Mobile repair unit just what I need

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The broken console latch on my Ford Flex aggravates me every time I open the front-seat storage bin. We took the Flex to the nearest Ford dealership. Pictures were taken, and the warranty repair for the broken latch and a couple of other small interior trim items have been approved.

But the latch is still broken. The last several weeks have been filled with work travel, visitors and other commitments that have taken precedence to spending a half-day at the dealership. I’ve been wishing the dealership offered a service to pick the car up and deliver it when it was done.

Customers at Sonic Automotive Inc. dealerships soon won’t have that dilemma.

Sonic, the nation’s third-largest dealership group, is spending millions of dollars to put iPads and iPhones in the hands of most dealership employees.

In the service department, those iPads will enable Sonic dealerships to set up a mobile repair unit. They can travel to a customer’s home or office and take care of quick repairs like the broken trim in my Flex, says David Padgett, Sonic’s vice president of fixed operations.

There’s not a Ford-brand Sonic store near me. We’ll get this repair done the old-fashioned way. But in the future, I’ll be looking for a dealership that can offer such a time-saving service for minor fixes.

More dealerships are likely to add concierge-type repair services, says Mark Brandon, founder of Dealer Logix, the company working with Sonic to build the iPad service app. A few clients beyond Sonic are ready to jump in with mobile repair units because they are expected to help drive better customer retention, Brandon said.

Consumers do seem to be drawn to tablet technology. More than 57 percent think retailers that use tablets and other mobile devices are more innovative, according to a survey conducted in February for mobile commerce vendor AisleBuyer.

For me, the appeal goes beyond the cool factor. A dealership that can save me from fighting cross-town traffic and waiting around its service department will probably keep my business.

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com.

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