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Does It Matter If Millennials Don't Know How Cars Work?

23 Novembre 2012 - Forbes

Does It Matter If Millennials Don't Know How Cars Work?

Baby Boomers have traditionally exhibited a strong love affair with their automobiles, partly because back in the day, fiddling around with an engine didn’t require an advanced degree.

They spent hours in the garage working under the hood and lavished their cars with care and routine maintenance. “In the past, it was a rite-of-passage that fathers and sons changed oil together,” says David Portalatin of NPD Group’s automotive aftermarket division.

Fast-forward to today and Millennial-aged car owners are more likely to spend their time downloading playlists for driving around than to research car parts and inner workings. Millennials, having grown up with sophisticated technology, just expect stuff to work and are less interested in figuring out “how” it works than previous generations. It’s increasingly unlikely they even know how to unlock the hood of their vehicle. They seem only to care about where the on-off switch is located.

“Cars are more complex with their controlled technology and information systems,” says Jiffy Lube’s Jeff Lack. “The fly-by-wire means that when you push down on the pedal, you’re not doing anything mechanical. You are pushing on an electrical signal to motor the engine.” Jessi Lang of Motor Trend adds, “Fewer and fewer people have the particular skills to fix these increasingly complicated control systems. It used to be possible to build a basic used vehicle, but today [it] requires professional skills.”

While technical enhancements may be a useful excuse for the growing lack of general vehicle know-how, it’s undeniable that many Millennials are flat-out ignorant about vehicle details that used to be common knowledge. Half “almost always” use unbranded gasoline despite the fact unbranded gas is more likely to cause engine damage, reports Phillips 66. Most Millennial-aged women (89%) and Millennial-aged men (79%) are not considered “tire smart,” which means they do not check their tire pressure monthly, do not know where to find correct tire pressure, and do not check tires before they drive on them, according to Rubber Manufacturers Association. Millennials are less likely than older drivers to have read their owner’s manual (50% vs. 60%), according to North Carolina State University researchers.

Plus, Millennials retain inaccurate information since they tend to follow one-size-fits-all guidelines. “The standard 3,000 miles oil change is a myth,” says Lang, who also serves as a Phillips 66 spokesperson. “Changing your oil is determined by road conditions and driving habits. It’s not based on miles.”

When it comes to the inner (and outer) workings of their cars, Millennials don’t know much, don’t realize they may be misinformed, or are disinterested in learning. Of course, this might be because when something isn’t working, tech service assistance is just a phone call away. Now, the auto repair and maintenance industry is using social media to overhaul its Millennial outreach strategies.

“One of the biggest changes with social media is over brand ownership,” says Jiffy Lube’s Lack. “Owning the brand doesn’t mean what it used to. [To Millennials], it means to co-create together.” In July, Jiffy Lube became the latest repair or maintenance chain to introduce an official Facebook page in order to keep Millennials “engaged and loyal to our brand,” says Lack.

However, clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook brand page isn’t the same as seeing Millennials become repeat paying customers. And it doesn’t mean these drivers will drive an extra mile to a BP gas station simply for BP-branded gas. One in two Millennials purchase unbranded gas because it’s cheaper than branded gas and 54% feel cost is the most important factor when selecting gas, reports Phillips 66. “They are loyal to a good experience if you deliver a good value,” says Lack. “I find it’s less about what you say and more about what others say about you that influences their decisions.”

Mechanics say the key to building loyalty among Millennial customers is through transparency. “You must not overwhelm them when they aren’t familiar with their vehicles. When you say to them they need a transmission flush and to consider radiator fluid and they don’t know what that does, it’s intimidating,” says Lack. “We’ve found they are receptive to getting these services as long as they are presented in a straight-forward manner that isn’t daunting.”

“I have a lot of conversations with our franchisees on how to market to different groups going forward,” says Jiffy Lube’s Lack. “We break our consumers into two groups: Millennials and everyone else.” Jiffy Lube advertises to “everyone else” via TV spots, radio, newspaper ads, and direct mail. Millennials, however, require additional outreach, says Lack. “It’s not as if Millennials aren’t seeing those other things, but we are adopting new media [tactics], like pay-per-click or apps for the phone, to [reach them.]”

Millennials and older drivers also differ on who to turn to in order to receive repair advice. “When [Baby Boomers] sought to do projects on their own, they first referred to the manual and number two, they asked the guy behind the counter,” says NPD Group’s Portalatin. “Millennials have flipped that convention upside down. They first go online to a social network to find friends. Then they might go to forums to seek other opinions,” he says. They rarely refer to driver’s manuals or seek advice from the guy working at the local auto shop retailer.

Meanwhile, gender stereotypes hold true when it comes to auto repair. Millennial men are more knowledgeable and hands-on about car care across the board. Yet Millennial-age women are increasingly becoming more proactive about conducting their own research before heading to the auto shop. “It’s well-known that this industry has had some sexist practices,” says Lang. “Women recognize they are vulnerable to being ripped off so they want to seek out knowledge beforehand.”

Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that Millennials will ever crawl under their vehicles to do it themselves like the Baby Boomer generation. “When you’re younger, your personal economic situations typically mean you do more do-it-yourself projects,” says Lack. “Over time, when your finances change, you see more do-it-for-me [transactions]. You don’t often see that trend move the other way.” That said, windshield wipers are the most common do-it-yourself auto repair project among Millennials. This project only happens after a heavy rainstorm.

 

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