Easing Customers' Pain With Regular Vehicle Maintenance
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Easing Customers’ Pain With Regular Vehicle Maintenance

Keeping vehicles properly maintained can help stretch those gallons further on summer road trips.

In spite of the skyrocketing cost of fuel, I’m still looking forward to a couple of summer road trips. While there’s nothing we can do about the prices at the pump, keeping our vehicles properly maintained can help those gallons go further.

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Getting ready for a long trip is the perfect excuse (not that you really need one) for your customers to check off a number of maintenance items that can help make their time behind the wheel more enjoyable. It also can make it a little less expensive!

Many people wait until the last moment to do a “pre-trip inspection.” How many times have you had a customer tell you that they need a laundry list of items “immediately” because they’re planning on leaving for a long trip “tomorrow?”

Sometimes these requests are easy to fulfill, especially if they’re simple maintenance items. Other times, the customer really should have addressed the issue long before now! Either way, we can help in a number of ways to get them on their way safely and efficiently.

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While the traditional “tune-up” is fast becoming obsolete, one of the essential items from this service is still a common sale.

Changing the engine air filter is a quick and easy way to ensure proper airflow into the engine, and that filter also is the first line of defense against dirt and other contaminants. A clogged, dirty or damaged filter also can expose the MAF sensor to contaminants that alter its signal to the PCM, which can lead to a rich condition, wasting fuel. Examination of the filter also can indicate if there are worn piston rings or a fault in the PCV system. While examining the air intake, also look for cracks or gaps in the tube between the airbox and the throttle body, which can allow unmetered air into the engine, skewing sensor readings and altering fuel efficiency.

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Changing the cabin air filter not only will make the trip more comfortable, but it also can potentially lessen the strain on the HVAC system. Turning up the A/C to compensate for a clogged cabin filter can increase the load on the belt-driven compressor and therefore the engine. While you’re at it, have a look at the belt(s) too. Worn, glazed or slipping belts can cause noise, friction and even cooling-system or charging-system issues – which may leave you on the roadside rather than at your destination.

Battery condition and state-of-charge should be tested periodically, and a pre-trip inspection is a great time to offer this service to your customers. No-start conditions are inconvenient at any time, but can cause much more anxiety when you’re miles away from familiar territory or service providers.

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Breakdowns become more inconvenient and time-consuming if you’re travelling to your destination on a tight schedule, or if you’ve drawn the “late-night” driving shift. If you do break down after dark, having functioning lights (especially your four-way flashers) makes you more visible to passing motorists, as well as emergency service providers like police or roadside assistance.

Lighting and visibility checks also should include topping off the washer solvent, making sure your washer nozzles and pump are functioning correctly and changing wiper blades as needed, including the rear blade (if equipped).

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Fluids, filters, belts, wipers and electrical items all are tangible products, but one of the most important road-trip essentials is actually invisible … AIR! Properly inflated tires can have positive effects on fuel mileage, handling, braking and even passenger ride quality. Most of the vehicles on the road today have TPMS sensors to keep tabs on the tires, but it’s not a bad idea to get out the old-fashioned tire gauge now and then to double-check their calibration. On most vehicles, the spare tire is not TPMS-equipped, and should be checked manually for proper inflation.

If a vehicle is not equipped with a spare, verify that the on-board compressor or emergency fix-a flat is accounted for!

Speaking of inflation, the cost of the old “penny test” for tread depth has gone up to 25 cents. The old rule of thumb was that if you placed a penny into your tire tread, the top of Lincoln’s head should NOT be visible on a good tire. The distance from the edge of a penny to the top of Abe’s head equates to a tread depth of 2/32 of an inch, which is the DOT minimum before recommended replacement.

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Many tire manufacturers now recommend the use of a quarter for this “test.” The top of George’s head is 4/32 from the edge of a quarter, which gives consumers a little more warning before needing to discard their current tires. I still prefer to use an actual tread-depth gauge, but pocket change still works in a pinch. Wherever the destination this summer, your customers can save money, save fuel and save time by spending a little on preventative maintenance before they pack the car and pull out of the driveway!

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