Testing every battery in the fall is a ‘right-selling’ opportunity
All but the youngest drivers remember when a slow cranking start or dim headlights signaled a dying battery. Those days are gone. Modern vehicles start instantly until — with no warning — they don’t. Many no-start problems occur when temperatures drop just a few degrees.
In warm weather, a vehicle’s electronics compensate for the lower power output of a marginal battery. That doesn’t happen when temperatures dip. A battery loses 35% of its power at 32 degrees, says John Philbrook, director of the aftermarket transportation group at Midtronics Inc. Citing statistics from the not-for-profit Battery Council International, he says a battery at 32 degrees can only produce 65% of the power it had at 80 degrees. “As it gets colder the battery loses the power to produce energy, and the car requires more energy to crank it. At the first cold spell, no-starts are widespread.
“The benefits of a tire dealer getting into the market today have never been better because batteries and vehicles give absolutely no forewarning before a no-start,” he says.
Philbrook compares the final stages of battery life to standing on the edge of a cliff. “Batteries don’t have a nice trend line when they get to the final stage of their useful life. You don’t know you’re standing on the edge of the cliff or even starting to fall down it until instead of a slow start you get absolutely nothing at all.”
A strategy to boost revenue
Matt Anderson, product manager for of the Automotive Service Solutions division of the Bosch Group, says battery service is often overlooked. “People just assume and sometimes technicians do, too, that because they were able to crank the vehicle over the battery must be fine. It may be fine today, but you may be doing your customer a disservice by not at least alerting them the battery may be in a marginal state of health.”
Putting a testing program in place can dramatically increase battery sales and battery revenue, according to Anderson. “Just because a battery is starting fine in the summer doesn’t mean that the battery will be adequate when it is zero degrees. It isn’t upselling, it’s right-selling when in late summer you are testing every battery.”
Jim O’Hara, vice president of marketing for Clore Automotive Inc., suggests shops entice and encourage each of their employees to incorporate battery testing into their service routines. “In this way, the shop provides a consistent experience to customers and ensures they do not miss out on this opportunity.”
Anderson says Bosch has seen 200% to 300% increases in battery revenue in quick lube shops that have implemented testing programs.
“Depending on the area of the country, sometimes as high as 30% of the batteries that are coming into their shop are being classified as replace now or replace soon. That’s a pretty big opportunity for a shop to increase revenue.”
Dale Gospodarek, vice president marketing and strategy for the Power Solutions division of Johnson Controls Inc., sees similar potential.
“Our research tells us that roughly one in four vehicles will need a new battery each year. Additionally, the research tells us that 95% of consumers would be willing to have their battery tested when asked by their mechanic. If that test proves their battery is in a weakened state, more than two-thirds are willing to have their battery replaced within a week.”
Too complex for DIYers
The complexity of battery replacement has made consumers more receptive to having it done when their vehicle is in for service than just 10 years ago, according to O’Hara. “Replacing a battery used to be simple stuff. If you knew your battery size and the required CCA rating, you were good to go. These days, it is much more complicated.
“First is the question of battery type. Is it a flooded battery? AGM (absorbent glass mat) battery? Another type? Next is the fact the battery is often located in a difficult-to-access location.
“Finally, even when the battery is easily accessed in the engine compartment, it is often configured in a much more complicated way than in years past. Whereas it used to have just a positive cable connection and a ground connection, we often see elaborate electrical feeds coming off the positive connection — creating a complicated process when it comes to changing out the battery,” says O’Hara.
A reset procedure is one complication, according to Bosch’s Anderson. “For some of these new electrical systems you have to perform a battery reset procedure and actually communicate to the engine control module and tell it that you replaced the battery using a diagnostic tool.
“If you fail to do that reset procedure, the alternator is going to try to charge that new battery incorrectly, and you’re actually going to dramatically reduce the life expectancy of that battery.”
In addition, the possibility of damaging costly electronics makes many vehicle owners hesitant to jump start a battery, says Midtronics’ Philbrook. “The availability and the want of people to allow you to connect to their vehicle and the ability for people to have that knowledge any more is much less than it was before.”
More than batteries
Testing every car is a proven strategy to increase revenue at the shop level, according to O’Hara. “Without a doubt, adding regular battery and system checks can help shops increase revenue on the same number of vehicles serviced.”
O’Hara says testing the battery, starting system and charging system of each vehicle that the shop brings in will result in numerous additional opportunities to speak to customers about failing or soon-to-be failing batteries, rotating electrical components such as the starter motor and alternator, and connection issues.
“For every 100 vehicles serviced, if each and every one were tested, the studies we’ve seen say that anywhere from 14 to 27 would result in an opportunity to discuss a service issue. This is a huge opportunity. A shop that can present battery replacement as simple, easy and not too damaging to the pocketbook has an opportunity to not only increase their revenue but really help their customers.”
O’Hara says Clore offers two testers to address the opportunity, Solar model numbers BA327 and BA9. The BA327 includes a counter that keeps track of how many battery tests are performed and can be reset at any point.
Bosch’s Anderson says its 3200 smart battery tester can help dealers explain battery health to their customers. He says it is the first battery tester on the market to interface with smart devices, which are becoming more integrated into the diagnostic process.
The OTC 3200 prepares a full-color report that can be saved, printed or sent by email to customers. “This is meant to allow you to have that engaging conversation with your customer, helping them understand exactly what you are saying to them.”
There are opportunities to improve revenues in other replacement parts and services because an older low-voltage battery starts the car but strains other expensive electric systems. The alternator runs at full field to try to charge a battery that won’t take a charge anymore. That in turn leads to premature wear of other electrical systems, which can be much more costly to replace than a battery, according to Philbrook.
Shops that integrate battery service into their routine maintenance packages for winterization and spring tune-ups will be in a position to identify and sell profitable preventive maintenance opportunities. Battery service can also add value to simple jobs like oil changes.
A dealer advises customers of oil that needs to be changed and tires that need to be replaced. Batteries are no different, says Philbrook. “We’re not trying to sell the customer something they don’t need. All we’re trying to do is advise them that they are getting to a point where they may turn the key and nothing will happen. The marketplace has never been better for helping inform customers.” ■