Eventually, you have to fix cars

Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.

One of the toughest parts of being in the automobile business is that no one has figured out how to keep cars running forever without repairs or maintenance.

Even if someone figures out how to build autos to last forever and the public avoids all potential crashes, it's not over. We would still have to supply the parts to maintain and repair vehicles and also make sure there are plenty of trained technicians to make it happen.

When I was in my teens, one way I earned money was repairing cars. You never knew who was going to show up with a problem and what it would take to fix it.

But when I look at today's vehicles, I realize just how much education and training it takes to keep them running in tip-top shape.

The big challenge of any retail establishment is people. After investing the time and money to find the right people and making sure they have the right training, you still have to keep those valuable employees.

And the more valuable an employee, the more others will notice and try to steal him or her away. It's a never-ending battle but an important part of running a modern dealership.

Making sure the service department is humming and running on all eight cylinders -- maybe that's four or six cylinders these days -- is a high priority.

New-car sales still drive profitability for the modern dealer, but ignoring the service department is playing with fire. Especially today, with the recent spate of recalls providing a great opportunity to increase service business, it's more important to customers than ever.

You can only wonder what Tesla will be doing as its products get older and acquire more miles. Like every other car, those cars will have maintenance, repairs and, yes, even recalls. Those are issues that even a company without dealerships to service customers must face.

Meanwhile, service has become more important in keeping customers happy and loyal to a brand and a dealership. The easiest way to lose a customer is for one to have an unhappy service experience.

In a simpler time, it was plugs, points and condensers. Those days are gone forever. It takes a real technician to keep today's vehicles running.

So when you have a great technician, do whatever it takes to keep him. He's that valuable.

You can reach Keith Crain at



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