Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2007   by Nestor E. Arellano

Selling the benefits of hose and belt replacement

Technicians have a great opportunity to educate customers, increase profits

Summer, when vacations involving long drives or quick jaunts to the cottage are being planned, is probably the best time to remind car owners for that much need prep-work to ensure that the family vehicle is up to the task. However, even when the unpleasant prospect of being stranded in a deserted back road looms ahead, garage owners report that a large number of drivers choose to forego much needed repairs if no immediate symptoms are apparent or annoying enough. Nowhere is this more evident than in replacing belts and hoses.

Often neglected until they finally fail and cause serious engine trouble, deteriorated hoses and belts are up-sell maintenance components often passed over for fear of alienating a budget-conscious customer with the so-called “sticker shock syndrome.” Some car owners balk at replacing a part that isn’t busted while service technicians hesitate to push the issue so as not the give the impression that they intend to gouge a client.

“Technicians are very often asked to do a specific job and they do it as best they can. But they often find it very hard to convince a customer to replace a worn belt or hose,” laments Randy Chupka, marketing manager for automotive division at Brantford, Ont.-based auto parts manufacturer, Gates Canada Inc.

But even as the Automotive Industries Association of Canada report that unperformed vehicle maintenance as a potential $2 billion per year market, safety is probably the best selling point.

“This is one situation where the, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality just doesn’t make sense,” says Chupka.

Making the ‘Hard Sell’ a little easier

The reality is even when a potential problem component is spotted, car owners are prone to recoil from replacing it because they’re already in the shop for another budget breaking reason.

“When a person is already having a $300-brake job done, he is likely to say, ‘Wait till it goes’ when told of a worn belt or hose,” according to Ken Edwards of New Jersey-based auto part and high pressure hose specialist CRP Industries Inc.

It might be a delicate undertaking, but responsibility for helping the customer realize the risks of operating a vehicle with unsound parts, lies on the service technician’s shoulders, according to another industry insider. To educate the customer, one must first teach the person whom the car owner is in contact with, says Edwards.

“We need to educate the person who throws away the parts box first so that he can give the proper advice. With the proper information, car owners can be motivated to replace worn and damaged belts and hoses just as drivers are now vigilant in changing their motor oil and filters,” he adds.

Edwards adds it is important to make car owners aware of several issues regarding timing and serpentine belts and hoses:

* Importance of the parts and how they interact with the vehicle’s accessories and systems

* What causes deterioration and how to spot signs of wear and tear

* Consequences or neglect and what are the options available

Not your Daddy’s fan belt

It’s important to impress upon customers that today’s belts and hose play quite an expanded role that their counterparts of more than a decade ago. Gone are the days when woman’s stockings can be rigged as a hasty substitute for a busted fan belt, good enough for a short drive to the service station, says Marc Therrien, account executive for replacement products at Goodyear Canada.

Serpetine belts now run multiple accessories and components such as the air condition, radiator cooling fan, power steering pump and water pump have supplanted systems employing singular belts for separate functions. More technologically advance tensioners also enable automatic adjustment of these belts. Customers might need to know that typically V-belts operate one to two accessories while most serpentine belts can power all the accessories. The upshot of these developments has meant an improvement in engine efficiency and fewer parts to replace.

But there is a trade off said Therrien: “Because of better construction and materials serpentine belts last longer, but since they affect more components, their break down becomes more critical.”

There may be fewer belts to replace but the price of a single serpentine is enough to induce “price shock” for driver who have not visited a service garage lately.

“Since they switched to serpentine belts the prices have shot up … but rather than pay for three belts at $15 each, now you have one for $45 or $50 so it’s about the same,” said George Douglas, manager of Nova Scotia-based Amherst Auto Supply in a previous interview with SSGM.

With many complex systems also require a combined replacement of belt and tensioner that could ad anywhere from $60 to $100 to the job including materials and labour.

