Jan. 21, 2008 – New technology can mean a longer service wait

By Steve Bauer
Managing Editor
New motorcycle owners are having to wait longer to get their bikes repaired as increases in technology on new bikes in the past five years — particularly fuel injection and diagnostics — make it exceedingly difficult for dealers to make proper repairs in less than a day.
According to the J.D. Power and Associates’ 2007 Motorcycle Competitive Information Study, nearly 76 percent of new bike owners wait 1-2 days before their bike is ready to be picked up, an increase of 9 percent over five years ago. Not surprisingly, the biggest increase was in the touring and cruiser segment (up 10 percent), which according to dealerships interviewed take up a majority of their service time.

Fuel injection
The biggest culprit for longer service times is the inclusion of fuel injection on many new cruisers on the market. Unlike carbureted engines, problems concerning fuel injection often need to be diagnosed by computer, and assembly/disassembly is also a time-consuming chore.
“The technology is long overdue on motorcycles, but a lot of my customers, especially those who have owned bikes a long time, expect to be able to pick up their bikes the same day,” said Walter Burn, owner of Burn Motorsports in Henderson, Nev. “Unless you’re a big shop with all the equipment and parts readily on-hand, it’s increasingly difficult to promise customers same-day service.”
Burns adds that customers should start viewing bike service like they would getting their car serviced.
“Unless you’re coming in for an oil change or something simple like that, expect to have a ride home, because it’s likely a one or two-day job, at least in my dealership.”
Steve Carter, service department manager at Nielsen Harley-Davidson near Osseo, Wis., says that as more bikes become equipped with fuel injection, service departments will catch up and he believes wait times will go down.
“Most of Harley’s bikes have been fuel-injected for some time now, and we’ve added equipment and trained staff to meet those demands,” he said. “Yes, there’s no question that fuel-injected engines bring a whole new list of complications with them, but the key for dealers is to invest the time and money into tools and education, and you’ll be able to maintain a consistent turnover on your service jobs. I’d say 90 percent of our service bikes are ready within a day, but two years ago that number was closer to 40-50 percent.”

bigger headaches
One of the biggest problems dealers face in servicing new bikes, particularly heavy cruisers and touring bikes, is the overload of technology that some of them have never been educated on by OEMs.
Tony Cresar, service department manager for Pacific Honda/Kawasaki/Suzuki in Eugene, Ore., says many of the Gold Wings, particularly those with aftermarket products, require advanced training to service. He’s found that many technicians lack the basic knowledge to deal with some of the new features, and it leaves him short-handed when several new bikes are in the shop at one time.
“I see customers in here with in-dash GPS systems that have failed and expect to be out on the road later that afternoon. I’m the only one in this dealership who has any sort of experience with GPS systems, and you never know what you’re going to find once you open that dash. I’ve seen things as simple as shorted out wires to having to replace the entire screen. A job like that I tell customers takes a minimum of 2-3 days.”
Cresar also says that other technology that’s just now coming onto the motorcycle scene — digital lane sensors, tire pressure monitoring systems and wireless electronic communication — all are major influences on the delays customers are seeing in shops, even if their bikes don’t come equipped with any of them.
“One bike can tie up two of my technicians if it’s a complicated job,” he said. “Even something as simple as resetting a tire pressure monitoring system can take several hours if the diagnostics don’t match what you’re seeing on the bike itself.”

Time-saving tips
With emerging technology becoming more prevalent on motorcycles each year, industry experts say it’s up to dealers to become more efficient with their time, and understand the technology is here to stay.
“I think dealers need to be more aware of the technical support that’s available for them, especially from aftermarket companies,” said Ted Gartner, media relations manager for GPS manufacturer Garmin. “Our company offers both online and telephone support for technicians, along with in-house training on our products. Don’t assume all systems operate the same. On average, 90 percent of problems with our motorcycle navigational units can be serviced in a matter of hours.”
Carter says dealers should also be more aware of the skills their entry-level techs bring with them, as many from schools such as Harley University and the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, practice on new bikes that feature fuel injection and other new technology, and can bring with them a wealth of knowledge about diagnostics on particular models.
“Service departments are no longer a one-man show,” he said. “Even experienced techs are seeing a lot of this stuff for the first time, so take advantage of techs who already have a particular skill set in place. Not only will it save you time and keep the customer happy, but it will save you money in the long run as well.”

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