Who is the mark and where is the marketing?

This is the internet and whatever I say is true, right? I’m superman, I am super intelligent, I am blah, blah, blah, etc, etc.
The problems really only come when you start believing it yourself or worse still, you try to maintain an unrealistic facade off-line.
I recently attended a seminar on e-commerce where the presenters were a particularly well known and successful Irish on-line car parts sales company. As I had only recently entered the on-line sales arena myself, it was an ideal opportunity for me to learn first-hand from those who set the industry standards and can call upon such exacting personal experiences.
The day was at times highly productive and informative when covering certain areas. However, it was also disappointing, if equally understandable, that the speakers did not delve into too much depth in terms of detailed data and figures relating to the business (i.e. how certain actions yields particular results, how some investments, financially or time-wise, are worth more than others). Essentially, the company did a fine job in outlining their own IT knowledge and business acumen in running an e-commerce and distribution operation.
However a number of presenting members of the company continuously proclaimed “we love car parts”. Strange, I thought, but ok I thought, giving them the benefit of the doubt. That they then reinforced it with the assertion that “every time a new range comes in we all go down and unpack the boxes, anxious to get our hands on them”, however was a step too far in the deep end for my own liking. This is, what some in the movie business refer to as ‘jumping the shark’ i.e. the point when the plot loses all credibility and becomes hard to believe.Image

This proclamation was cringe-worthy to say the least coming as it did in a room full of professional business people. However, to their credit they were not silly enough to try and justify themselves as experts in car parts. Like everyone I love good food, but I’m still pretty useless in the kitchen!
I have been in the coalface of the car parts supply business since 1984. I also employ mechanics in my workshop and work closely with them to gain knowledge and insight. Despite my vested interest lengthy career, and the life it has afforded me I maintain that you cannot love car parts. Is it possible to love brands? Sure! It might even be plausible to favour certain fitments and mechanical repairs over others, providing you are technically minded. You can love the business and all the activities it entails, but if I were to ask anyone which they prefer, the driveshaft of VW Golf or that of a Polo and why, I’d be met with some very strange looks, and rightfully so.
In reality I don’t imagine too many people in the room would be bothered whether their on-line protestations were true or not as it would have been excused as marketing, but to carry on the façade off-line was a mistake. Represent your brand but stay honest to yourself. Marketing your brand should be about identifying and duping marks. It should be about presenting yourself in a way that highlights all that is good (and true) about your business.

The false economics of second hand tyres

In these frugal times hard-pressed folks are constantly on the lookout for savings and value. However, saving money does not always equate to getting good value.
Some products, the sort that keep you from the cold hard ground for example, should not be skimped on. Shoes and beds for example are important enough to buy new. Tyres are arguably even more important in that regard.
And yet a permissive attitude towards second hand tyres prevails in Ireland, one that suggests they somehow represent good value for money. This is patently not true. Not only is this practice a false economy. The attitude that accompanies it is misinformed and dangerous.
Firstly, we need to understand that the tyre industry in Ireland is so badly regulated that anyone can simply open and trade. No training is required. No knowledge is needed. You can even get a government grant to help you on your way. The result of this barely regulated approach? Vendors of second hand tyres sold in Ireland are not legally bound to test for possible dangers.
Compare this with Germany. Clearly defined and enforced laws, coupled with two contrasting seasons requiring two sets of tyres has created a culture whereby drivers will not accept second hand tyres. These tyres, and others from European countries with similarly strict regulations, are often unloaded onto us Irish due to our permissive attitudes and willingness to buy second hand.
The dangers were starkly reflected in a 2012 report which revealed that 51 percent of second-hand tyres were dangerous or deemed not fit for purpose. That same report also revealed that 55 percent would warrant an NCT ‘advisory warning’. The report found that, in most cases, the tyres had been used by central and northern European motorists where conditions are considerably harsher. The Road Safety Authority backed the report and advised motorists against buying second hand tyres.
In October of 2013 AA Rescue issued a statement which claimed that there has been a surge in callouts for blowouts due to the fact that many motorists were “driving on tyres so worn out that they were bound to burst”. They estimated that as many as one in 10 drivers had experienced a blowout in the past four years, while a survey of 16,000 motorists showed that more than half regularly encounter tyre debris on roads.
Most drivers don’t even know the legal limit for minimum tread depth on tyres. While the legal-limit is 1.6mm, the general consensus is that thread depth should be checked frequently once it reaches 3mm, and replaced when it wears below 2mm (especially during autumn and winter months).
In terms of the savings garnered from purchasing second hand tyres, the reality is that they are merely short term. The rapid deterioration of stopping distance after a tyre has reached a minimum tread of 3mm means is stark.
A typical part-worn tyre has between 2-3mm of tread remaining, due to the fact that tyres must be legally changed in France and Germany once they reach that minimum. The undisputed fact is that these part-worn tyres won’t last for long – maybe somewhere in the region of 3000-4000 miles – before they are deemed illegal here.
So where does attempting to save a little bit of money leave you? It potentially leaves you with three penalty points on your license. That could be considered getting off lightly, because your chances of crashing on a wet road if you are forced to brake suddenly are increased significantly.
In most of the cases, used car tyres are actually overpriced. If a typical second hand tyre has 3mm depth, that equates to just 1.4mm of usage before it must be legally binned. Now if such a tyre is generally priced between €30 and €40 it would need to outperform a new tyre to be considered good value. However, a €100 euro new tyre with a thread depth of 7mm will last at least four times as long as one with 3mm. And that’s without even factoring in the need to pay for the fitting of four tyres in the case of second hand purchases. In other words, there is no saving to be had.
Consumers buy them believing they are getting a good deal, when in reality they don’t know their usage history and can’t see any internal damage. New car tyres on the other hand are proven to handle significantly better, have passed rigorous and heavily regulated safety checks and let you enjoy a better ride. You’re not only buying new tyres – you’re buying safety and peace of mind.

