Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2005   by Jim Anderton

Vegas Baby, Vegas!

The weird and the wonderful from Industry Week Las Vegas

In the Western Hemisphere, the automotive aftermarket has one annual event that’s an absolute must: Industry Week in Las Vegas. Traditionally held during the first week of November, Industry Week encompasses two massive shows that literally lock down the entire city, occupying both the massive Sands Expo Center and the huge Las Vegas Convention Center. This year, both the performance aftermarket’s SEMA show and the repair segment’s AAPEX was joined by the body repair community’s annual show at the Mandalay Bay. Over a thousand new products launched at the aftermarket shows, ranging from repro speed parts for flathead Fords to the latest in computer control systems. Among the parts and tools, many stand out as different, special, or just plain cool. Here is a totally unscientific roundup of parts and equipment that caught editor Jim Anderton’s eye. They’re in no particular order, and some might not even be available in Canada immediately, but they’re definitely worth a look.


Praxis suspension system

Bridgestone/Firestone’s Praxis suspension system makes the list for a couple of reasons. The first is that it replaces the entire corner assembly, both the strut and spring, with a dashboard-controlled air spring system that alters spring rate, damping and ride height. Touring (stock) sport or track modes are available, with the track mode offering a full 2 inch drop and double the stock spring rate, all without getting out of your car. Sport compact applications are available now, with Subaru Impreza WRX, WRX STi and WRX sport wagon fitments new this year. Bridgestone/Firestone will add applications on an ongoing basis.

4XFUSE emergency fuse kits

What’s so exciting about fuses? Fuses are one of those small point-of-purchase items that haven’t changed in ages. Littelfuse, however, has created a line of emergency fuse kits and assortments geared toward SUVs and light trucks. The new line includes 4XFUSE Emergency Diagnostic Fuse Kits, both in ATO and MINI fuse versions. Just 4″x 4″ in size, the compact emergency kits are designed to fit in the glove box or trunk and include six or eight OEM fuses as well as a roadside tester/puller that tests and removes fuses. The tester has its own power source, allowing it to operate with or without voltage to a maximum of 24 volt. The kits are a great add-on for winter or for SUV or light truck owners who hunt, fish or travel off road. Supported by point-of-purchase displays, it’s a long-neglected potential profit center.

Scan tool in a cell phone

This one caught many of the aftermarket editors by surprise. Eaton Mobile diagnostics and AutoXray co-presented a unique diagnostic system that works through Java enabled cellular telephones. Called OBD-Rx, the idea is that the data can be saved and stored to a web server for future use and analysis. Web-enabled data logging features allow engine tuners to monitor performance in real time or save this data for later review. The system is easy to operate with logical text and graphical menus. This system is interesting for several reasons. One is that you’re buying mainly software, not another gadget for your toolbox. Another is the ability to store the info by Internet. Wanna see it later, at another location? No problem. The third is that it should be cheap enough for good DIY’ers making it a low-risk proposition for techs. An consider this: imagine dealing with an intermittent by hooking up, letting the vehicle idle for three quarters of an hour, then analyzing data, al without tying up your big box scanner? Neat.

Instant Power IPD-1800 jump starter

I’ve never really believed in portable powered jump starters, but there are circumstances where you need a fast boost. The trouble with portable battery units is having tem charged when you need them. Schumacher Electric Corporation’s Instant Power IPD-1800 solves this problem by resting in a charging cradle that keeps the unit topped up until you need it. The IPD-1800’s battery offers up to 50 hours of 12-volt DC auxiliary power. This 18-AH battery provides power for jump starting up to 30 trucks, SUVs, vans or cars, when at full charge. Battery Status LEDs are on both the jump starter and cradle. The unit also features reverse hookup protection with an audible alarm as a halogen work light and heavy-duty, spark-resistant clamps with #4-gauge cable. But what makes this product a winner in the shop is that when you’re in a hurry, you absolutely, positively know that it’s fully charged when you pull it off the shelf.

Roller vane aftermarket fuel pumps

Ever since the black day when OE manufacturers decided to bury fuel pumps inside the tank, replacement has been a difficult, sometimes dangerous job. Comebacks are a nightmare, so quality aftermarket parts are a must for this service. Bosch evaluated older, high warranty rate inner-gear and roller-vane designs and replaced them with modern, turbine technology pumps to offer a longer service life. The high rpm turbine impeller, in addition to virtually silent operation, provides smooth, precise fuel delivery and almost no fuel pulsation. Bosch deburrs the impeller ring, preventing contamination and assuring smooth fuel flow and spin-balances the armature for smooth operation in excess of 7,000 rpm. Noise suppression coils reduce radio interference to what Bosch claims are the lowest levels in the industry. The clincher? 1200 part numbers available right away, covering better than 65 percent of all electric fuel pump-equipped vehicles on the road.

