Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2009   by David Halpert, Assistant Editor

More Than Just Rubber

How are changes in the belts and hoses market affecting technicians

Every year SSGM devotes at least one article entirely on the diagnosis, maintenance and repair of automotive belts and hoses. Now while no two belts and hoses are the same, and each serves a different purpose, you can imagine that speaking ad naseum about what to look for on a damaged belt or how to replace a worn hose can get a little repetitive for the experienced technician.

However, in the coming years, we can expect sweeping changes coming to fruition as technological advances as well as new innovations out of OE will affect how these product categories are bought, sold, and, most importantly, perform once they hit the aftermarket.

One such example is the many lines of self-tensioning belts coming onto the market. Gates’ Micro-V Stretch Fit Belts, for instance, shows just how fast technology is shifting at the OE and aftermarket level. Their belts are engineered with EPDM (ethylene propylene diene M-class rubber) construction, an aramid-engineered undercord, and a flexible polyamide tensile cord within, making them stronger than previous models.

It becomes apparent the advance of this new belt design brings a unique set of challenges for technicians. Self-tensioning belts, while they appear similar to the standard V-belts, are not interchangeable. Similarly, they are sized shorter than the standard v-ribbed belts and some require special components to be installed under the hood.

While these belts on average last longer and wear more gradually this has also made them more difficult to diagnose with a simple visual inspect. Cracking, fraying and chunks missing has largely been replaced with less noticeable wear including rib wear, belt seating, and pulley fit (see sidebar for more details).

Changes in the automotive market

This year is shaping up to be a very poor one for automotive sales. Frost & Sullivan is projecting a 10-year low for North American new vehicle sales, coming in at roughly 15.8 million units overall. However, some estimates of new vehicle sales this year for North America are projecting sales to be as low as 10 million. While the figures are dismal for many, the diminishing sales of new vehicles presents opportunities for the independent technician as consumers hold on to their current vehicles longer. This means these vehicles will have to be serviced more as the wear on their parts increases, especially on the belts and hoses, and the various systems they work with.

“One area that shops should be mindful of is the system repair. For example, when performing a timing belt replacement, service technicians should be inspecting the entire system and suggest that all components be replaced at the same time (timing belt tensioners, idler pulleys, and even the water pump if driven by the timing belt),” says Randy Chupka, marketing manager for Gates Canada Inc. “In almost all instances of a timing belt failure, the root can go back to an un-replaced failed component causing an unnecessary trip back to the shop.”

These difficulties aren’t isolated to the technicians, however, as one of the chief concerns many manufacturers have with belts and hoses is urging the public on the importance of regularly getting their vehicle serviced.

“One of the challenges is driving consumer awareness for preventative maintenance. Various products under the hood affect the belt drive such as pulleys, tensioners, and alternator decouplers. Many don’t think of this when having their belt replaced and the investment required to prevent further failure in the system is small,” says Marc Therrien, account executive, consumer products for Goodyear Engineered Products Canada, Inc. “As the dealership that also serves as a repair facility closes in a particular market, existing dealership clientele will turn to traditional (independent) technicians for previous repair needs.”

“In the last three quarters we’ve seen many companies in the industry work to reduce their inventory to keep their balance sheet as healthy as possible,” says Monika La Prete, marketing manager for CRP Industries under their Continental ContiTech brand. “Many technicians are focusing on working with suppliers that can give them good order fill so they can keep a very lean inventory.”

In 2007, CRP Automotive introduced Pro Series ContiTech Timing Kits. All 80 kits come complete with a ContiTech timing belt, hydraulic tensioners (when applicable) or idlers, retaining clips, and a water pump. While this package has been well received by the technicians using them, Monika touches on some of the other recent technological changes affecting the belts and hoses market.

“With regard to hoses, we’ve seen many late model cooling hoses with thermoplastic fittings on their ends that plug into the vehicle components or act as housings for switches. These fittings make installing and removing the hoses very straightforward, but we have seen them fail much sooner than older style hoses which use simple clamps to connect to components. Due to these problems many technicians are changing hoses earlier as preventative maintenance rather than waiting until they start leaking or rupture.

“Service intervals of many timing and accessory belts have been getting higher over the last few years. We now see many manufacturers going with timing belt replacement intervals of over 100,000 miles and multi-ribs that have intervals of 60,000 miles. Since the life expectancy of belts in these vehicles is so long and most vehicles now have interference engines, the consequences of using cheap components can be much higher. We’re seeing many more technicians change not only the belts but also the related idlers and tensioners when they do one of these jobs.”

Goodyear Engineered Products recently added the Poly-V Import Kits with 55 SKU’s. Each kit contains an OE exact dimension Poly-V belt and tensionser as well as bonus instructions and a packet of hand cleaner.

The opportunities for today’s technician can be best described by Randy Chupka:

“Related sales opportunities exist every day in shops. When replacing a tensioner, replace the belt. When replacing an upper hose, replace the lower at the same time. If service technicians take a ‘systems’ approach to servicing a vehicle they will provide their customers with many years of trouble-free driving.”

Improved Design Means More Difficult Diagnosis

For decades technicians have spotted problems with belts (i. e. cracking, fraying, chunks missing, frayed edges) based on a visual inspection. Cracking, fraying, and chunks missing were all part of gradual belt wear. However, with newer technology coming out of OE while types of belts may appear fine on the surface up-close they may not be performing up to snuff.

Ten years ago EPDM (ethylene propylene diene M-class rubber) construction replaced Neoprene because EPDM wears gradually and loses less material as it spins around the various pulleys of the drive system. In these cases, the wear is hardly noticeable unless the belt is removed and examined closely.

Rib Wear -Material loss results in the belt riding directly on top of pointed pulley tips. The belt can be sheared or slip off the drive.

Belt Seating -Material loss results in the belt seating further down in the pulley. This reduces the wedging force necessary to transmit power.

Pulley Fit -Material loss reduces clearance between the belt and the pulley. Water and debris have difficulty passing between the two. Hydroplaning of the belt can result.

Be sure to inspect the belts at 80,000 kilometers. It’s also a good idea to look for obvious wear like chunk-out, cracking and pilling. But it should be remembered, EPDM belts can appear good yet their performance compromised thanks to material loss from wear. Changing the belt when other components of the drive system are replaced is recommended. This practice helps avoid come-backs and assures your customer of many miles of trouble-free driving.

ecial thanks to Gates Canada.


Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *