Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2011   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Ride Control Made Easy

Expanding coverage, easier installation makes ride control a growing profit centre

Ride control is a tough sell to most drivers. Unless the tie rod snaps or the ball joints fails spectacularly, most drivers just go along for the ride. Sure, the car feels a little ‘off’ when its on the road, or that the wheel never seem to really grip the road at high speeds. Over time, the owner simply becomes acclimatized to the vehicle’s peculiar road habits, putting it down to the age of the vehicle.
Ride control is also tough for technicians as well. It can be time-consuming work, one requiring quite a bit of care if one is replacing a ball joint or bushing, both not to damage the tie rod or throw off the alignment.
The challenges are two-fold: effectively selling ride control maintenance and replacement to a vehicle owner who really may not understand what ride control is and then doing the job efficiently and effectively to generate profits for the shop.
Selling Ride Control
The best way to sell ride control is to remind drivers that it is all about safety, keeping the vehicle on the road and making sure the driver has maximum control over that vehicle.
Shocks, for example, are a good illustration of this. If a technician asks a vehicle owner what a shock is supposed to do, they will likely answer that it works to smooth out the ride. Yes, that is true. A high-quality shock will make the passenger’s ride in the vehicle an enjoyable one. The right answer, in reality, is that a shock is to keep the wheels of the vehicle on the road to ensure that vehicle’s safe handling and to give maximum control to the driver.
That is why it is important for service writers to impress upon vehicle owners to change shocks regularly. A good rule to follow is if the vehicle has 80,000 or more kilometres it is a very good time to examine the shocks and replace if necessary.
Another thing is not to be afraid to talk and explain to a vehicle owner such problems as too much play in the wheels or lateral movement. While the terms seem technical, the results are easily seen by a sharp-eyed technician, and can be shown to the owner.
For example, if there is a lot of play in the tie rods and ball joints, the owner can be asked if they have noticed an increase in shimmying when the car brakes. If the owner has, then the service writer can ask the technician to then show the owner the worn ball joint or tie rod and explain to them why those worn out parts are causing that shimmying and why they need to be replaced.
Another thing that can be pointed out to a vehicle owner is the premature tire wear that worn ball joints and tie rods can produce.
Uneven or cupped wear, feathered wear or uneven wear on one side of the tire are all signs of problems with the ride control, either a bad inner tire ride socket, collapsed or worn control arm bushings or ball joints that have finally worn out. These are not things that can be ‘fixed’ with wheel realignment.
The sale has been made; now making the install easier
The most significant trend right now happening in the aftermarket for ride control is the move by the various manufacturers to create products that can speed up the removal and installation of ride control system.
In fact, the trend is to nearly eliminate the need to order multiple ride control parts when doing a repair and to make it easier to replace whole units, such as tie rods and ball joints together, instead of struggle to replace just one part, say the ball joint alone.
Kim Plante, product manager, chassis with Federal-Mogul Corp., maker of Moog chassis parts, said this has been going on for a while as shop owners look for ways to make the technician’s job easier and thereby increase vehicle turn over and improve profitability.
“I think the trend today amongst all technicians is to get the vehicle in and out of the bay quickly,” added Mark Boyle, director of steering and suspension components for Federal-Mogul. “It is just as easy to replace the entire arm with a new ball joint and bushing as it is to take off the control arm, take off the bushing and replace the (individual) ball joint and then put the whole system back together.”
Boyle said by combining the two and having the technician remove and replace both as a single unit, instead of just replacing the ball joint alone, the installation time is much faster. “What was once a two-three hour job can now be done in one hour.”
Franz Samson, engineering product manager with Gabriel Ride Control said the company’s ReadyMount Struts, or ‘loaded struts,’ also address the issue of ease-of-installation and improving technician efficiency.
“The technology of the ReadyMounts is that is comes as a complete assembly,” Samson added. “Before, all of the components were sold separately, the upper mount, bearings, fasteners, dust boots and coil springs … which used to have to be ordered separately.
“If a single part needed to be replaced, you had to have additional shop equipment to tear apart the entire assembly to get to the worn part and then reassemble everything. Then you had to make sure everything was aligned properly.”
Pierre Lalond, bilingual technical support specialist with Affinia Canada, makers of the Raybestos line of chassis products, agreed that a complete arm and joint assembly offers many advantages to vehicle owners and technicians alike “On some occasions, the arm is not serviceable due to the number of times the ball joint has been replaced or replaced with a low-quality ball joint or pressed in a diameter not to spec,” he added. “Or pressing out the ball joint on an angle or using a heavy shot peen hammer to knock the ball joint out that will distort the arm.
“Finally, it adds confidence to your alignment because the arm is new and you will be able to adjust the angles, caster, camber and toe with precision, the vehicle will drive straight and true and will improve vehicle handling.”
Another welcome trend in the ride control aftermarket is growing vehicle coverage, especially on the European nameplate side. This is opening up new revenue streams for service shops.
Bill Dennie, director of ride control channel management with Tenneco Inc., makers of the Monroe line of shocks and struts, said Tenneco started shipping in February the Monroe OESpectrum line of struts to reach that foreign nameplate market.
The feedback on the new struts, according to Dennie, has been very positive as technicians and drivers have “felt the difference in regard to the ride and, more importantly, consumers have noticed they have gotten control of their vehicles, bringing them back to the OE-style of ride without the harshness that is associated with some other aftermarket products.
“This is the result of Tenneco’s ‘Twin Technology Active Control System,” an internal damping control technology which utilizes an Impact Control Valve to give more driver control and a Low Speed Tunability piston design that helps isolate noise, vibration and harshness.
The external dimensions of the unit are also identical to Tenneco’s existing Sensa-Trac and Reflex units, added Dennie. This makes selling the units easier to vehicle owners as well as making the installation a snap.