What is the hardest part of automotive service? If you answered ‘Sales,’ give yourself a prize. It is the key to a successful service operation, but the most thankless part of the job. Repairing the most truculent vehicle is child’s play when compared to the task of selling a repair or maintenance routine to a skeptical vehicle owner.
Most vehicle owners know belts need to inspected and replaced regularly. They just don’t know when or what signs are a sure giveaway that a belt needs to be replaced. This is made especially hard as new belt technologies use materials that do not show obvious signs of wear and fatigue, and to a driver’s naked eye look just fine. So when a technician or service writer recommends a belt replacement, there is usually some skepticism from the vehicle owner. Everything looks fine, they will say. Why are you recommending replacing it? The not-so-subtle suggestion is that you are simply trying to get money from them for what they believe (mistakenly, it must be emphasized) is unnecessary service work.
Maybe what needs to change is to stop thinking of this as a ‘Sales’ pitch and to start thinking of it as an educational moment. When done right the sale is easy and you never really have to do it again as the vehicle owner now understands why you are recommending the belt has to be changed.
“In today’s market, the key is to not only to check for belt wear, but to explain to the consumer the signs of wear that could lead to belt failure at the end of its life,” says Marc Therrien, account executive consumer products with Veyance Technologies Canada, Inc. “Belts nowadays are constructed of high-temp EPDM [Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer] compounds and are designed to withstand the heat and punishment of today’s engines.”
This means the traditional signs of belt wear, such as chunking or cracking are not going to be there anymore as a guide for gauging if a belt has reached the end of is useful life.
“Since the late 1990s, automotive manufacturers have phased out neoprene serpentine belts and are now installing EPDM belts on new models,” adds Randy Chupka, director of marketing with Gates Canada Inc. “It is hard to tell neoprene and EPDM belts apart visually. While neoprene belts show cracks and chunk-outs when they wear out, EPDM belts rarely show these symptoms, even at very high mileage.”
Think of an EPDM belt as being like the tires of a car. Over time, tires wear out as rubber is worn away while driving. The same thing happens to an EPSM belt. “Over a period of 160,000 kilometres, a belt can lose up to 10 per cent of its rib material. While this may not seem like a lot, the consequences can be significant,” says Chupka.
This loss of material means the pulley ribs will ‘bottom out’ in the valleys and ride on the belt cord. “This reduces the surface contact on the valley sides where the traction is generated. Wear also increases the effective belt length, lowering tension in the system, which also reduces traction,” adds Chupka.
“The most important thing technicians/service writers are doing to educate their customers is explain the components associated with the serpentine belt such as the idlers and tensioners and how important it is that the accessory drive system of the vehicle operates correctly,” says David Hirschhorn, director, brand management with CRP Industries Inc. “If a vehicle owner doesn’t understand how important the accessory drive system of the vehicle is and is simply told that they need to change their serpentine belt or it’ll break, they are very unlikely to agree to the service; but if the technician/service writer takes the time to explain the system and educate the vehicle owner, they are much more likely to see the importance of not only changing the belt[s], but also the related idler[s] and tensioner[s] since they are also wear items.”
Since education is the key to selling belt maintenance and replacement, service writers and technicians need to give serious consideration to using social media and other online tools to help in that regard. Social media is now the primary means of both communications and education amongst many young people today. They will use social media and other online resources to research and learn about issues and products well before they arrive in a service operation’s waiting area. So tapping into this trend is now a key part of making a successful pitch for belt maintenance and replacement. Many makers of belt and accessory drive technologies now have a range of social media and online tools available for service writers and technicians.
“When it comes to social media we’re taking more of a reserved approach rather than jumping in with both feet,” says Hirschhorn. “We’ve identified possible outlets for information and have worked with many of our customers to get information to everyone turning wrenches or steering wheels. We’re now starting an outreach campaign using a quarterly newsletter to provide technicians/service writers with information about new products and information that should prove useful. We have a decent group that we are currently distributing it to, but we’re always looking for more. [People] can sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter all they have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the CRP Automotive Facebook page and click on the Jumpstart box which will take them to a sign-up form [https://www.facebook.com/#!/crpautomotive/app_211368905570112.]”
“We use our Facebook page [facebook.com/GatesAuto] and Twitter feed [twitter.com/GatesAuto] to share information about belt wear, and we include links to our belt wear microsite [GatesBeltWear.com] in the posts,” says Gates’ Chupka. “We also post videos about belt wear and other topics to our YouTube channel [youtube.com/GatesAutoAftermarket]. We recently started providing our customers with social media content that they can incorporate into their own social media channels. The more people see our belt wear message, the more likely belt wear inspections will be requested and conducted.”
Veyance’s Terrien says YouTube is another valuable tool for getting belt information across to vehicle owners: “Veyance is continuously updating YouTube videos for both product awareness and preventative maintenance. Most recently, we’ve added Gatorback Over Running Alternator Decoupler videos, showing their benefits to the overall drive system. Videos show the effects of a worn OAD pulley on the overall drive belt system illustrating vibration and shock load and the need for replacement once worn to reduce vibration and shock load on the tensioner.”