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A bad reputation is effortless

Providing good service is generally not appreciated but expected in business and taking every opportunity to provide exemplary service and going the extra mile is where the accolades belong.

I was recently asked for a litre of transmission oil for a BMW 520 and advised it necessitated checking the label on the gearbox. As the customer had no means of doing this I seized the opportunity and offered to put his car on the lift in our garage and have a mechanic remove the plastic splash guard under tray to reveal the label, at no charge. Needless to say the customer was delighted and I was happy that the extra effort would result in a good relationship.

During the process the customer consulted with the mechanic with regard to and over revving issue and so the mechanic drove the car in our yard to help diagnose the problem. When the customer left he was all smiling and grateful and we were very satisfied with a job well done, albeit for free but as an investment for our future.

Imagine our surprise when the customer soon returned and complained that we had damaged his back wheel. We explained our procedure of removing the under tray and that it had no connection whatsoever with any mechanism of the rear suspension. The customer then insisted the issue was not there before we had looked at the car so we put it back on the car lift and raised it up.

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We diagnosed the issue; the mounting of the rear suspension arm was faulty and misplaced from its position. It would take 8 ton of pressure to remove this mounting and explained that this was a common wearing parts issue with this model. The bushing had worn over years and many miles of use. Outlining there was nothing we could have done to promote or cause this issue all fell on deaf ears as the customer stuck to his point of the fault arising whilst we had the car and therefore we were responsible. To add insult to injury, I was accused of going to such trouble to profit from the litre of oil I would sell. The profit on the oil was €2.20.

Good reputations are hard earned and even harder to maintain whereas bad reputations are effortless. What would you have done in this situation?

Cabin Fever

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Bad news for those partial to hay fever and summer allergies – mother nature is desperately playing catch up after a particularly schizophrenic spring.

The fact that the coldest April experienced here in 24 years, has been followed by some surprisingly Mediterranean-like conditions in May and June means there has been a sudden surge in the pollen count.

So, while the rest of us rejoice at the sight of that unfamiliar big yellow thing hanging in the sky, those with summer allergies will unfortunately have to content with sneezing, serious coughing, headaches, and, in some cases, difficulties breathing.

While both pedestrians and motorists alike are exposed, the latter can at least take some action to avoid the full effect of these allergies. A cabin filter will substantially reduce allergic reactions by filtering the air and stopping external pollution. It allows air in the vehicle cabin to remain fresh and non-polluted.

Cabin filters are even more important for urban drivers who are also often exposed to pollution (exhaust gases and bacteria’s emitted from other vehicles), particularly in traffic jams. In fact, air quality inside the cabin is often worse than outside due to the infrequent replacement of air.

Sometime you may see two different filters for the same application (carbon vs particulate).  The carbon cabin air filters still remove dust, pollen and other contaminants from the air, but they also adsorb exhaust fumes and unpleasant odors prior to entering the passenger area of a vehicle.

The charcoal in the filters is treated with chemicals and heat to give it specific odor-control properties. Charcoal traps odor-causing gases by adsorption (not absorption), and therefore holds the gases on the surface of the charcoal treated media.