Powder coated, semi-loaded calipers

You can’t be serious all he time, and among the fun stuff on display in Las Vegas were these Bendix powder coated calipers. While tuners have been painting their calipers for years, powder coating is a much more durable process that’s baked on, and when set, resists temperatures to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Brake dust and road dirt won’t stick to the coating. Weather won’t fade the coating, which is available in four colours: red, black, yellow and silver. An added benefit: they’re semi-loaded, allowing the fastest possible installation for a market that often demands specialty pads. Bendix offers cross-drilled and slotted rotors to complement the coloured calipers. They’re cool.

SUV/light truck hub units for car-like performance

Wheel bearings aren’t the sexiest of aftermarket components, so when something really different turns up, it’s worth a look. This year, SKF launched their X-Tracker series of SUV/light truck hub units, which have an unusual design. Using double-row angular contact ball bearings, the outer race is larger and contains more balls than the inner, which SKF claim increases hub stiffness by 50 percent over a conventional tapered bearing unit. Benefits include truer running during cornering and acceleration, reduces brake wear and less deflection of the hub face and wheel. NVH (noise vibration and harshness) are also reduced. It’s another opportunity for an independent to demonstrate that they can offer solutions that can be better than he factory part installed by a new car dealer. Besides, who doesn’t like a part with more balls?

Multi-mode flush machine

Transmission flush service is supposed to be a fast, profitable part of you service menu, but it’s often frustrating and messy if the equipment isn’t easy to set up and use. The Robinair 92500 enables technicians to have a vehicle in and out of the service bay in less than 20 minutes. The unit has a unique approach to exchanging oil, operating through the transmission oil dipstick, allowing technicians to exchange oil in the pan before the oil passes through the transmission filter. There’s no need to disconnect/reconnect transmission cooler line fittings, thereby eliminating the possibility of damaging the transmission oil cooler lines and peripheral components.

The 92500 offers three modes of operation: dipstick only, cooler line or a combination o
f the two, allowing technicians to service all types of transmissions. The unit includes a complete set of cooler line adapters for most foreign and domestic vehicles, and works with all types of automatic transmission fluid. The exchange accuracy is plus or minus 1/4 liter and technicians can add or subtract fluid in one-tenth liter increments. The unit comes with a 32-quart supply tank and 34-quart waste tank and the drain waste feature automatically pumps used fluid from the machine into a waste oil container. The opportunity here is the ability to offer tiered transmission fluid service: through the dipstick, line disconnect, or the full pan drop. The more options the better.

Ceramic performance friction for street and track

Ceramic brake friction has been around for a few years and in the aftermarket, it’s a good way to prevent annoying noise-related comebacks while offering a premium upsell. Akebono launched several new ceramic friction products in Las Vegas, including a tuner product that looks like a good opportunity for the sport compact market. Called Akebono Street Performance pads, what makes them special is that they’re capable of handling race-rack driving as well as being tractable for the street, which, as anyone who’s driven on full-metallic race pads on eh street knows, is no easy task. As you’d expect from this kind of product they’re chamfered and slotted, but Akebono adds bright colours with a powder coating. The firm also claims low dusting, a sales plus for owners with the new generation open lattice custom wheels. These ought to look good with the Bendix calipers, too.

O.E. quality third member kits

Formerly GM’s driveline manufacturer Detroit Gear and Axle, aftermarket newcomer American Axle and Manufacturing came to Industry Week in 2004 with a unique business proposition for aftermarket differential and driveline components: as good as OEM, because they’re the same parts that the company sells to the manufacturers. Offerings include gear sets, differential cases axle shafts diff and bearing kits as well as U-joints, driveshafts and steering components. The part that caught this editor’s eye was the O.E. quality diff cases and differential kits. The ability to use strong components in a rebuild without resorting to an expensive complete assembly can be a cost-saving option, while the availability of ring and pinion sets for a variety of light truck/SUV models gives installers some options, especially after fitting monster off-road tire assemblies, which put tremendous strain on drivelines. And in an automotive world increasingly dominated by electronics, it’s fun to handle testosterone stuff like gears and shafts again.

ECM programmer for multiple makes

Unfortunately, or fortunately if you can sell the service, modern vehicles often require changes to their ECU’s software through the lie of the vehicle. OEM’s issue changes to address warranty claims, drivability issues or to just debug imperfect factory programs. Blue Streak has a new flash programming module called the 2534 Global Programmer that acts as an interface between the vehicle ECM and a personal computer, allowing technicians to flash new calibrations onto a customer’s vehicle using calibration files available directly from the manufacturer. The 2534 Global Programmer can handle GM, Ford, Chrysler and Saturn vehicles as well as imports. Two things make it cool: It gives the shop a capability that keeps your customer’s vehicle away from the new car dealer, and it adds a new service that most motorists don’t even know about. Checking for software upgrades and installing them can become a value-added part of every drivability service.

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