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AI Can Help Dealers Bring More Customers Into Their Service Centers – and Their Showrooms

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With cars in short supply – and more expensive than ever – drivers are keeping their vehicles longer than ever, with the average passenger car on the road for over 13 years in 2022. That means more maintenance – and for the dealers who sold those vehicles to drivers, it could mean lots of new business for their repair and maintenance departments. Indeed, surveys show that 55% of car owners would prefer to have dealers service their vehicles; after all, no one knows the vehicle better than the people who manufactured and sold it, many drivers believe.

Despite that, many consumers seek out cheaper non-dealer service options, often out of concern that dealer services will cost too much, that any existing service agreement will expire without them realizing it, or that their service agreements (if they even purchased one) won’t cover the service or repairs they need. Instead of losing out on these customers, dealer repair shops can implement advanced technologies – using artificial intelligence, data analysis, and computer vision technologies – to provide customers with a precise estimate of how much a repair is going to cost, and present them with the most cost-effective options for carrying out that repair.

In most cases today, in order to capture more business for their service departments, dealers – of both new and used vehicles – will offer customers extended warranty vehicle service contracts, which feature discounted or even free service for an array of vehicle repairs and service. Although it sounds like a good deal – enabling customers to get better-quality services at discounted prices – many consumers just don’t trust these agreements, which often contain small print loopholes’ that exclude coverage for common repairs or service procedures. Experts recommend doing extensive research before buying one of these agreements – while others simply recommend skipping them altogether.

For many drivers, the risks associated with these agreements (which often have to be paid for in advance) just aren’t worth it – and they would rather take their chances with third-party service centers. But even less-expensive non-OEM parts and service – subject to the same inflationary pressures as OEM parts – are increasing in price. For many, that means either repairing their vehicle themselves (if they have the skills) – or eschewing a repair and hoping for the best. According to US government statistics, 39% of Americans would have to go into debt in order to cover an unexpected expense (like a vehicle repair) of as little as $400, while that percentage would rise to 59% if the expense was $1000 or more.

Those grim statistics represent an opportunity for dealers to attract customers seeking lower-cost and higher-quality services and repair. Implementing new tech solutions will help capture this opportunity. AI-based analysis systems can enable dealer shops to acquire in-depth data about the vehicles customers bring in for service, enabling them to begin to build detailed profiles on those vehicles. Using that data, repair staff can focus on detecting potential problems before they occur. Instead of having to do expensive and time consuming exploratory work in order to determine the problem, shops can deploy accurate, AI-based machine learning systems which can deliver in-depth data on the issues and provide indications of exactly what needs to be done.

AI systems can also save consumers money on parts. Data garnered from built-in and externally operated sensors – which can gather thousands of data points on the condition of a vehicle, how the car was driven, whether it was involved in accidents that could impact a repair process, and much more – along with high-resolution cameras that produce images that can be analyzed utilizing computer vision technology, enable repair shops to build a profile on all of a vehicle’s parts, along with indications on when parts need to be replaced. For example, often, a major engine problem has its roots in a filter that the shop neglected to change, or a leak that went undetected. By keeping a constantly-updating profile on vehicles dealers can rely on this system to predict when a part needs to be replaced or what other preventive maintenance needs to be undertaken. Repair personnel will have a much better idea of what needs to be done, and how, enabling customers to avoid major repair costs down the line.

Dealer shops are also in a much better position to utilize AI systems than their competition. With in-depth information about the vehicles they sell – courtesy of the manufacturers who provide them with those vehicles – dealers have access to better and more in-depth data about vehicles than non-dealer repair shops. With that data included in the AI-equipped analysis system, dealers will be able to provide far more accurate information to customers on what needs to be done, in a much more efficient – and less expensive – manner.

Dealer services are almost always going to be more expensive than those provided by third-party shops – but AI-based repair analysis can be an important tool in reducing costs and hassles for customers. With systems like these in place, dealers will be able to retain far more business than they would have been able to with standard service agreements. And with the reputation for good, fair, and effective service that AI will help them achieve, dealers will be able to bring in more customers to their showrooms, too.

Neil Alliston is the executive vice president of product & strategy at Ravin.ai, a platform building the world's most advanced digital vehicle inspections.