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Are you still selling tune-ups?

Monday, April 1, 2019 - 06:00
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Way back in the day, vehicle owners had "tune-ups" performed on their cars every year, or every 15,000 miles or so. The reason was simple. Most of the engine management systems were mechanical and wore over time. The contact breaker points in the ignition system, for example, had to be cleaned (or replaced) and adjusted to keep ignition timing in specification. The idle mixture and choke linkages on the carburetors of the day needed tweaking once a year to maintain fuel efficiency and ease of starting. Today, though, these systems are electronic and computer controlled - never requiring adjustment or replacement.

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So if these services are no longer needed, is a tune-up still a valid service to offer?

Tune-up defined

One definition of the term is "a general adjustment to ensure operation at peak efficiency.”  Some sources add "a process in which small changes are made to something (such as an engine) in order to make it work better." By either definition, using the term "tune-up" on your menu board may still be valid — though the processes included in that labor operation may have to be modified to reflect the needs of cars today.

This is one of the more severe filters I've seen. But who's going to check it, if not you?

For example, we aren't adjusting points or timing anymore, but we still service ignition spark plugs. Most cars don't require valve adjustment but some do and including that operation in your offering would meet the definition of making a "general adjustment," wouldn't it? And how about the idea of removing carbon build-up, especially on those models we know are prone to them? Isn't that making a "change" that makes it work better? Based on these few examples, the term is still valid. But is it practical?

There, I think, the answer is a solid "No."

And for a few reasons. First is the impracticality of offering a general service item to fit a variety of applications. You just can't break it down like we used to and offer a 4-cylinder, 6-cylinder or 8-cylinder job. Second is the connotation that surrounds the word. Many customers still come in requested a tune-up, thinking that it will cure whatever ails their car's driveability.

So what do you offer?

The 30-60-90 menu board

An option that gained popularity a few decades ago and still graces the menu boards of some shops is the concept of the "routine service" based on 30,000 mile intervals. Not a bad idea, for the most part, because these services often addressed the maintenance needs of the entire vehicle and not just the engine. Many of those offering these menu items included, at the least, transmission and coolant fluid exchanges as integrated parts of the service.

But this, too, is getting to be a bit archaic. Maintenance needs still exist, though maybe not at the same levels as they used to. Better yet is the idea of setting up a routine maintenance plan for your customer based on the OEM’s maintenance recommendations. These schedules can be found in both OE and aftermarket service information sources. Since they are included in the customer’s owner’s manual, there is additional justification for your recommendations.

Spark plug service is still a normal offering but alone, doesn't make a "tune-up."

If you’re familiar with the OE schedules, you know most list two: one for “normal” service and one for “severe” service. So which do you recommend? To quote one OEM’s criterion:

Follow the severe conditions maintenance schedule if you drive your vehicle MAINLY under one or more of the following conditions:

  • driving less than 5 miles per trip OR less than 10 miles per trip in freezing temperatures
  • driving in extremely hot (over 90 degrees F) conditions
  • extensive idling or long periods of stop-and-go driving, such as a taxi or commercial vehicle
  • trailer towing, driving with a roof rack, or driving in mountainous conditions
  • driving on muddy, dusty, or de-iced roads

I don’t know about you, but my primary driving habits meet at least one!  Recommend using the “severe” schedule to your customers to help them “ensure operation at peak efficiency.”

What if it's not on the schedule?

One maintenance item that comes to mind that is not on the service schedule of some OEMs is the need for brake fluid replacement. It seems that no domestic maker lists a recommended service interval. Europeans, and some Asians, however, do specify service intervals for their vehicles. What should you do?

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