Because charcoal is porous, the filter has a very high capacity for trapping noxious gases.
The carbon filter may cost more than the filter without carbon and may not be necessary unless the vehicle is operated in an area that has slow moving traffic or strong odors.

Don’t underestimate the importance of these filters. A motorist with seasonal allergenic reactions is likely to be much less focused when driving. A sneeze attack at 55mph can cause an average of 30 yards of blind driving. So, educate yourself on your cars’ air filters. It’ll make your journey considerably more comfortable.

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It’s worth keeping in mind that your cabin air filter requires a yearly maintenance check to ensure it remains effective. If you currently don’t have one, now’s the time to make the investment. 

Is the solution the problem?

A customer recently called reporting an Opel Zafira as not running on all cylinders and chugging. A common issue with this vehicle (as with many) would be that the ignition coils have a limited life span and need to be replaced.

We started by removing the spark plugs and on close inspection found soiling and a hair-line crack on the enamel of one of the plugs. Further investigation showed the head gasket was leaking very slightly and the leaked coolant reaching the plug had caused the issue. We replaced the spark plugs and advised the customer of his oncoming larger issue with the head gasket.

A common behaviour when rectifying mechanical issues is taking the easiest and most obvious answers, but often digging a little deeper is the key to correct analysis. An experienced mechanic will notice peripheral signs through noise, wear and contamination and will not simply replace the obvious.

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A faulty alternator often leads car owners to replace the battery. Within a short period they return the new battery, complaining that it is faulty. If the initial diagnosis was done correctly a lot of cost and time would have been saved. A mechanic’s experience involves the understanding of the functions of all the cars parts and in the modern vehicle many repairs cannot be considered as simple.

Of course the advances in technology greatly aid today’s workshops and with the many sensors and switches controlling a vehicle through its ECU (on-board computer), it is not possible to operate without diagnostic equipment. However the value of a mechanic’s knowledge and experience cannot be plugged in.

Mostly with mechanical issues it’s not so much the size of the problem, but the size of the solution.

 

Who will win the race to the bottom?

Saving money is an important factor in this tough economic climate. There are many  daily habits you can change to do it efficiently and unfortunately you may need to cut on usual spending you’ve never changed before. But you just can’t cut with some primary needs, and safety is one of them. 

There are many products for which you will never try to save with, like medicines, or food for your children. You’ll never accept poor quality for these products even if you must pay more for it, because you’ll never play with your health or that of your family.

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The safety of your vehicle should be regarded in the same vein. It’s not enough to simply base your decisions on which garage might offer you the cheaper price when replacing safety critical components, like for example brake pads. Poor quality brake pads will not give longevity of use, may be noisy and not brake effectively. Any experienced purchaser will ask for a brake down of items contained in any quotation which highlights the cost and specific elements within. This is also good practice when researching the cost of car repairs.

The motor industry has always been the subject of bad press and poor reputation and so it is important that you take control and analyze exactly what it is you are paying for. There will always be a reason why one workshop will be more expensive than the other but given the different qualities of product on the market and the differing levels of skills and competences, it is not necessarily down to a garage making extra profit.

Of course if the cheapest garage always gets the work it can only result in its competitors consistently searching for cheaper products which will generally be of inferior quality. In this scenario it’s a race to the bottom and nobody wins.

 

 

A stitch in time

One of the lessons I have learned in life is that a very young baby will only cry for a reason. They might be hungry, tired or in pain but there is always a reason.

People should generally take this into account too when it comes to their car. When something unusual appears like a bang, knock or scraping noise it is happening for a reason. “A stitch in time saves nine” is never truer than when it comes to vehicle issues. Preventative maintenance is the key to low vehicle repair costs.

I served a client recently who called to purchase new wiper blades and during the transaction I was asked if I knew why there was a squealing noise when the brakes were engaged. I went out and inspected the vehicle to find the front brake pads were almost worn to the back plate but the situation was much worse with the back brakes.

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Not only was the friction material of the brake pad worn through, the backing plate of the brake pad had cut grooves onto the brake discs badly damaging them as the metal backing of a brake pad is a stronger and more course metal than that of the brake disc. Unfortunately the client now needed to spend an extra €116 plus labour to rectify the issue.

A common habit is to avoid the knowledge and cost of what the problems may be but they rarely rectify themselves. Garage workshops are not like going to a doctor whereas they will generally inspect and diagnose an issue without charge and only bill you for the repair.

The next time you have a problem, speak with your mechanic early and avoid the major bills.

Happy driving.