Call me an “old school guy” but my feeling is that coolant is second only to motor oil for most important fluid to replace on a timely basis.

By the book? Who the hell goes by the book anymore? If we went “by the book” we would have to sell chewing gum and soda pop through the service and parts department window to make ends meet.

“Throw the book out and write your own.”

That's what a lot of service managers are telling me lately about the manufacturers' recommended maintenance schedules.

Yet the manufacturer is still Gepetto the puppet master when it comes to recommended services. Let's stop and realize the oversights of the manufacturer in the last few years.

First, platinum spark plugs; a great invention to be sure. 100,000 miles before they are replaced, give me a break. I'm not disputing the fact that they can give a spark for that long, what I am saying is try leaving them in for that time period and see how difficult they are to get out. I pity the poor technician working on flat rate to get those out in the designated time period. Oversight number one. Some manufacturers have realized this and re-vamped their maintenance schedules to have them checked or replaced more frequently.

Oversight number two. Extended life coolant. Dex-cool the coolant/antifreeze of choice for General Motors vehicles has replaced the traditional “green” coolant in most of their vehicles. This wonder fluid is purported to have better rust and corrosion inhibitors enabling it to last longer, up to five years or 70,000 miles. Whatever happened to the good old days when traditional coolant should be replaced every 12 to 18 months?

Call me an “old school guy” but my feeling is that coolant is second only to motor oil for most important fluid to replace on a timely basis. Don't just take my word for it, the federal government conducted a study in 1995 on the top causes of roadside car conk-outs across America. Which do you think was #1? Final answer? The first was out of gas, the second was a flat tire, the third was engine/coolant related. Enough said!

Oversight number three. The last thing I see in recommended maintenance schedules put out by the manufacturer is emission/de-carbonization services. Most dealerships and repair garages across this country are doing these services, and for good reason. The reason is they have been sold on the benefits by the salesman of these products. In fact, personal demonstrations have been done on service advisors' vehicles. If service writers believe in them, guess what? Damn right, they're gonna sell them. Plus they are “spiffed” whenever they sell one.

De-carbonization machines and additives are sold by companies like Sun's Motorvac and Tetracleen, or additive companies like BG Wagonmaster and Forte. The customer is getting these services done in lieu of a tune-up or to augment a tune-up. It's not just another “snake-oil additive.” A lot of these products work well to break away the carbon and sludge buildup, which is caused by poor quality fuel, fuel additives, pollution controls on today's vehicles and stop-and-go city driving.

Do service departments know something that the manufacturer doesn't? Not necessarily. Domestic car companies all distribute injector cleaners, throttle body cleaners and de-carbonizers through dealership parts departments.

Although they are available, why aren't they being promoted by way of recommended maintenance schedules or owner's manuals' recommendations?

In the manufacturers' defense, I realize competition is fierce in selling cars. Today's consumers and big fleet companies alike look at yearly recommended maintenance costs when choosing an automobile. If you are $250 cheaper a year in suggested maintenance this might just win you the sale.

Who can forget about the other big disclaimer in recommended maintenance schedules or owner's manuals. You know the one: “severe duty” vs “regular duty.” Trust me, whether you live in Pawtucket, RI or Bear Paw, OR, service managers will say that the climate is severe duty. All of the United States is severe duty as far as I'm concerned and some places are more severe than others.

Whatever the case may be, it seems that the “powers that be” are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand they are saying, “Bring down those warranty costs per vehicle.” On the other hand, they are saying, “Stay competitive, your retail work should be three times that of your warranty revenue.”

Confusing? I agree! That's why some of the best service managers are saying throw out the book, and pen your own.


David Skrobot, owner of Dealer Strategies, is a service department consultant based in Calgary, Alberta. He's at 403-660-2760.