Retail Service

Those dreaded comebacks

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Those dreaded comebacks

You’re sitting on top of the world. Your shop is booked solid for the full day and business has been great. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Right?

Wrong! One of your customers from yesterday walks in and says, “My car isn’t riding right after you sold me that new set of tires.” Ouch — a tire-related comeback.

You’re not alone with this pain. We wanted to find out just how often tire dealers experience tire-related service comebacks, so we performed a survey this summer. The results reveal that while not a major problem from a percentage standpoint, it is significant. More importantly, there are steps you can take to further reduce the number of comebacks that you have on a regular basis.

Our survey results reveal that as an industry, tire dealers are potentially losing $153 million in revenue due to tire-related comebacks on the consumer side of the business. This number takes into account the labor time spent handling the comeback instead of spent handling new customers. If you wanted to also include fixed costs, the number would go higher.

The approximately 300 tire dealers who responded to our August survey install 387 consumer tires, on average, per month. It should be pointed out that there is a spike (16.8%) in sales between 501 to 1,000 tires by dealers. These numbers, by the way, correspond very well with the known sales universe by tire dealers.

The average dealer experiences a tire-related comeback 2.6% of the time. It is worth noting, however, that nearly 7% of the dealers report that they have a comeback rate of 10% or higher.

Some 50.7% of the dealers told us they are able to handle a tire-related comeback in “less than one-half hour.” Another 38.2% of the respondents reported it takes them more than one-half hour but less than one hour to handle the problem., while 10.7% reported taking between one and two hours to handle the comeback.

So, what causes a comeback? The number one ranked answer mentioned more than 50% of the time was wheel weight related. The dealers reported that wheel weights were either missing, misplaced on the wheel, or the wrong wheel weight was put on the wheel. But there’s more to the story than just wheel weights.

Dealers blamed “bad tires” 39% of the time, while “technician made a mistake” came in at close to 36%. “Wheel was bad” was listed by 32.8% of the dealers.

We specifically asked dealers to better define what they meant by “technician made a mistake.” This is what they meant:

• 23.7% placed wheel weight in wrong area;

• 22.7% used the wrong wheel weight;

• 13.6% didn’t clean bead area properly;

• 8.6% responsible for wrong air pressure in tire;

• 5.6% didn’t clean corrosion around the hub area;

• 3.5% incorrectly mounted tire on the wheel;

• 3.5% improperly torqued wheel assembly.

The top write-in response for the dealers who marked “Other” when describing their technician errors was “balanced incorrectly/improperly setting up the balancer.”

So, how do you handle your tire-related comebacks? MTD contacted Barry Steinberg, president of Direct Tire & Auto Service in Watertown, Mass., and Dave Church Sr., vice president of Ken Towery’s AutoCare SuperCenters in Louisville, Ky., for advice.

Both men were in agreement that you first have a have policy in place to prevent comebacks. In addition, you have to have a policy instructing employees on the proper way to handle a comeback. This might sound simplistic, but it’s more involved than simply giving lip-service to the problem.


“The first thing we do is to immediately ask to go on a road test with the customer,” says Steinberg, adding that any comeback customer immediately gets placed at the top of their priority list. His company has designated personnel who are qualified to go on the test drive to make sure they ask the right questions and are satisfied that they know what the customer is feeling.

“You’d be shocked how often we find that it is a bent wheel,” says Steinberg. He jokes that the Boston streets are nothing but potholes. Steinberg’s four locations average six bent wheel repairs per day, plus they replace three unrepairable wheels per week. And, he says it gets worse during the winter.

“If we missed a bent wheel when installing a tire, we admit it immediately,” states Steinberg. His goal is to build credibility with the customer. They even take the time to explain the difference in “feel” between an entry-level tire and a high-end product.

Church explains it this way: “We will do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer.” He says they also monitor their tire inventory very closely. Because they do, in the past they have found that they have put the wrong tires on a customer’s car. The company immediately contacts the customer and rectifies the situation. In this case, and also in the cases where a customer has simply not liked the “feel” of a particular brand of tire, “we put on a different brand then re-code the take-offs so they cannot be sold as new.”

The key, according to both men, is to do everything possible to prevent the situation from happening in the first place.

In the case of Towery’s, Church says the company has several retail locations that they use as their training sites. With the company’s fast-paced growth — eight new stores in the past 14 months with several more on the way — they are constantly hiring new general service associates. All of these trainees are trained and shadowed to make sure they practice “our 80-step approach to service.”

The company also requires that the technician and the salesperson sign-off that the work has been performed properly. Church says the associates know that if the proper steps haven’t been taken, suspensions will be handed down.

Steinberg provided several steps that his company takes to prevent tire-related comebacks:

 1. The dealership calibrates every balancer every day.

2. All adapters are cleaned and inspected every day.

3. They clean the mounting surface on every rotor/drum and all the lug bolts.

4. They clean the back of the wheel mating surface to help prevent run-out.

5. They use lug-centric adapters when appropriate.

6. Extra care is taken when a customer has an aftermarket wheel.

7. For V-rated and above tires, the company takes the valve core out and inflates the tire, then allows it to deflate. They then inflate the tire a second time. Steinberg says this procedure really helps the bead to seat fully.

Steinberg’s final piece of advice to prevent comebacks is to properly pay the tire technicians. “If you only pay minimum wage, you’ll get a minimum wage employee and you’ll constantly be having turnover.” With less employee turnover, you’ll get fewer mistakes.

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