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Doing the Right Thing

Years ago, I wrote an article for our sister publication Modern Tire Dealer. I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with the folks who ran a community-help program that was conducted by a tire dealer in cooperation with a local radio station, all based in a western New York state metropolitan area. The program was called “Captain Friendly.”

A full-size van, emblazoned with the tire dealer’s name, was provided by the dealer and driven by one of its technicians. The van cruised the freeways in and around the town, constantly on the lookout for stranded motorists. A radio station’s traffic helicopter also flew around the area, providing traffic reports and helping to spot stranded vehicles. The helicopter was manned by an experienced ex-military chopper pilot and a local police officer who provided the traffic reports. Once the chopper spotted a motorist in distress, the officer radioed the tire dealer’s van with the location. The van then pulled up to the vehicle and offered assistance. This may have involved an out-of-fuel problem, a blown tire or other malady.

In addition to a selection of tools and miscellaneous parts, the van carried spare gas, which was provided free to the motorist. If a failed tire was the issue, the tech would change the wheel and tire (assuming the stranded driver had a spare). Basically, the tech would help in any way he could to get the vehicle back onto the road. If the problem was one that could not be addressed roadside, the tech called a tow truck and waited with the motorist until the truck arrived.

While motorists weren’t pressured to have the vehicle towed to the tire dealer’s location, in most cases, that’s where the vehicle was towed, primarily because the motorist would be so impressed by the good-Samaritan approach that he or she felt comfortable in having their vehicle repaired at the dealer’s shop.

Bear in mind that this was before everyone had a cell phone. When a driver was forced to pull over to the roadside, if they couldn’t fix the problem on their own, they were simply stuck, hoping that a police car would happen upon their emergency.

All of the tire dealer’s roadside help was provided free of charge. Naturally, any repairs performed at the tire dealer’s shop would be charged in the normal fashion.

My time in the van involved stopping to aid six stranded motorists, with issues ranging from blown tires, to out of gas, to an engine overheat. Cars were refueled with enough gas to get them safely to a gas station. In all three tire failure cases, emergency spare tires were installed, with each motorist immediately driving to the tire dealer for a new replacement. An engine overheat was temporarily addressed with a hose repair and a coolant top off, with that driver immediately going to the same tire dealer’s shop for a cooling system inspection and subsequent repairs.

I spent two days with the team, one day in the van with the technician and one day in the helicopter. Aside from a brief experience in a Huey while I was in ROTC back in my college days, this was my first time in a small helicopter (a Bell Jet Ranger chopper designed for two people, with my hapless butt crammed in the middle between the pilot and traffic cop).

My day in the chopper was a memorable experience. The day was severely overcast, with high winds and driving rain. The chopper was violently tossed around like a terrier shaking a rat. The pilot was cool and calm, deftly working the collective and tail rotor, while I mustered every bit of effort to keep from barfing all over the cockpit.

The public-assistance program conducted by that tire dealer was impressive. Not only did they provide a great service to those in need, but they generated a huge amount of positive exposure for the shop. Every one of those who were helped was extremely grateful, and eagerly spread word-of-mouth praise for the dealer. Today in my area, there is an insurance company that patrols the streets using an SUV offering roadside assistance. You can bet its name has gotten a lot of good exposure from the company’s logo on the side of the vehicle.

Granted, not all shops may be capable of providing such a service, but it’s something to consider. Such a program is a win-win for everyone involved. Plus, the warm and fuzzy feeling that you get from helping someone in distress is something that you never forget, knowing that you did the right thing when it mattered.   ●

To read more Straight Talk columns, see:

Professionalism trumps stupid

Automaker commercials drive me crazy

I hate thieves

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