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3 Products Automotive Customers Need Right Now (and 3 That Can Wait)

With prices going up at the gas pump, grocery store, and just about everywhere else, car owners may be more inclined to focus their spending on just the essentials, while less critical services and upgrades are saved for another day.

Is your product a necessity that shop owners and mechanics need no matter what? Or is it something that can wait during times of economic uncertainty?

Being sensitive to how vital your product is, and factoring that into your brand’s messaging, can go a long way in building trust with your customers and stability in your business.

We’ve asked All Girls Garage host and independent shop owner Faye Hadley to break down three routine parts and services that vehicle owners should never skip, and three that can be put off for later.  And we’ve asked SVP, Sales and Marketing, Chris Crean to break down smart strategies for advertising in these categories.

The “No Skip” List

Faye: We’ve all been reading about supply chain issues lately, and maybe you’ve even bumped up against them yourself. If you’re responsible about staying on top of your recommended services at each mileage interval, that delay on your preferred brand of diesel oil or that backordered transmission filter might be causing some stress.

But the truth is, while there are certainly routine services that you cannot afford to skip, there are also maintenance boxes that you don’t have to check right away. Of course, as a professional technician, I would never advocate for skipping any manufacturer-recommended service when it comes due. But there are a handful of maintenance items that, under the right conditions, you can defer without incurring too much risk.

Let’s start with the no-skip list!

Oil Change

Faye:  Staying on top of your oil changes is the most cost-efficient way to make your engine last as long as possible. Oil is the life blood of your car’s engine – it lubricates and cools all of those high-friction, metal-on-metal components. In order for your engine oil to do its job, it needs to maintain a certain standard of cleanliness and viscosity.

You don’t necessarily need to change your oil every 3,000 miles, though – follow the manufacturer recommendations for your specific vehicle rather than a generic guideline. Personally, I change my oil early and often. In my older cars that use conventional oil, I change every 3,000 miles. But my newer vehicles with synthetic oil get changed every 5,000 miles or so.

Chris:  For essential products, parts, and services that shop owners and DIY mechanics need in order to keep vehicles running – even when they’re not in a position to spend a lot of money – it makes sense to maintain brand awareness even during times of economic uncertainty.

It’s too bad we don’t have owner’s manuals to tell us what marketing strategy works best for our brands! But we do have the “Marketing Rule of 7”, which states that a consumer needs to see or hear your brand’s message an average of 7 times before they buy. Much like oil changes on a vehicle, frequency is an important factor of establishing brand awareness with consumers.

How often do you need your brand to be visible in order for it to resonate with an audience? How often do you need to change up the messaging – or the medium – to keep educating your consumers and prevent them from tuning you out? This is something we collaborate on with our brand partners when creating branded content for our automotive TV shows and social media platforms.

Brake Pads

Faye:  Properly functioning brakes are completely essential. The longer you put off a brake pad replacement, the more damage you could potentially do, and the more expensive an otherwise routine service can become.

Those worn pads have likely been causing deep grooving to the rotor surface, past the point of minimum specification for resurfacing or turning the rotor. In some rare cases, I have even seen customers delay a brake job to the point of wearing through the brake pad backing plate and causing damage to the caliper.

In other words, delaying your brake service can turn a $100 job into a $1,000 job, so you’re not doing yourself any favors or saving any money by putting it off.

Chris:  We’re all tempted to cut corners when times are tight. But taking the “cheapest” route now can end up costing us more later. This is as true in marketing as it is in vehicle maintenance.

The common reaction for many companies is to “save money” by cutting back on their ad spend during an economic downturn. The problem with this approach is that by the time you’ve decided to start advertising again, your customers’ attention may have been turned to other brands that continued to get their message out to the marketplace.

History provides countless examples of how marketers have gained share by embracing their long-term advertising strategy, such as when Toyota toppled Volkswagen as the top imported carmaker during the great recession in the 1970s.

Holding onto your loyal customer base, even during times when they’re hesitant to spend, is key to the long-term health and growth of your brand. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Marketing isn’t optional—it’s a ‘good cost,’ essential to bringing in revenues from these key customers and others.”

