Training, educating vehicle owners key to increasing profits
One of the challenges service provider shops face right now is finding and maximizing profit centres. Every shop has several kinds of maintenance services that generate consistent revenues and profits. However, too many shops miss out on work that can add substantially to the bottom line, the most common being ongoing maintenance of ride control systems, not only for passenger vehicles but for light trucks and SUVs. Aftermarket manufacturers of ride control parts and replacements systems, supported by various industry studies, suggest there is a wealth of untapped maintenance revenue from underperformed work on ride control systems, averaging many millions of dollars.
If one were to take a close look at the number of cars, light trucks and SUVs that make their way to scrap yards the majority will likely still have the same factory-installed ride control parts when the vehicles were first purchased.
“Over 85 per cent of all vehicles in the scrap yard this year will still have their original shocks and struts,” says William ‘Mac’ McGrovern, director of marketing and training for KYB America. “Many of these vehicles will have some 150,000 or more kilometres on them. They were all prime candidates for replacement ride control, shocks and struts.”
Underperformed ride control maintenance and replacement is part of a larger phenomena of underperformed vehicle service in general, with many motorists neglecting basic maintenance and waiting until a catastrophic failure of a ride control system, for example, finally drives them (or more likely gets them towed) into an independent service facility.
Why do people skip ride control maintenance?
Most vehicle owners know not to skip the regular oil and filter change, or certainly not to push the oil and filter change past what is recommended by the vehicle’s manual. They know, or at the very least understand, that doing so risks the vehicle’s engine and could, if done too often, result in a very expensive repair. So why is it that with the family car, light truck or SUV does ride control get short-shrift? Simply, the slow wear on the various mechanisms involved with ride control means most people ignore the problems because they don’t seem to have much of an impact right away on the overall driving experience. And over time, people just get used to the feel of the ride control system, forgetting how the vehicle handled and felt when it was first driven. The only time most people notice something is wrong is when a part fails and the driver has no steering control, for example, or the shocks fail and the car or light truck bottoms-out when it hits a pothole.
This becomes a challenge for the shop owner, technicians and service writers as selling ride control maintenance and repair becomes a two-step process of diagnosis and educating the customer.
Educating The Customer
One of the first steps in the successful selling of ride control replacement or maintenance is to first show the customer the results of worn ride control
parts. Something that a technician can show even before the vehicle is taken into the bay is tire wear, such as uneven or cupped wear, or rapid tire wear. A feathered wear pattern across both of the front tires is a good sign of toe wear and indicates worn tie rod ends, or worn or loose inner tie rod sockets on rack and pinion steering gears. Uneven wear on one side of a tire might be caused by control arm bushings which have collapsed or ball joints having worn out.
Why show them this? Some vehicle owners will mistake those tire wear patterns as being the result of alignment problems and will ask the technician to put on new tires and align them, without realizing the underlying ride control problem is the cause of the tire wear.
Pierre Lalonde, technical support specialist with Affinia Group Inc. and Raybestos Chassis Canada, says another thing a technician can show a customer during a normal inspection of a vehicle is if there is any ‘play’ in the wheels, tie rods and ball joints. For example, he says a technician can ask if the driver has been noticing any shimmy when braking and then show them how this is caused by either wear in the tie rod or in the ball joint, demonstrating the excessive actual or radial play.
“When you show this to a customer you can more easily explain to them why that part needs replacement and why not replacing it will cause further problems,” Lalonde adds. “Those problems can include premature tire wear and faster wear on other suspension parts. So what you need to tell the customer is that a simple replacement of such a part will save them a substantial amount of money in the long-run.” Raybestos has an extensive line of replacement ball joints, tire rods and ends, control arm assemblies and sway bar links. In September of this year, the company introduced 503 new Raybestos catalogue listings for several 2010 applications, including Camry, Camaro, Cobalt, E350, Fusion, Mazda 3 and Odyssey. In January of this year, the company announced the rebranding of its Spicer Chassis parts under the Raybestos name.
Bill Dennie, director of ride control channel management, Monroe Shocks and Struts with Tenneco Inc., says another good place for a technician or service writer to start is by asking the vehicle owner what they are using their vehicle for. How a vehicle is used will have a direct impact on ride control parts wear and their replacement. This is especially critical with SUVs.
“Many of these vehicles were designed to deliver a ‘car-like’ ride, so they are likely equipped with OE shocks and struts that are more appropriate for moderate, on-pavement use rather than carrying heavy loads and/ or driving off-road,” he continues.
But, if the owner drives that same SUV more like a truck, hauling heavy loads more often than taking the kids to soccer practice, then there will likely be excessive wear on the rear shocks and suspension as well as some handling issues.
“Tell the customer they would be much better served by a true ‘truck’ shock that provides increased control. Remember, these vehicles have a higher centre of gravity than a passenger car, which means they can use a more control-intensive shock or strut that helps prevent excessive body roll and brake dive.”
Recently, Tenneco added ten additional part numbers to its Monroe Quick-Strut line for light trucks and SUVs, covering vehicle models from Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Toyota. As well, Federal-Mogul this year introduced some 130 new MOOG tie rod designs, over 120 additional sway bar links and many of new ball joints, coil springs, control arms, strut mounts, bushings, and other precision-engineered components.
But what truly has to be emphasized and what car owners have to be educated on is ride control and its various parts need to be regularly inspected and replaced.
McGovern says customers need to know that the typical ‘twin-tube’ shocks found on most vehicles will over time show valving wear as the valves inside the tubes will flex and cycle some 75 million times over 50,000 miles. That is a lot of wear, and it will impact how well the shock performs. So while there might not be any outward sign of problems with the shock, it is now universally recommended that shocks and struts be replaced regularly every 50,000 miles or some 80,000 kilometres.
“Even if the vehicle is well below the 80,000-kilometre ride control inspection and replacement threshold, talk with the customer about ride quality, steering precision and braking distance,” says Tenneco’s Dennie. “Let them know that if they feel they would benefit from shocks and struts that provide firmer control, you have a variety of options available to them. You might not make the sale that day, but you have opened a dialogue and encouraged your customer to pay closer attention to the vehicle’s ride and handling characteristics.”
KYB America’s McGovern says the goal of selling replacement r
ide control is to return the vehicle to the handling, steering and feel it had when new, or to meet the needs of what the customer is currently using their vehicle for. For light trucks and SUVs, KYB America has its Gas-A-Just which is a twin-tube design upgrade to standard OE shocks and is calibrated to have up to 30 per cent more damping force. In addition, its wide-bore mono-tube design is ideal for vehicles that have high centres of gravity or are used to carry heavy loads. The Mono-Max is a replacement product that has up to 40 per cent more damping force and is aimed at heavy-duty trucks.
If educating the customer is the key to successful ride control sales, the other component is constant education on ride control systems by technicians and service writers, both on the technical aspects and how to sell them.
Affina’s Lalonde says technicians and service writers should ideally reacquaint themselves on ride control systems and selling strategies every two years.
“It sounds like a lot, but you will be surprised at how much you learn each time,” he adds. “We have our own classes and our own trainers and they are very knowledgeable. You will be surprised at how much you can learn. Sometimes you think you know a lot, but you will always be able to learn something new.”
Affinia Group Inc./Raybestos Chassis
KYB America www.kyb.com
Tenneco Inc./Monroe www.tenneco.com
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