Getting Used Vehicles Lot Ready
In his career, Ron Muller has essentially become a proud production line foreman.
The longtime service manager embraces the task of performing inspections for used vehicles. He examines interiors and underbodies with clockwork precision.
“It’s real important that everything’s up to snuff with the certification,” Muller notes. Because the vehicle “is going to leave here with an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on it. … It’s important not to miss anything—the vehicle has to show like it’s new.”
At this point, Muller, the service manager at Subaru of Morristown (N.J.), has reconditioned vehicles since certified used cars first burst onto the scene in earnest, in the mid 1990s. Nowadays, he has a refined process for all elements of reconditioning a vehicle.
That process didn’t just develop out of Muller’s passion for his profession, though. The approach was also refined out of necessity. Because, at his former employer—Muller Toyota, in Clinton, N.J.—the service manager sometimes felt there weren’t enough hours in the day to address every used vehicle that needed reconditioning.
“It can be hectic, just scheduling the time to actually put the technicians on it,” Muller says.
After thorough analysis, though, Muller now oversees a used-car reconditioning system that leaves vehicles rolling through his shop with assembly line efficiency.
Grinding Gears: The Problem
Back when he worked at Muller Toyota, Ron Muller oversaw used-car reconditioning from start to finish. He transformed used vehicles into Toyota-certified vehicles by meticulously poring over every necessary step.
First, used vehicles were appraised. Then, service histories were examined, the manufacturer was contacted to inquire about buyout figures, brake work was performed, and so forth.
But Muller wasn’t seeing a ton of used vehicles getting pushed through his shop.
The reason: the Toyota facility’s 16 technicians simply had a hard time consistently carving out time to address issues like certification inspections. It was a constant challenge.
“Say you sell 15 cars over a weekend; you might have 10 trades sitting there on Monday morning, waiting to get pushed through,” Muller says. “The biggest challenge is just finding the time to get them done in a timely manner.
“Because there’s a lot of money sitting, tied up, waiting for them to be front-line ready again.”
Gathering Steam: The Solution
While Muller takes pride in completing every element of the reconditioning process, he knows it can stretch on for the better part of two workdays, if you’re not careful.
That’s why the service manager closely examined any way he could carve out hours during the day (or night) for his technicians to chip away at reconditioning tasks.
A few years back, he began setting aside a few hours during each week in which Muller Toyota staffers could address reconditioning work. He tried to make sure inspections and estimates were performed during afternoon hours. Then, when necessary, he asked for volunteers to churn out work for a few hours at night, to finish prepping used vehicles. Even having just a couple employees work for three hours during the evenings made a drastic difference, as vehicles rarely took as long as 12 hours for full reconditioning.
“In the spring and the summer months, you sell a lot of cars, you trade a lot of cars, and you do a lot of service repair work,” Muller notes. “It gets very busy.
“So it’s just a matter of getting volunteers to stay—you schedule two or three guys every night, so everybody gets one night per week. … The guys working flat rate are pretty ambitious to make the extra hours, so if you ask for volunteers we would usually have no trouble getting two or three a night and knocking out an additional six cars per night, after hours.”
The service manager also created a used car inspection list. That list notes every item that Muller wants checked on vehicles during the reconditioning process.
“Every car gets checked the same way, with a list,” Muller says. “Because I’ve worked with a lot of used car managers, and they all have different ideas as to what should be fixed and what’s OK to leave.”
These days, at Subaru of Morristown, Muller's staff rarely forgets to address reconditioning issues like recalls, or look at CARFAX reports, or ensure that parts are pre-pulled. And it’s largely due to that extensive inspection list.
The used car inspection list “becomes second nature to you. It’s a process that speeds itself up, because you do every vehicle the same way,” Muller explains.
The Finished Product: The Aftermath
A year ago, Muller left the New Jersey dealership that his family runs; it was simply time for a new challenge, he suggests.
But he didn’t depart from that Toyota facility before his precise reconditioning process made a significant impact. By the time Muller left that dealership in Clinton, N.J., he had helped make the facility’s CSI score the best in its region, at 93.5. And, he contributed to making the customer retention rate a sterling 64.5 percent.
It may not have happened overnight, but Muller is confident he has discovered the keys to reconditioning vehicles effectively.
“The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is to keep used-car policy dollars down monthly,” says Muller, whose current employer, in Morristown, N.J., has a CSI score of approximately 90. “And the only way to do that is to do a good inspection.
“The mentality that I stressed to the used car manager and the sales department is, when we decide we’re going to keep the car, it’s going to be a lower-mileage vehicle that’s going to fit the parameters for certification. Because what I’ve found is, as a new-car dealer, if you sell older cars with high mileage, we wind up with a lot more headaches.
“So we tried to stay in the 50,000 miles or less, newer cars. And it’s just a better quality of product to sell.”