Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2014   by Noelle Stapinsky

Pulling Out All The Stops

Providing full brake inspections and services starts with educating the customer and building trust

When it comes to selling brake services, technicians are frequently faced with customers that base their repair decisions solely on price. They want the best quality at the cheapest price; and too often, brake services tend to be focused around friction material replacement rather than addressing bigger issues that could be compromising the safety of the vehicle.

But by appeasing the customer’s demand for the bare minimum, Ken Selinger, Akebono’s director of aftermarket sales and marketing for North America, says, “Vehicle owners ultimately have a responsibility to maintain the safety of their vehicle. By choosing lower quality parts they are unknowingly doing a disservice to themselves and may end up blaming the technician. By choosing to not use the best possible brake components, consumers may set themselves up for potential disappointment, and incur the inconvenience and added cost of a comeback because they didn’t follow their technician’s advice to use the best quality and safest components that are interacting as designed or as the OEM intended.”

This is why a complete inspection of the entire brake system – rotors, calipers, and even brake fluid and hoses – is paramount for properly diagnosing necessary repairs and to educate the customer on the importance of maintaining the entire brake system; as well as emphasizing the long-term cost-saving and benefits of choosing premium brake products.


The Inspection

“It begins with a test drive. Verify the customer’s issue if there is one. If not, a fresh set of ears behind the wheel may identify issues the customer is not aware of,” says Dave Wagner, product manager with Raybestos Brakes. “I never quote a job without a complete four corner brake inspection – pull off all four wheels, visually inspect and measure the rotors.”

While friction material is typically one of the first things to wear out, Christopher Battershell, director of braking, North America, for Federal Mogul Vehicle Components business segment, adds that worn rotors, drums and calipers may cause uneven friction wear that could impact the performance of the brake system.

“It’s always best to inspect every single part,” continues Bob Leone, national sales for North and South America at AISIN World Corp. “Make sure the rotor has a smooth finish. If the rotor is out of spec, you’re probably going to get pedal pulsation or vibration. And techs also have to check that the caliper is operating properly and that the piston is retracting back into the housing so there’s no sludge built up there. If there is, the caliper won’t fit over the rotor and you’ll have to start all over again.”

Along with following the OE recommendations for routine maintenance, technicians should also consider environmental elements and how a vehicle owner drives. Wagner points out that in colder climates the salt used on the roads to combat ice and snow is very hard on vehicles and brake components. And high humidity causes rust and corrosion.

“And if you’re going up and down hills with a half ton pickup truck, you’re probably going to wear down your brakes faster,” says Michael Zhao, vice-president of sales and marketing for Inroble International Inc. “The more you apply your brakes, the more you might need to replace calipers.”

Other brake system parts that are often overlooked during an inspection are the brake fluid and the hoses. If contamination, dust or debris finds its way into the brake fluid it can result in rapid caliper piston seal wear, according to Wagner. And Bob Pattengale, automotive aftermarket division training manager for Robert Bosch LLC, adds, “Keep in mind that manufacturer recommendations cannot account for every environmental condition. Testing brake fluid should always be a part of any brake repair.”

Premium sales

Armed with a proper diagnosis to return the braking system of a vehicle back to OE standards or better, technicians can clearly communicate what needs to be done and offer recommendations. This should include talking about the unique design features and benefits of premium products.

“Any time the customer – whether it’s the technician or consumer – is making a choice between good, better and best levels of technology, it’s important that he or she has a clear understanding of the differences between each option. Otherwise, the difference in their mind might simply come down to price, which isn’t a good outcome for the jobber, shop or consumer in the long run,” says Battershell.

Selinger suggests, “The main thing techs can do is remind their customers that brakes are a safety system and when you’re working on this system you need to use the best possible products.”

Fortunately for technicians and consumers, the price of premium brake products has become more affordable over the years. And Dean Weber, vice-president of Proforce Automotive says the brake market overall is growing at a very healthy rate and the mid-grade brake job is the fastest growing market. For example, Proforce offers a mid-grade ceramic pad that comes with noise dampening shims and are “scortched in” for a smoother break in process. “[This product] allow installers to buy at an economy price, but sell the product as a mid-grade quality replacement pad. We’re also seeing a trend in the upsell to Geomet coated rotors. It used to be challenging to upsell to a better rotor, but with the price point closer to that of economy rotors, the technicians can now confidently upsell the consumer to a true premium brake job at an affordable price.”

Whether you’re recommending aftermarket or OE parts, it’s also important to note that vehicle owners need to understand the importance of matching quality parts that were designed to work together. “The interaction of the friction material and the rotor are the last safeguard between the consumer’s operation of the vehicle and safety,” says Selinger. “We scientifically manage this friction/rotor interface to ensure our customers’ safety. We account for the heat and thermal dissipation rates required of a braking system, potential operating extremes and then specify the perfect replacement friction. This takes the guesswork out of the process for the technician and results in delighted vehicle owners and more business for their shops.”

ProMax uses a positive mold technology which presses each individual pad to the backing plate, and its premium and mid-grade rotors have an electronic coating to deter rust. Ernie Fields, sales manager with ProMax Auto Parts Depot Ltd. says that ProMax’s brake pads are also “scortched in” to eliminate all break-in periods.”

“It’s important to pair high quality rotors with premium disc pads,” says Robert Backode, director of product management, braking components for Robert Bosch LLC’s automotive aftermarket division. “Rotors using inferior casting metallurgies can introduce hard spots and cracking, which can seriously degrade the performance of a high quality disc pad. And it’s important that a rotor match the OE configurations dimensionally and metallurgically. This means the rotor thickness and vane configurations match the OE dimensions as these were originally constructed to address the vehicle’s specific operating conditions.”

Certainly the cost of more premium products is higher, but Zhao and Selinger agree that if you consider the cost per mile, a properly serviced premium braking system is going to last a lot longer.

The last thing any service station wants is comebacks. “Those cost everyone money – the supplier and the mechanic,” says ProMax’s Fields. “It’s not just the money, but also the reputation of the shop and the possibility of losing a potentially loyal customer.”