If you know your customers are feeling the pinch during a time of economic uncertainty, consider tailoring your messaging to focus on what makes your product affordable and long-lasting, establishing trust that while your product is an unavoidable expense, it won’t be money wasted – and it may in fact save them from a more costly repair in the future.

Alignment

Faye:  This one is sneaky – getting a regular alignment may not seem as important as changing your engine oil or servicing your brakes. But having the proper alignment isn’t just about driving straight down the road; it improves your vehicle’s handling and stability, while also preventing wear and tear on suspension components and rubber bushings. It’s especially critical if you have new tires or are looking to make your current set last as long as possible.

It’s also important to never skip the alignment when you purchase new tires, because having this service performed and documented can often protect your tires’ warranty. If you experience uneven tire wear, documentation of an alignment could be your only way to prove that this is a manufacturer’s defect. So, in addition to protecting yourself from liability on your tires, you are also ensuring that your tires wear evenly and last much longer. A win-win!

Chris:  Similarly to cars, proper alignment isn’t just about heading straight in one direction; it’s how you maintain stability and handle the unpredictable twists, turns, and bumps in the road.

Brands sometimes get into a comfort zone with an existing marketing strategy instead of realigning to what’s happening in the marketplace. It’s smart to pay attention to what your competitors are doing – and sometimes, do the opposite.

The common reaction for many companies is to cut back on their ad spend when their product is selling faster than they can keep it in stock – whether because of high demand or supply chain issues. The result is fewer competitors vying for the consumer’s attention. This is the perfect time for you to bring more customers into your marketing stream, because the “noise level” of your brand category has dropped, allowing your brand to have a louder voice in the marketplace.

The Wait List

Faye:  Now let’s move on to those service items that you can delay or even skip – depending on your willingness to incur some risk. In other words, consider this my guide to “calculated maintenance risks”— proceed with caution!

Cabin Air Filter

Skipping a cabin air filter change will save you about $30 to $50 (and in some cases, up to $100–I’m looking at you, Audi!), depending on where you go for the service. This one isn’t vital because your cabin air filter doesn’t affect how your vehicle runs; cars didn’t even used to have them. Just be mindful of how much harm you may be doing yourself by not filtering the air that you’re breathing – especially during cedar season here in Texas!

Tire Rotations

Keeping up with regular tire rotations can maximize the life of your tires by preventing uneven wear. The service interval recommendations vary depending on whether you have front-wheel, rear-wheel, four-wheel, or all-wheel drive. Regardless, you don’t have to do this as often as you might think; you just want to be consistent with the pattern you set.

For instance, you might be able to wait 15,000 miles between tire rotations, assuming you don’t have an AWD or 4WD vehicle. In the grand scheme of car maintenance, this is one that can be bumped down your priority list.

Power Steering Flush

This is not a routine maintenance item, although it’s often sold as such. I have yet to encounter a manufacturer recommended maintenance schedule for a power steering flush service. Unless you have a leak that is causing low power steering fluid, or if you’ve had contaminants in the system, you can probably delay or skip this one worry-free.

Chris:  For parts, services, and products that consumers can forego when they’re trying to save money, a gentle reminder that your brand will be there when the customer is ready can be a great way to maintain trust and stay top-of-mind.

We like to remind our brand partners that the content we create for them has a long tail – it takes weeks or even months for an episode of TV featuring your brand to go from the production shoot to its national on-air premiere.  But beyond its premiere, each episode of Brenton Productions’ automotive shows is re-aired at least 7 additional times, giving your branded content additional months and sometimes years of exposure.  The economic climate and purchasing attitudes of your consumers can change quite a bit in that amount of time – so when they’re ready for those services and upgrades they’ve been putting off, you’ll be first on their mind.

Your brand isn’t just an automotive part. It’s part of a bigger story. Find out how we collaborate with brands to create compelling content that informs and inspires a highly-targeted audience on MotorTrendTV.

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