“What do you mean, ‘scheduled maintenance’? My car’s running just fine.”

If you’ve ever felt the urge to tear your hair out when a customer says something like that, you’re not alone.

People spend big bucks to buy sporty new cars or road-dominating pickups. Yet when it comes to servicing that vehicle, many balk because of the cost or inconvenience. Their vehicles suffer for it, wearing out or needing costly repairs years before they should.

How, then, to persuade folks to bring the car, truck or minivan in for a service or oil and filter change when they suspect it’s unnecessary?

Here are a few tips for helping people understand that regular maintenance is in their own interest, keeping that sweet ride from becoming a jalopy.

  1. Remind them of the dentist.

You must explain to customers the “why” of maintenance, says Steven Hernandez, owner operator of AA Auto & Air Conditioning in Albuquerque. An analogy can help when you’re going over what the scheduled maintenance is and why they should take you up on it.

Hernandez reminds them of dental checkups.

“You go to the dentist every year for cleaning and this and that,” he tells customers. “Why do you do that? To prevent any problems with your teeth. … Well, your car is the same way. You do the maintenance on your car; you bring it in, because if you don’t, it can lead to bigger problems.”

  1. Build trust over time.

Mike Hostetler, president and general manager of Mighty Auto Parts in Albuquerque, sells batteries to other shops. He once asked a top customer, “How do you sell so many batteries?”

The chap replied that he tests the battery in every vehicle that comes in, whether it’s a 30-year-old clunker or a new car getting its very first oil change.

“Nine out of 10 times you can tell them, ‘Your battery’s good; here’s the printout,’” the customer continued. “‘We want you to have peace of mind and know that we’re checking all of these things for you, including your battery.’”

On the 10th time, when the battery does require replacing, you’ve built trust over time.

  1. Explain severe versus normal service.

You know the difference, but put yourself in your customer’s shoes. To the typical town-dweller or city slicker, “severe” might sound like driving up mountainsides or off-roading in the Mojave Desert.

“Who, me?” Mr. and Ms. Suburbia might think. “I only use the car to commute to work, drive to the store, and take my kids to soccer practice.”

It sounds counterintuitive to them, but many don’t realize that 70 percent of vehicles require a severe service schedule because the stop-and-go driving puts greater stress on the car, Hernandez says. Tell them that in much of the West and Southwest they will also have to make more make frequent oil and filter changes because of the dust, and other regions are prone to temperature extremes.

Many people rely on the oil light to know when to bring the car in, Hostetler says. “Those may not come on soon enough,” he says. “Check your owner’s manual and talk to a pro. Many suggest 5,000-mile intervals. It should be at least once a year.”

Let customers know about that sludge problem that ruins engines that don’t get serviced. “Sludge” is a persuasive word. The customer can almost feel and smell it clogging up the engine. Paint a picture.

  1. Cite successes.

Hernandez tells about one particular customer—a courier company—that is getting 350,000 to 400,000 miles out of its 40-sum Ford and Nissan vans, despite severe use. The vans are driven by three or four drivers a day, around the clock. The vans in use never cool off, and most routes involve city driving.

The secret to the vans’ longevity? The owner is a stickler for servicing the fleet.

 “He wants the maintenance done on time, and he wants everything that needs to be done,” Hernandez says. 

  1. Help them budget.

When a customer has a scheduled maintenance approaching and repairs might be expensive, Hernandez often suggests a plan to spread out the required maintenance.

Consider a vehicle that has 110,000 miles on it and should be serviced at 120,000. Hernandez suggests to the customer that he take care of the most important items immediately, others at 120,000 miles, and the rest at 123,000.

“We do bits of maintenance over time, so they don’t get nailed with a $1,000 bill,” he says. “It gives them an opportunity to plan for it, and I think that’s super important when dealing with customers.”

Get more tips on how scheduled maintenance can prevent costly engine repairs.