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As service intervals extend and vehicles enjoy less downtime, garage managers have to fill their workshop bays in other ways—hence Renault Trucks Bristol's new freefit clutch service. It's proving so successful that other dealerships will surely follow suit.
T., be successful, service dealers have to develop a special relationship with their customers. Maintenance work has to be carried out quickly, to the highest standards and at a fair price too. But to stay ahead of the game you also need to be pro-active—to look for ways of giving clients that little bit extra while their vehicles are in the workshop.
Renault Trucks Bristol dealership has done just that with its pioneering Free Fit service on all makes of clutches. Whether a vehicle is recovered into the workshop or driven in by prior arrangement, the clutch assembly (cover, plate and bearing) will be replaced at trade price and fitted free of charge.
The work is covered by a too,000-mile, two-year warranty, uses only genuine OF parts and is backed up throughout the UK and mainland Europe by Renault's entire CV dealer network. The items can be changed during the workshop's 24-hour operation and can be supplied for all makes of chassis.
Bristol's clutch Free Fit program, which is supported by Sachs UK. will eventually be added to RVI UK's All Makes truck and trailer parts service, as other dealers take it on board.
The man behind the idea is RT Bristol's aftersales manager Mike Patchett, who sees the clutch Free Fit as just one step along the road to a much wider initiative that is expected to include radiators, alternators, gearboxes, batteries and special offers.
There's no charge for labour on specific work, he stresses: "We sell the new parts at trade prices and benefit from increasing the amount of work going through the garage."
At present RT Bristol has 14 skilled trades. men and has advertised for another three, but the way the project is developing more may be needed. "Who knows where it will end?" says Patchett. "The options are endless."
From next month the Avonmouth workshop will also offer free servicing on accompanying trailers; customers will only pay for replacement parts and lubricants.
Patchett is currently talking to Wabco and Knorr Bremse about securing the necessary technical training and the parts backup to work on ABS, ASR and other high-tech systems.
So if any make of artic or drawbar outfit rolls in to RTB's yard for whatever reason—a new clutch, a service or other work, and the trailer is about due for a service or a quick repair, then it could make economic sense to let Bristol handle the whole package and save on downtime.
The servicing embellishments started to materialise last year when, fed up with seeing his tachograph rollers rusting in a corner of the workshop, Patchett decided to set up the Avonmouth Tacho and Speed Limiter Centre in a nearby but separate location.
This spin-off unit covers all makes of trucks and has pulled in a huge amount of work from the surrounding area. Then, four months ago, he launched the free clutch fitting service. It's been so successful that at least six other Renault dealerships have added it to their portfolios.
Sachs UK proved extremely helpful in providing training and a technical helpline, and the Avonmouth branch of Finelist's Truckline is on hand to supply any make of clutch assembly at short notice. The fitters are all well versed in repairing "other-makes" and there's an ample selection of special and universal tools for ensuring correct alignment or to replace spigot bearings.
"So far we've changed more than 20 vehicle clutches," says Patchett. "We're presently running at five a week. That isn't bad considering we're only just getting the service off the ground."
Most of the new clutches have gone into 38 to 41-tonne artics and drawbars, but more recently the workshop has replaced several in the 7.3-14-tonne range. A number of clutches have been fitted free of charge in tractive units for Ryder and TLS Truck Rentals, with several going into Royal Mail vehicles, although these fleets have their own repair facilities.
On average a clutch swap takes about four to five hours depending on the type and specification, and RT Bristol charges only for the cover, pressure plate and bearing. The Free Fit cost of changing a clutch assembly on an MAN F90 26.422 would be p643.
"Naturally," adds Patchett, "the work's very much dependent on clutch failures, either in Avonmouth or recovered to the area." But he stresses: "RT Bristol also has to be ultracompetitive—ie fast, cheap and efficient—to compete with other organisations. It has to make economic sense."
Such is Patchett's enthusiasm that he's considering setting up the Avonmouth Free Fit Centre: a stand-alone facility that would be devoted exclusively to free fit work. It seems to work in the car world," he says, "so providing the price is right and the quality of work is high, why shouldn't it work for commercials?"
• by Bryan Jarvis