Learning Excellence From the Automotive World
© 2006 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2006
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Learning Excellence From the Automotive World
An Interview With the Manager of the AAA Approved Auto Repair Program
Editor’s Note: The American Automobile Association (AAA) is more than 100 years old, and its Approved Auto Repair (AAR) program, started in 1975, turned 30 in 2005. The AAR program was created to help AAA members and the public identify auto repair facilities that meet the highest standards of excellence.
Currently, almost 7,800 auto repair shops across North America meet the program’s stringent standards for vehicle repair, technician competency, facility cleanliness, fair pricing, and overall customer satisfaction.
To gain some insights for the garage door industry, we talked with Michael Calkins, the manager of the AAR program. Calkins has been in the auto repair business for more than 35 years, working as a technician, authoring textbooks for automotive vocational schools, and serving in a variety of other repair-related positions.
Holding a bachelor’s degree and an A.A.S. in automotive mechanics, he also is an ASE Certified Master Automotive Technician (CMAT), qualified in all eight major areas of auto repair. His involvement with the AAR program extends over 10 years, the last three years as national manager, based at the AAA national office in Heathrow, Fla.
What could the garage door industry learn from the auto repair industry to help improve the professionalism and ethical standards of technicians?
Calkins: Many elements of the AAR program contribute to a positive service experience for the customer. But in speaking to your industry, I would focus on three in particular:
(1) Clear, upfront communication with customers regarding what the services will cost and exactly what will be done for that charge.
(2) Basic installation, diagnostic, repair, and replacement guidelines that are developed and approved by the industry.
(3) Service technician certification through an independent testing agency.
Clear Communication to Customers
Speaking to the first point, the Approved Auto Repair program has always required that customers be provided with written estimates before any work is performed. Those estimates must detail the work to be done and the cost of those services. The estimate cannot be exceeded by more than 10 percent without prior customer approval.
The law says you do not have a binding contract unless there is a “meeting of minds” between the parties involved. AAA has consistently found that written estimates, approved by the customer, are the simplest way to ensure a “meeting of minds” and to minimize service complaints down the road.
Industry-Approved Repair Guidelines
Second, in an effort to establish consistent component replacement practices across the industry, vehicle manufacturers, part suppliers, and technician organizations have worked together to establish the Motorist Assurance Program.
This program sets forth basic component inspection and test procedures, along with specific pass/fail wear limits, for commonly replaced parts. These guidelines, when applied consistently, help reduce the chances that a customer will receive significantly different repair estimates from two shops for the same job.
Independent Testing and Certification
Finally, consumers today expect, and rightfully so, that the person who works on their vehicle will have a certain level of competency. In auto repair, the most widely accepted measurement of a technician’s competency is testing and certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). ASE is an independent third-party organization that provides industry-recognized testing twice a year in over 30 areas of automotive service and repair.
To avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest, ASE is not affiliated with any vehicle manufacturer or industry association. Furthermore, to maintain complete impartiality, ASE does not provide any form of service training, but instead leaves that task to others in the industry.
How do you determine if an AAA-approved repair shop uses “fair pricing”?
Calkins: The AAA Approved Auto Repair program does not have specific pricing guidelines as the FTC frowns on such discussions. In addition, local market conditions can cause prices to vary drastically. For example, the exact same repair might cost twice as much in downtown Manhattan as it would in a small rural town in Kansas.
The cost for any given repair will even vary somewhat from one facility to another within a single market. This is due to many factors, including the unique business model of each repair shop, the expertise (and pay) of the technicians performing the work, the quality of the parts used in the repairs, and the extent of the warranty offered.
In determining whether a shop’s charges fall within the normal price range of the local market, AAA field representatives analyze the parts and labor pricing policies of the repair facility using a random selection of customer repair orders. AAA-approved auto repair shops typically have charges that are at or above the average costs in their local market.
Why? Because they have higher overhead from offering nicer physical facilities, hiring better-qualified technicians, using only quality parts they can guarantee, and investing in the latest diagnostic and repair equipment so they can fix customers’ cars right the first time.
If you called a garage door technician to repair your garage door, what would you expect?
Calkins: Personally, I would expect to pay a service call fee, perhaps $50, for the technician to provide me with a thorough analysis of my problem and an estimate of what absolutely must be done now to get the door working again.
Then, if offered in a friendly and low-pressure manner, I would consider approving other suggested work if it would prevent additional problems in the short term -- say within the next six months. Finally, I would appreciate receiving the technician’s advice regarding longer-term repairs that I might want to start planning for now.
Meet the Immediate Need
What I would not expect, particularly if I had a relatively new garage door and opener, would be high-pressure tactics to sell me repairs and/or upgrades that did not address my immediate need or offer a cost-effective solution.
If you want a comparison to the auto industry, today’s new cars are pretty reliable. With rare exceptions, they need little more than routine maintenance for the first several years. However, once a car enters the second half of its first decade, it has probably been through a few owners, maintenance may have lapsed, and components that wear over time are becoming candidates for replacement.
Build a Lasting Relationship
As a repair technician, I can find a half dozen things to fix on any 10-year-old car. But, as a repair professional, I need to have my customers’ best interests at heart.
If I sell my customer only what they really need today, let them know what future repairs they can expect, and allow them to drive a few thousand more miles on parts that are worn (but not dangerously so), I can almost guarantee they will be back to spend their hard-earned money with me when those parts really do need to be replaced.
15 Service Tips From Automotive Experts
For the last century, the automotive world has had its struggles with unscrupulous repair shops. Being a few decades older than the garage door world, the auto industry is a few steps ahead of us in recognizing and promoting excellence in repair practices.
Here are some principles of excellence that have been developed by leading automotive groups such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the AAA Approved Auto Repair Network (AAA), and the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP).
Does your garage door company follow these principles?
1. Do you offer free maintenance inspections? (AAA)
2. Do your written estimates guarantee that actual repair costs will vary by no more than 10 percent (unless authorized by the customer in advance)? (AAA)
3. Can you demonstrate that your company offers “fair pricing”? (AAA)
4. Do you give the customer the option of keeping or inspecting all old parts? (MAP)
5. Do you secure the customer’s prior approval before performing any repair work? (MAP)
6. Do you include a (free) minimum limited warranty that covers parts and labor (e.g., for 90 days)? (MAP)
7. Do you provide written recommendations for repairs that are explained and based on (a) system failure, (b) improved system performance, or (c) preventive maintenance, according to accepted industry standards? (MAP)
8. Do you identify all replaced parts as new, remanufactured, rebuilt, or used? (MAP)
9. Do you encourage your technicians to receive continuing education and/or (IDEA) certification? (MAP)
10. Are your technicians certified by a nationally recognized independent non-profit organization (like IDEA)? (ASE)
11. Do your technicians wear a patch that signifies their (IDEA) certification? (ASE)
12. Is your business known for community service and civic involvement? (ASE)
13. Does your company hold membership in the Better Business Bureau? (ASE)
14. Does your company hold membership in a nationally recognized professional association (like the International Door Association) and follow its Code of Business Conduct? (ASE)
15. Are all labor rates, fees, guarantees, and methods of payment clearly known to the customer? (ASE)