Show me a sign

Today’s belts are constructed with tougher polychloroprene covers and teeth and glass fibre members for greater durability under pressure and temperature changes but they are still prone to failure due to faulty or worn-out tensioner or idler. Most car owners might not be aware that serpentine belts become vulnerable to breakage after 80,000 kilometers.

That hoses typically deteriorate from the inside is another issue that might need to be pointed out to clients. A hose that appears fine on the outside could be rotting on the inside. As well, with today’s engine compartments becoming tighter, hoses often have to bend in very complex ways to fit and work in those tight spaces. That means the hoses often will experience stress on those bend-points and technicians should keep an eye on them for signs of wear or breakage; and to point them out to the customer and to explain why such wear issues are signs that a hose needs to be replaced.

Goodyear’s Therrien, advices that it would be a good way to built client rapport to take the time to briefly take customers through the steps normally taken to spot wear signs. Show the areas where striation marks, tears and cracks in belt teeth appear. Teach clients that aging hoses often soften in the ends leading to the radiator or engine or harden become brittle in the middle or show signs of bulging, Therrien suggests.

Wearing the other man’s shoes

Hard facts often require soft delivery. Not everyone is thrilled upon learning there’s some extra work that needs to be done on their vehicle. Rarely is pulling out money from ones own wallet a pleasant thought either. Not all the product replacement posters and pamphlets in the world can help a technician convince a client to replace a belt or a hose if the message is not delivered properly. Sure the owner might agree to have the job done. But will the client come back to your shop the next time a repair job is needed?

Here are a few tips the producers of hoses and belts have to offer on how how to bridge the information gap:

* Feel my pain – It might help to appreciate the hardship that a broken car is causing a customer. Take the time to quietly determine if the client would benefit from a softer approach rather than a hard low-down on the damage due

* Show don’t tell – Most car owners appreciate being shown and taught what’s causing their problem and how it could be fixed. Customers love mechanics that explain matters about their car in a way they can understand

* Don’t fence them in – No one wants to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Offer some suggestions and options, provide enough information to help the customer make a decision.


Troubleshooting coolant hose problems

With the reduction in engine compartment size, coolant hoses are prone to failure due to the prevalence of factors such as heat, abrasion and oil. In addition, new conditions arise, such as electrochemical degradation. Electrochemical degradation, o
r ECD, results when the hose, liquid coolant (ethylene glycol antifreeze and water), and the engine/radiator fittings form a galvanic cell or “battery.” This reaction causes microcracks in the hose tube allowing coolant to penetrate into the reinforcement.

Accelerated by high-heat and flexing, the hose can develop a pinhole leak or rupture under normal pressure. This possibility of hidden reinforcement failure is one of the best reasons for replacing coolant hoses every two to four years.

What To Look For

When inspecting a coolant hose for damage, make sure that the hose connection from the radiator to the engine is not kinked, and that it is not touching hot or moving engine parts or sharp edges. A kink can reduce the flow of coolant and cause the engine to overheat. The sharp surface may eventually cut or abrade through the hose, resulting in a loss of coolant. If the hose is resting on or will come into contact with a sharp surface, or is near a heat source, try one of the following:

1. Reroute the hose away from the point of contact;

2. Wrap protective sleeving (a slit piece of old hose, or emission control ducting for heat shielding) around the new hose at the point of contact;

3. Slightly twist the hose on one or both spouts to reroute the hose away from the surface.

Oil is another enemy of rubber hoses. A hose damaged by oil is swollen, soft and sticky. If the oil leak is external, eliminate the oil leak or try to reroute the hose.

Sometimes the oil damage comes from within the hose. If the hose becomes swollen, the oil inside the hose is excessive. Check the transmission system for leaks into the radiator from the transmission cooler.

Finally, check each clamp connection for leakage. Tighten any loose clamps and replace any that are defective.

— Information provided by Gates Corp.


CRP Industries Inc.

Gates Canada

Goodyear Canada

Print this page


Have your say:

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