LATHAM — Can’t find time to get the car in for service?
There might be a way around that …
Keeler Motor Car Company this week took delivery of its new mobile garage, a 9,000-pound trailer with removable walls and a vehicle lift. Inside, a technician can do many of the less-complicated maintenance and repair tasks that normally would be done in the dealership’s service department or another commercial garage.
The plan initially is to service fleet operators and partner with larger Capital Region employers to bring the mobile garage to their parking lots so employees can have work done there.
The trailer joins Keeler’s earlier venture into mobile service — a high-roof Sprinter van that has been used for commercial vehicles and is now providing at-home service for Keeler customers. This service is limited to Mercedes owners for now but the plan is to expand this to all the brands Keeler sells, and perhaps other brands.
Keeler CEO Jesse Hord said the BMW/Honda/Mercedes/Mini dealership had been researching for two years how to extend the reach of its service department.
This type of mobile service for passenger vehicles is more common in California and Florida, he said, and there are some BMW dealers downstate and in New Jersey that offer it. But there was not, he said, a local model to study and learn from.
Keeler saw two obstacles: the difficulty of efficient scheduling, which it overcame with the right software, and generating enough volume of service to be economical, which it overcame with the two-pronged van/trailer approach.
The other challenge that one might think an open-sided mobile garage presents in upstate New York — exposure to cold and snow — actually isn’t a difficulty, Hord said. The custom trailer was fabricated in New England and similar units are in service year-round in New Hampshire. Curtains can be dropped to keep the wind out.
“If we have inclement weather as we’re rolling it we’ll adjust,” Hord said.
The technician can do all basic maintenance operations in the field, as well as diagnostics and some more-involved work such as brake repairs or air bag recalls.
“We can do pretty much every service you can do in the [service department’s] express lane,” Hord said.
Heavier work such as a transmission repair still will need to be done at the Route 7 dealership, with a tow truck summoned if needed — the garage trailer can’t be used as a flatbed to haul cars because it would weigh upward of six tons with even a smaller car sitting on it.
The custom-built mobile repair shops are not insignificant investments for Keeler. Final cost for the trailer will be in the $40,000 to $50,000 range, Hord said, about the same cost as the modifications done to the Sprinter, which were done in Georgia and included waste oil tanks, an air compressor, LED lighting, WiFi connectivity, tool boxes, fire suppression gear and an environmental protection mat.
With the new gear in hand, Keeler now needs to optimize its use and build a customer base.
“The rough rule of thumb as we’ve rolled it out is a 40-mile radius,” Hord said.
He said the market for this type of time-saving/convenient service existed before COVID changed some of the patterns of everyday life, and the pandemic has only increased the value of a concept that reaches people where they are as they’re avoiding public spaces.