Why Brake Maintenance - Not Brake Repair - Is Key

April 29, 2024

Forty-two years ago, when Kevin Walsh reported for his first day of work at Weymouth, Mass.-based Mass Tire and Auto Service, tires and brake jobs were on the menu. In the four-plus decades that have passed, tires and brakes have remained an essential element of the business’ service offerings.

But when it comes to brakes and the automotive service category overall, Walsh says one thing has changed.

“Cars used to break and that’s what was the driving factor to (customers bringing) vehicles into this building for so many years. But cars don’t break down anymore. Cars need to be maintained — and there’s a difference.”

As part of every service ticket, Walsh says Mass Tire and Auto Service’s courtesy inspection includes the measurement and notation of a vehicle’s brake wear. And the dealership’s technicians translate it into a language the customer can understand. For example, if there’s 30,000 miles on the vehicle and the brakes are 75% worn, the customer can expect to need new brakes within the next 10,000 miles.

“Nobody likes a surprise,” he says. “They can do the math and they’ll know what is coming.”

Walsh says that information helps customers plan for the future. But it also sometimes results in a sale that’s ahead of schedule. “Some will say, ‘I know it’s a little early, but I want to get that taken care of and have it done.’”

That predictive and preventive mindset is completely different than what he recalls from his early days as a tire and service technician.

“We never identified that,” says Walsh. “We waited for the brakes to fail and vehicles were towed in left and right. That’s the evolution in this business.”

Mass Tire and Auto Service is a single-store tire dealership with 12 service bays and is open six days a week.

Walsh says the company’s sales break down evenly across three categories: one-third is tires, another third is labor and the final piece is parts. His goal is to continue to increase the store’s tire business as a larger portion of overall sales — without sacrificing anything in labor or parts.

Over the years, Walsh moved up from working in the dealership’s service bays to becoming its owner. He says customers count on his business to take care of what their vehicles need today and what service may be needed down the road.

“We’re not trying to sell them anything additional,” he says and he compares his line of work to that of a server at a restaurant.

After completing the main meal, when the waitress asks if you want desert, “Do you ever get insulted?” he asks.

“Yeah, she’s trying to sell you a little something, but it’s not a derogatory statement. Our customers come here and they expect us to portray for them what their needs are today (and) next month and what the horizon looks like.”

Walsh says this allows customers to plan and schedule services “under their terms and conditions.”

Taking care of customers also means providing them with quality parts. That’s why Walsh says that while the good-better-best model may work for tires, it’s not a tactic his team uses in brake service.

He also notes that the electronic safety components in modern vehicles present too many complications to consider using a lower-tier brake product.

“Cheap things aren’t good,” he says. “We’ve all heard that saying before, and it’s a true statement.”

For a small price increase, “you can put on a product that’s going to last a lot longer. We very, very, very rarely will sell an economy brake part. It’s just not worth it.”

Doubling capacity

Farther north in New England, Alvin Chase and the team at Eastern Tire & Auto Service Inc. in Maine are suddenly doing a lot more brake work than they were a year ago, but that’s because the 78-year-old business opened its second location in Rockport, Maine last year.

Chase, president of the employee-owned tire dealership, says the expansion came as a need to respond to consumer demand.

Over the span of about two years, Chase says six or seven independent repair facilities closed in Knox County and that has “put a crunch” on the remaining service providers. For a while, he says, there was “a three- or four-week wait to get any kind of automotive service,” whether at independent shops or at local car dealerships.

“Our sweet spot for years and years has been to service (the customer’s) needs, and if it’s a day or two (wait), that’s acceptable. But to wait a week, 10 days or heaven forbid, three weeks is just not where we want to be.”

Eastern Tire & Auto Service had seven service bays in Rockland, but it needed more. So when another independent shop owner in nearby Rockport was looking to retire and couldn’t find any buyers, Eastern Tire & Auto Service made an offer to purchase the building and equipment and to hire any employees who wanted to continue working.

The dealership purchased the Rockport store in mid-August 2023 and after a shutdown that lasted a couple of weeks, the seven-bay store reopened in September.

“This gave us the ability to double our capacity,” says Chase. And the dealership was able to return to its norm of offering same-day and next-day service.

Chase says his company does “very little marketing or advertising for any of our services. You won’t see an ad that says, ‘Buy three, get one free’ or ‘Get a free rotation’ or ‘$25 off a set of brake pads.’ Our marketing is more (focused on) image-building and supporting somebody else in our community.

“We are in the luxurious position of not having to compete solely on price. We deliver the highest level of service that we possibly can and we’ve been able to build a client base that appreciates that service.”

Technically, Eastern Tire & Auto Service does offer good-better-best options in its automotive service categories, including brakes, but Chase admits that the dealership doesn’t focus on the “good (and) we rarely use the better. We generally use the best.

“There are some applications that ‘the best’ is not appropriate for — some old farm truck — but 95% of the time, our client base wants the best possible parts and service that they can get. Consequently, that’s what we deliver.”

He admits some of that may be driven by the dealership’s service area.

Knox County is one of the highest per capita income counties in the state of Maine. “Rarely does somebody come in and say, ‘I want the cheapest thing I can buy.’”

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.