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Aircon's not to be sniffed at

Kevin Brown, market manager at Valeo Service, says garages will only take full advantage of the profit-making potential of air conditioning system maintenance if it becomes a standard element of the annual service.

Few garages have geared themselves up to take advantage of a potentially lucrative new business stream: this year alone 700,000 new cars will be sold with an aircon unit, and after 12 to 24 months each of these will need servicing and the cabin filter replaced.

While some manufacturers are starting to put air conditioning into their service schedules, in many instances it is not a standard requirement and is therefore often left out of the annual maintenance check. It doesn't even get a specific mention in the Office of Fair Trading's recommended car servicing check list.

In tandem with the garage not actively looking to service and repair air conditioning units, many drivers are unaware of the need to have a regular aircon service and filter replacement. It is only at a time when the driver may notice tell-tale signs of a poor performing system such as an unpleasant odour, grease marks on the windscreen or excessive moisture in the car, that they are forced to act and will then take it into a garage for repair. Unfortunately, the driver may have left it too late, with the result that the compressor fails, which can be extremely costly for the car owner.

But garages must ensure their technicians have adequate training in fault diagnosis, repair, service and maintenance. A short intensive course in air conditioning, such as that offered by City & Guilds, will supplement the basic information every technician should have and will enable the garage to offer an improved service.

A number of training and soft franchising initiatives are also on offer from companies such as ours. The training normally concentrates on the key areas of understanding systems, fault diagnosis and service and also on the business and marketing opportunities.

Although the air conditioning repair and maintenance market is developing, it is still a neglected area. Those garages which do offer it as a service still need to promote it in a much more effective way. .

We want to reach the situation where the driver of a car with an air conditioning unit more than a year old understands that it will need regular service, maintenance and possible replacement of parts. To meet this need, garages must acquire the technical expertise to provide a quality service.

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