This edition of Technically Speaking® is going to make people hate me more or love me more than they do normally. Realize that many retail auto parts stores today offer free installation of wiper blades if you buy the blades from the auto parts store. Is this a good deal? The answer in some situations is, “Yes.” Is this a removing-frustration deal? The answer in almost all cases is, “Yes.” Customers hate installing wiper blades.

The story on wiper blades is like many other tasks. It’s simple when you know how, but it’s a pain in the backside if you only do it on your own car once or twice a year. It’s something that doesn’t require a high level of skill but it does require a high level of common sense and observation.

Parts stores that offer free wiper-blade replacement are replacing many, many sets a month, if not hundreds of sets a month. Usually there is an individual in the store who can grab a set of wiper blades, grab a set of whatever adapters or clips are needed and go out and install a new set of wiper blades in the rain without even getting his shirt wet. Maybe the same should be true in your shop.

Should you install wiper blades for free? That’s a question that can really only be answered by you. Just realize that some people are doing it. No one is saying what the sale price of those wiper blades is. You can easily build some charge into the retail selling price if you desire a certain margin on wiper blades. That would cover installation. Some people feel that if a customer is in for other repair work and you determine that a wiper blade needs to be replaced because it’s torn or worn, you should charge the labor rate. Others feel that if it’s done just as a stand-alone sale you should not.

My feeling is this. Because market demands and trends indicate that wiper-blade installation is being done for no charge when a customer pays full retail for the wipers, why not “go with the flow?” If your competition is doing it at least be aware that they are doing it and consider following suit. It’s really irritating for a customer to know that he can get his wiper blades installed for free and then see a charge of XYZ dollars on your bill for doing so. They don’t ever look for what the wiper blades themselves cost from you or the person who is installing them for free, so they don’t realize the true value of the service.

In the area of light bulbs, it’s often a different story. Some light bulbs today are extremely complicated to change. There are car-service clinics presented by various auto trade associations that have service safety inspection days. Part of service safety and inspection is determining whether any safety-related lights are burned out. Depending upon who’s sponsoring the event, these lights may be replaced on a no-charge basis. This is usually a once-a-year type of function and is something special and outside the norm. It’s not unusual to charge a labor rate for the installation of light bulbs. Although popping in a new set of high-end front halogen bulbs is rather simple in some cases, in others it is difficult and time-consuming. Also, some lights that require a complete lens-assembly replacement are not usually replaced for free.

So, in summation, I recommend that wiper blades in 99% of the cases be replaced for free, provided the customer is paying full retail or whatever price you determine for the wiper blades. In the case of light bulbs, if the customer is having other work done in your shop and you do a wide inspection as part of a service safety inspection as part of a lube, oil, filter, brake job or whatever, you can make the determination. Again, if they are looking for a discounted price on the product itself and also want the labor for free, from a business-model standpoint you probably can’t afford to do it. If, however, it’s a two-minute headlight installation and, incidentally, I believe in replacing both bulbs at the same time even if only one is burned out, I fully realize that the argument is that there is only one bad bulb, but I bet he likes balanced lighting. So, for bulbs, in most cases, my answer is, “No,” don’t charge. For wiper blades, in most cases, I say, “Yes.” Are you going to lose money? I doubt it. Are you going to get additional business, keep the customers you have and perhaps even bring in some new ones? I fully think so.

Whatever you do, do it on purpose. Don’t have it happen by accident and please don’t listen to anyone who says, “We’ve always done it this way.” The old way of doing business went away a long time ago. Today we have social media, marketing trends and other things that are substantially different from the way things were done before. And please don’t hate me if you don’t agree with my philosophy on this particular service area.