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Helping customers without a tire in the trunk

Portrait of depressed man leaning against broken car

Spare a hand: helping customers without a tire in the trunk

In the old days every car had a spare in the trunk and it was part of a dealer’s job to make sure it was in working order. Perhaps they even made sure the customer knew how to change it when the dreaded time came. But those days are long gone. As the American Automobile Association (AAA) has been lamenting of late, some manufacturers have jettisoned the spare tire completely in favor of an inflation kit.

According to AAA figures, about 36 percent of 2015 model vehicles sold do not have a spare tire. That’s up from just five percent of vehicles sold nine years ago. AAA calculates that more than 29 million vehicles sold in the last 10 model years do not have a spare tire. Why? Because manufacturers believe doing away with the spare improved mileage and saves space.

Are we just inflating the problem here?

AAA is campaigning to bring back the spare, largely because while spare tires are becoming a thing of the past, punctures aren’t. AAA still deals with four million flat tire-related calls each year and that figure hasn’t fallen in the past five years.

The inflator kits that have replaced spares—while they are lighter than a tire—aren’t cheap. They can cost up to $300 and they need to be replaced regularly—roughly every four to eight years. Inflation kits aren’t necessarily intuitive to use either, so motorists need to educate themselves before they get a puncture so they know what to do, which could be an unpleasant realization on the roadside at what is already a very stressful time.

Some 82 percent of drivers claim to know how to change a tire—but most will be mystified when confronted by the inflation kit’s instructions.

Add to that the complication that there are circumstances in which an inflator kit just won’t work. According to AAA tests, for the kit to be effective the tire must be punctured in the tread surface and the object must remain in the tire. The kit coats the inner wall of the tire with a sealant and a compressor re-inflates the tire. But if the puncture-causing object is no longer in the tire, a sidewall is damaged or a blowout occurs, a tire inflator kit is useless. The end result is your customer will be stranded by the side of the road, waiting for an expensive tow truck. On the other hand, if the kit does work, the cost of repairing the tire can be up to 10 times higher.

“Consumers may mistakenly believe that inflator kits are a one-size-fits-all alternative to installing a spare tire,” AAA managing director of automotive engineering and repair John Nielsen said. “The reality is these kits can accommodate specific types of tire damage, but having the option to install a spare tire can save stranded drivers time and money.”

How to help customers without a spare tire

There are a few things that you can do to help your clients if they don’t have a spare tire.

  1. Inflation kit replacement

    Your customers might not be aware that their kit needs to be replaced every four to eight years. Ask them when they last replaced it and remind them that they need to do so. Stock kits in your shop so your customers can replace them easily.

  2. Puncture know-how

    People may know how to change a tire, but knowing how to use the inflation kit is a different thing entirely. Offer customers a quick lesson on how to use the kits. These are the sorts of customer service additions that show you care about their safety and they’ll remember it when it comes time to get new tires.

  3. On road support

    If you have the capacity to do it, give the customer a contact card to keep in their glovebox and tell them they can call you in the event of a puncture so you can talk them through the repair. It makes it much more likely they will come to you to get the tire replaced or repaired.

  4. Mobile repair

    Do you have a mobile repair/replacement service? If so this is the time to tell your customer that you’re there to help. If not, check whether they’re a member of AAA or another automobile club in case they do get stuck with a flat.

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