for the vehicle

It’s your job to make sure your customers’ vehicles are safe and reliable. Your role as a maintenance advocate won’t always be easy. You’ll have to persevere even when faced with that arms-crossed-no. Some people will be curious to learn more and others won’t. That’s ok! You’re there to make sure your customers are well informed about the health of their vehicles.

The truth is, engines are actually becoming more high maintenance. Back in the old days, Dad could repair anything on that beat up old Chevy with a wrench and some grease. Engines were simpler then. While modern cars are more challenging for most drivers to maintain themselves, they’re also a lot safer and more efficient.

Even though they can’t physically turn the wrench (or don’t even want to), you can still bring your customers in on the repair loop. One of the simplest things people can do is add a good fuel system cleaner to the gas tank once a year. Speak to them about the quality of gasoline and how gas mileage can be improved by simply keep the fuel system clean.

We know that most of the time customers just come in for an oil change. But if you notice things that are unsafe, that will change the conversation. If you see things that could be expensive repairs in the future, you need to make that part of the conversation. The goal is to make sure the car and the customer are both taken care of, before they leave the shop.

Work with your customers and tailor a plan

One of the most frustrating things about working in automotive maintenance (or any service industry) is that bad experiences are shared 10 times more than neutral or even good experiences. You may feel like you’re always having to prove your credibility.

Your chance to connect with your customers happens during your inspection. A walkaround multipoint inspection can be a critical bonus to the customer, especially if she’s skeptical of your recommendations. The inspection review is free information that you provide to your customer. She could easily Google any automotive problem and come up with her own conclusions (and she could be pretty close to accurate). But, you don’t want her relationship with Google to be stronger than her relationship with you.

Even the word inspection lets your customers know you’re just checking on things. Your fluid sampling and inspection may turn up safety concerns. For example:

  • A brake inspection test strip can indicate there’s water or high levels of corrosion in the brake system. This puts the system at risk of under performing.
  • Inspecting transmission fluid can help determine the protective capabilities of the fluid. Dark, oxidized fluid and metallic material are both signs of transmission wear.
Your inspection can help your customer make an informed decision about simple maintenance solutions that prevent large expensive repairs. Such as:
  • A change in the pH of the coolant puts the radiator and water pump at risk. This is cheap and easy to fix early on, but expensive and messy to repair later.
  • Deposits form in the fuel system under normal operation. Performing routine fuel system cleaning minimizes costly repairs like manual intake valve cleaning or fuel injector replacement.
This is also a good time for you to learn more about your customer. Ask about their typical driving schedule (long distances or stop-and-go). What matters to your customer? Is he hyper aware of gas mileage? Is she afraid of catastrophic engine failure after an elongated oil change interval? Has she experienced component failures in the past? These insights can help you put together a proactive schedule of maintenance checks tailored for that customer. Customers appreciate the special attention. They’ll thank you for it!

Remember, low-maintenance vehicles only exist in perfect conditions. The world isn’t perfect. People need to know that.

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About the Author

Tom Probus

TOM PROBUS is the Automotive Research Specialist at BG Proving Ground.