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Perception is Reality

How the public perceives the aftermarket impacts us all. Consider what happens when a motorist is told that his aftermarket repair shop can’t fix a problem.


I’ve written about my Volkswagen Jetta in this space several times in the past. It’s been pretty good fodder for column ideas, especially when I need parts. While the stories have been somewhat painful for my wallet, they’ve been good in that they’ve illustrated in real-world terms some of the frustrations distributors have with product and information availability.

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So in the spirit of using my car as another example, here’s my newest tale. Last month the battery light came on in my Jetta. Bad. So I took it to the locally owned shop. They’ve always treated me right and I’ve always felt their technical expertise was on par with (or better than) most places, including the dealer.

After a day without my car, I got the call from the service writer to tell me that the problem was beyond their abilities. And then the really bad news: The car was being sent to the dealer. I could feel dollar bills flying out of my pocket.


In the end, I was without my vehicle for two days. It was repaired, and all ended well — for the car, anyway. But I drove away from this service dealer with a bad feeling. After all, my guy couldn’t fix my car — he had to send it to a specialist.

Considering my profession involves these kinds of topics, I wanted to talk to the shop to figure out what was so difficult that they had to send it out. I talked at length with the owner and the service writer. They explained that sometimes, at a certain point, they just can’t justify spending any more time on a vehicle and need to send it to the dealer. Sometimes this had to do with some sort of OE tool they don’t have. Or it may be some repair information they either can’t have, can’t find or won’t pay for. Because of what I do for a living, I understand these things. They appreciated the fact that I “get it.”


Of course, I am in the minority. Most people don’t “get it,” nor do they want to understand the politics of automotive repair. They just want their vehicles fixed.

The repair process is much more than fixing cars, as we all know. Motorists want their vehicles fixed, yes, but they also want it done at a fair price and done completely. They want to know, when the repair is over, that the vehicle was handled by a professional, that their hard-earned money was spent with a technician who knows what he’s doing.


Consider what happens when one of your customers has to send a vehicle to the dealer, regardless of the reason. It screams loud and clear that the aftermarket isn’t able to fix the vehicle. It says that the aftermarket is not technically savvy. That our parts are not OE grade. That our vehicles aren’t in expert care. That our technicians are somehow less than a dealer tech. And that’s a problem.

Yes, there is an agreement from vehicle manufacturers to provide repair information. Yes, there is ongoing efforts to legislate the access of repair information. But none of this is free, and if repair shops are not willing to spend the dollars on the information, tooling and equipment required to properly and thoroughly service today’s and tomorrow’s vehicles, neither legislation nor handshake agreements will magically make aftermarket technicians able to fix current OE problems. And that impacts every single one of us in the aftermarket.

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