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lou's garage

The landscape of retail automotive repair is changing. In fact, I believe it has been changing for a quite some time, though it seems no one in my industry wants to acknowledge it. As I confer with my fellow independent business owners, the same story repeatedly emerges. A surge in repairs occur every spring and fall, bringing about a veritable “feast or famine” for almost all automotive repair businesses (with the exception of those heavily invested in fleet work, or new car dealers that can rely on warranty repairs).

Let me explain: When I was a young Honda dealer technician in the mid ′90s, vehicle maintenance schedules were structured around quarterly visits to the dealer. This meant that owners were expected to head in for service at least three to four times per year. Add to that, historically, all-season tires were truly four-season usable tires, unlike today’s all-season tire products, which are only meant for three seasons. I’m not mentioning this to bring up the winter versus all-season tire debate – that conversation is mostly a non-starter right now when approximately 75 per cent of Canadians choose winter tires. Instead, I bring this up because it means twice-yearly tire swap service visits is now the new normal for most drivers.

Given that most vehicles nowadays require less service than previous generations, many owners are attempting to book all their vehicle maintenance and repairs at these tire changeover appointments. Looking at my own stats, we have approximately 1,500-plus customers that appear with some regularity. At least 75 per cent of them are on winter tires and as I write, all of those owners are trying to get into our schedule right now to take them off. That would be fine if it was just tire swaps, as I could hire temporary labour to facilitate supervised rapid tire changeovers. The problem is that those owners don’t want just the changeover. They want it all.

This creates massive scheduling delays and frustration for both sides of the counter. Unfortunately, skilled auto-technicians are typically not interested in temporary work, which ultimately means that most repair facilities are severely understaffed for 10 to 12 weeks per year.

Attempts to combat this seasonal surge have included pre-booking my customers a little earlier or later in the season and moving those customers who don’t use winter tires to service to the off-peak months. However, it’s not enough. When I look at my monthly sales spreadsheets, I see massive spikes in November and April. Staff are exhausted and frustrated. Most shop owners I know are in similar boats. The worst part is that I don’t believe there is a fix, as no one is willing to come for service and maintenance in late summer and then return two to three months later for a tire swap.

So how am I combatting this? Well, I am starting to take work that hasn’t been on my radar before. Since I have a love of classic European cars, I have started accepting vintage classics, performing light restoration and repairs. Other shops are becoming more deeply invested in their fleet and commercial contracts, while some are specializing in tuning and modifications.

Regardless, please be patient at your tire change appointment. Chances are they are doing everything they can to get you in and out as quickly as possible.

Your automotive questions, answered

Hi Lou. I buy cars new and hold on to them for a while, usually close to 10 years and don’t drive more than 20,000 km a year. I change the oil religiously and replace any fluids, but I don’t usually follow the manufacturer’s suggested service plans. It always makes me feel a little nervous when I reject the reminder that it’s time for my 24,000 km service, or whatever, but so far, no major problems with this approach. Am I making a big mistake?

Josh C.


Firstly, it sounds like you are in between statements, as changing oil and regularly replacing your fluids means that you are sort of a regular maintainer. For the record, I firmly believe that while your vehicle is under its factory warranty, you should be following the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines. Those who don’t usually find out the hard way eventually. Typically, when they are expecting a freebie warranty repair and are unceremoniously denied because they skipped one or more of their services. Post warranty, well, that’s ultimately up to you. My internal customer invoice summaries shows that diligent maintainers spend less per year over the life of their vehicle than those who are sporadic. As an auto repair shop owner, I believe you can figure out which customer I prefer.

I have a reasonable ability to do work on my own car, stop-and-go sorts of things and my own oil changes, but anything else I leave for the pros. I usually buy a used car around the 15,000 km range and around 8 to 10 years old and keep them for 10 years or so. It seems right now used car prices are crazy high. I have a quick question: Can you recommend a good used-car review site to determine reliable models to buy? Because I buy my cars older and keep them longer than the average person, I need to be thorough in my research.

Many thanks

Tom B.

Thank you, Tom. Yes, I agree it does appear that used car prices are surging right now. I know it’s unlikely to be true, but it almost feels like the runaway housing market is causing ripples throughout all our markets. I would typically be against buying a car at the mileage that you prefer, but as long as you are capable of doing the bulk of repairs yourself, you can get away with it.

I’m not aware of any site that has extensive and/or accurate reviews of cars of that age. Personally, I look at resale value as my own tool to judge relative market value. Vehicles like Honda CRVs, Lexus RX350s and Jeep Wranglers hold their value incredibly well. They are known to be reliable, decent used cars, therefore demanding more than their competition. Alternatively, almost every week I take a call from someone who has just stumbled on an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime deal on some fine European sports sedan, selling at a fraction of its original retail price. I do my best to talk them out of it, as ultimately the vehicle is always cheap because no one wants it. Reminding me of the parallels of boat ownership: a hole in the water into which one throws money.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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