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  Management Feature

Menus and Maintenance Schedules: The Most Powerful Tools in Your Shop!

Posted 12/10/2012
By Charlie Polston

Do you have a service menu? I’m talking about a nice, high-quality document that you hand out to each vehicle owner when they come into your shop. I mean an easy-to-understand, concise menu that lists your most commonly performed preventive maintenance services. A flyer that explains what the service is and why it’s important to have it done … and what it costs. So, do you have that kind of service menu?

I’ve visited at least 100 automotive shops this year and trained several hundred owners, managers and techs in the classroom. From my experience, sadly, only about a fourth of service centers in North America have a service menu or maintenance schedule.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • About half of the dealerships have a menu.
  • Many of the fast lubes and tire shops have a few of their services posted on the wall, but few have a menu to hand out.
  • Most independent repair centers have nothing.

Excuses for not having a menu vary, but generally fall into four categories:

  1. “We fix broken cars; therefore, there is no such thing as a ‘repair’ menu.”
  2. “I know I need one … in fact, I take it home and work on it every night.” (Only problem is, they’ve been “working on it” for three years.)
  3. “We work on multiple ages, makes and models of vehicles; a menu would be too complex and time-consuming to build.”
  4. “I want one, but honestly, I don’t have any idea where to start, how to price it, or what services to include; it’s overwhelming, so I just keep putting it off.”

OK, excuses aside, the primary reason your shop needs a service menu is to aid in the sale of preventive maintenance services. If you’re in the business of fixing broken cars, if all you intend to do is be a repair shop, then there is no need for a menu. I say that tongue-in-cheek, because if all you do is repair business, then it won’t be long before you are out of business. The future of the automotive business is preventive maintenance; therefore, you need a menu!

Here are some universal guidelines to follow as you produce your menu.

One Size Fits All (Almost…)

It is easy to have standardized maintenance services and pricing across a broad range of vehicles. For example, a power steering fluid exchange includes a half-gallon of fluid, a chemical flush, and about .5 hours of labor. It doesn’t matter if you do the service on a VW Jetta or an old Ford 7.3 diesel pickup – the price of the service is the same.

For coolant flush services, you can have a standard price that includes up to two gallons of antifreeze, and then have a statement that says, “for larger systems, add $20 per additional gallon of antifreeze.”

Likewise, a tire rotation is the same price across a broad range of passenger cars. Granted, you might have a higher price for pickups and SUVs or for trucks over one ton, but you will still have only two price-points for tire rotations on your menu.

The Purpose is to Sell Maintenance

Most of your customers come to your shop because something is broken or because they need an oil change. Everyone knows when their car is broken; everyone knows that they have to change their oil from time to time.

Preventive maintenance is off their radar because most vehicle owners don’t know what to do to keep their car from breaking down. You do, and the menu is your primary sales tool.

Mr. Shop Owner, have you ever seen your loyal customers at another shop having their maintenance work done? These folks know you do quality work; they know when they need complex electrical work or when they have catastrophic engine trouble that you are their go-to shop. They know you only employ ASE master-certified technicians who have been with you more than 20 years. They know you are their mechanic, the best in town. Yet, they go somewhere else for oil changes and preventive maintenance!

The reason is usually because your service adviser didn’t ask for the maintenance business or (heaven forbid) they sent them to another shop for “the small stuff.” The service menu allows you to educate your customers on the plethora of preventive maintenance services your shop provides.

Don’t Over-Think It

Don’t get hung up with the fact that some imports need a timing belt at 90,000 miles or that the linkage needs to be adjusted on one model year of a specific pickup that’s 15 years old. I’m not saying these things are unimportant, rather the menu is not the place to get make and model specific. If you do, you’ll end up with a 10-page document that will confuse everyone – service advisers and customers.

You can’t have 12 different automatic transmission services; it’s too overwhelming and requires too much thought process for the advisers to sell it and the customers to buy it. Therefore, I’d suggest you have a two-tiered price for transmission services, one regular and one synthetic. I have hundreds of clients who follow this strategy with great success.

Focus on Your Local Climate and Driving Conditions

Owners’ manuals are written very broadly to cover “normal driving.” Also, the owners’ manuals of late-model cars are virtually silent when it comes to maintenance. Most OEM recommendations can be summed up as follows: gas it up, change the oil when the car tells you to, and you’re good to go! How absurd.

Your menu reflects your years of experience servicing vehicles in your unique climate and harsh driving conditions. For example, I live in Oklahoma. In a seven-month period, we saw -30ºF and +115ºF, we saw major drought, which caused serious dust, then it rained too much all at once and places flooded. That really wreaks havoc on automobile systems, doesn’t it? Wow!

There is nowhere on the planet that has normal driving conditions in a mild climate. It’s either too hot or too cold, too dusty or too wet, too slow or too fast, too much heavy-duty towing or too much stop-and-go traffic … it’s anything but normal. That’s why your menu takes precedent over anything the OEM says. You are the expert in your local community and you know how to keep cars trouble-free and fun to drive.

Let me know if you need any help with your menu. I work with a nationwide team of more than 900 automotive professionals who know how to customize a menu that targets the needs of your customers. The Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association says automotive shops left $64 billion of preventive maintenance on the table last year. A service menu will help your shop capture your fair share of that business in 2013.

On behalf of my beautiful wife, Angela, and my sweet daughters, Beth and Hannah, I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of management articles that are contributed to AutoInc. by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2013, AMI’s knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today’s service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) Program.

Charlie Polston

Charlie Polston has been a customer retention and profitability consultant with BG Products Inc. for more than 30 years. He has been a frequent speaker at the National Automotive Dealers Association’s (NADA) annual convention. Additionally, he has conducted an AMI workshop at CARS. You can contact Charlie at or call him at (918) 693-0164. For more information on training, email Charlie Polston at



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