Selling Undercar Service Starts With Prevention

May 1, 2023

Many tire dealers would probably agree that tire and brake services are some of the easiest sells to customers. However, suspension and undercar services are a more difficult sell  especially when it comes to maintenance repairs and upkeep.  

Glenn Williamson, head of training at J.P. Thomas & Co. Inc. dba Thomas Tire and Automotive, an eight-location dealership headquartered in Asheboro, N.C. agrees.  

“Most customers don’t know how a shock or strut affects their ride until they bring it in and we tell them,” says Williamson. “It’s harder to sell because the concept isn’t as familiar with customers as brake and tire services are.”  

When it comes to marketing undercar services, Thomas Tire and Automotive “has its hands in just about everything”  from social media and email blasts to radio ads. 

But the dealership sees the most success in getting customers in for undercar services by keeping them informed.  

Keeping customers informed 

Sally Thomas, co-owner of Thomas Tire, says that an educated customer typically makes better decisions when it comes to their vehicles and because customers don’t understand the undercar and suspension concept, customers will sometimes delay getting undercar repairs done. 

According to Thomas, this is where she and her team come in.  

“If it is a good customer that comes in for oil changes and things like that, we tell them in advance, ‘Hey, your brakes look good,’ or ‘A couple hundred more miles and we will need to replace your shocks and struts.’ 

“I say to my salespeople, ‘If a frequent customer comes in and we find a service we need to perform on their vehicle, it should not be coming as a surprise to the customer. We should’ve been giving them a heads up.’” 

The majority of customers want to invest in their tires and brakes “because they’re(the most important safety function,” says Thomas.  

Cost is a factor, too. 

Williamson says suspension repairs are typically more expensive because the parts are becoming so varied.  

Start with alignment

An undercar service that customers are more familiar with is alignment because they can “comprehend the importance of an alignment,” says Thomas.  

She says when trying to approach selling undercar services, it might be best to start here. 

“We have always been historically strong in alignment sales because we have a total belief in getting the alignment done, especially when you are putting on new tires. We do free alignment checks every time a customer gets new tires.”  

Williamson says customers are more fuel-conscious lately because of high gas prices. 

He reminds customers that poor alignment affects fuel economy  making a car burn through gas faster.  

Trends in undercar services

Thomas says that she notices an uptick in undercar services around March each year or when “tax returns start coming in.”

Summer is another hot time for customers to get undercar work because more people are driving during this time and going on vacations.  

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, parts wore out a lot quicker and nowadays they are lasting a lot longer,” she says.  

Williamson explains that people used to bring their vehicles in to get new brakes every 3,500 miles. Now customers don’t need to come in for new brakes until about 7,500 miles. “That’s almost double.” 

Interval times between oil changes have also become longer, according to Thomas.  

“When I was growing up it was every 3,000 miles and now it’s about 5,000 miles and upward,” she says.  

“So you’re just not getting to see and inspect vehicles as often. Shops that do a good job educating customers about preventative maintenance based on manufacturers' recommendations are the ones that are going to be ahead of the curve.”  

Williamson says that the introduction of more electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid vehicles is going to change the undercar/suspension market.  

“As we shift slowly towards these types of vehicles, I’m looking to see how much this will affect suspension and how much of a torque difference there is from gas-powered vehicles to electric-powered vehicles,” he says.  

“I think we are going to see an increase in suspension maintenance with the rise of EVs and these cars needing (undercar and suspension parts) replaced more often.”  

DVI Magic

Thomas Tire also performs a digital vehicle inspection (DVI) on customers' vehicles so it can “do a good job educating customers on preventative maintenance,” says Thomas. 

“It is a fantastic tool for consumers, salespeople, technicians and business owners.” 

She says conducting DVIs and being able to send those results digitally to the customer lets her salespeople spend less time on the phone waiting for a call back.  

“Our technicians can document what is going on with the vehicle with either photo or video and show the current state of maintenance items to customers for better understanding. I think DVIs are a really good investment and it's definitely a value-added service that we provide to our customers.” 

Williamson adds that DVIs provide protection for business owners, as well.  

He says when a customer brings their car in for a problem, they are usually only focusing on that one problem.  

With DVIs, before a technician even begins working on the vehicle, they can inspect it for existing wear and tear and document items that should be addressed.  

Thomas says it is “very hard” to implement a DVI process if you have never done it before.  

“It takes a lot of patience, but the payoff is worth it,” says Thomas. “The customers really appreciate that we can keep them ahead of their maintenance issues.”

About the Author

Madison Gehring | Associate Editor

Madison Gehring is Modern Tire Dealer's associate editor. A graduate of Ohio State University, Gehring holds a bachelors degree in journalism. During her time at Ohio State, she wrote for the university's student-run newspaper, The Lantern, and interned at CityScene Media Group in Columbus, Ohio.