It used to be easy selling winter maintenance. When the dog-days of summer ended and kids began toiling away in the beginning weeks of school, most independents only had to put a sign out announcing winter’s approach and people would bring their cars in to get ready for the first snowfall.
While it would be easy for an independent today to put a sign out announcing winter maintenance, it would prove to be a tough sell to many car owners today. Part of the difficulty is the fact of the changed make-up of where many Canadians live.
Since the 1950s, more Canadians have moved and are now living in large city-centres than in rural environments, with some 80 per cent of Canadians calling urban-centres home according to Statistics Canada in 2006. Depending on which urban centre a car owner lives, winter can seem to come rather late, with some cities reporting no snowfall until well into December or even January; and what snowfall there is can be slight. So this can give many car owners an impression that winter driving is not that much different from driving during the fall or spring, expect for the shorter daylight hours and the leafless trees. Also, there is the ever-present sales pitch of ‘All Season’ on everything from tires to wiper fluid, adding an extra layer of confusion to the winter picture. If your tires and wiper fluid are ‘All Season’ what exactly is the need to winterize a vehicle?
This presents a unique challenge for an independent shop: how to convince those car owners who do not live in rural areas where severe winter weather is common that winterizing a car is as important as regularly changing the motor oil.
Winter Driving, Challenges
Probably the easiest thing to do is to remind drivers – and to remind them often – that driving in winter is something that must be taken seriously. Too often drivers are unprepared for the first snows and find themselves having all sorts of difficulties with their vehicles: poor-quality car batteries or ones that are damaged or failing can leave drivers stranded when the first cold-snap happens; wipers that are near the end of their useful life cannot effectively remove snow or ice making driving hazardous; headlights not functioning properly add to the dangers of driving in heavy snowfall conditions and at night; and ‘All Season’ anything, especially on tires is likely not to be very successful in heavy snow and ice conditions.
If a driver has problems believing all that, perhaps the service writer or shop owner can tell them the all-to-familiar story of the yearly up-tick in vehicles being towed into the service bays when the first heavy snows hit and drivers find themselves stuck on the sides of roads, in shopping mall parking lots or in minor fender-benders.
“All too often, drivers put off preparing their vehicle for winter driving until after the first major snowstorm,” said Dean Morin, communications manager, national public affairs, Canadian Automobile Association. “As you never know when the first major storm will strike, the key is to be ready before the snow arrives. As a general rule of thumb, for most regions of Canada, fall is a good time to begin the preparation process (and this may be even earlier in more Northern and mountainous areas where it gets colder quicker).”
Morin added the key to preparing drivers for winter is to start by educating them about what they should be having checked and have readied in their vehicles for winter, something similar to a checklist.
This checklist can be used by service writers and technicians to more effectively sell winter maintenance and to upsell products and services. Take windshield wipers. These are probably the easiest item to first sell on to a vehicle owner as they are often the first items a customer can actually see problem with; or on which problems can be pointed out to a customer. Over time, wipers deteriorate and will produce uneven wiping as the wiper is unable to make a proper contact with the windshield. To a driver, the telltale signs of a wiper having reached the end of its useful life will be such things as streaking or chattering, said Randy Chupka, marketing manager with Gates Canada. Chupka added service writers can also point to such things as worn or split rubber on the wiper, bent refill vertebra and wiper frames to show the customer why the wipers need to be replaced.
“It is recommended that wiper blades be changed every six months to maintain maximum driving safety,” Chupka said. “As an easy reminder, you should change your wipers when you change your clock at daylight savings times. It is also always recommended to change both wipers as the same time. This will help ensure clear driving vision from the entire windshield. And don’t forget the rear blade, which is found on most Sports Utility Vehicles. They too wear.”
Tom Vasis, group product manager, wiping systems for Bosch pointed out that winter is also a tough time for wipers, stressing all of a wiper’s critical components, and should be watch carefully as severe winter weather may mean having to replace wipers more frequently than in summer months.
“Ice on the windshield is the main culprit in winter deterioration of wiper blades,” Vasis said. “If the windshield is iced up, trying to clear the windshield by activating the wipers – without first taking off the ice – will quickly damage the wiper blade rubber and make it less effective in wiping rain, mist and snow form the windshield.”
Preparing a car for the winter months is also a good opportunity to upsell to more premium wiper technologies such as Bosch’s bracketless Icon or evolution wipers or Gates’ Trico Advanced Flexible Beam Blade wipers or the Trico 30 series.
Over the years, the trend in automotive lubricants, coolants and other materials has been towards greater diversity. With the growing number of vehicles designed to exacting standards makers of various lubricants and other automotive fluids have rolled out a growing number of products that are made to be use for specific vehicle types and systems. For the service writer this has meant being on a constant learning curve to keep up with all the changes and specialized formulations. A mistake in mismatching a product to a vehicle can result in thousands of dollars of damage.
Coolant is no different. A range now exists that can be confusing for both technicians and consumers alike. But a few basic facts are important to remember.
Older coolants or IAT (Inorganic Additive Technology) coolants use silicate as the primary corrosion inhibitor. These inhibitors are fast-acting, but deplete over time. GM uses Dex-Cool, and Organic Acid Technology (OAT) which has organic salts for corrosion inhibition and is silicate free. These inhibitors do not deplete in serve, but may fail to react quickly in fast corrosion conditions. Ford, Chrysler and European manufacturers have chosen G-05 or Hybrid Organic Acid Technology (HOAT) that combines silicates and organic salts together. Asian manufacturers use phosphated HOATR technology (pHOAT) coolants, which combine phosphates and organic acids together without silicates for protection.
“As you can see, it is impossible to have one chemistry that will meet the requirements of all manufacturers,” said James Vitak, a spokesman with Ashland Inc., makers of Valvoline lubricants and coolants, including Zerex antifreeze. “For example, GM requires an OAT chemistry that is silicate-free whereas Ford and Chrysler specify G-05 or HOAT chemistry that must include silicate. Manufacturers spend a lot of money to determine which chemistries are compatible and incompatible with materials found in their cooling systems. Choosing a coolant that is incompatible with the cooling system may lead to decreased performance and potentially expensive repairs.”
Along with correctly matching the formulation to the vehicle, service writer should also emphasize the importance of regular coolant flushes and proper matching of coolant and glycol mixtures. There is a myth amongst some drivers that coolants don’t have to be changed as often as motor oils, but a good ‘rule-of-thumb’ is that coolants should be changed every two years, and mixtures checked regularly, especially before the winter months, as over the hot summer months, drivers may have tried a bit of DIY fixings of coolant issues by pouring water into the mix to cool down an overheating engine. Another thing to remember is regular coolant flushes and inspections are also a great opportunity to inspect hoses and the water pump, as well as the radiator for any signs of damage or deterioration, as an upsell opportunity for needed maintenance work or parts replacement may exist.
Batteries and Tires and Cold Weather
One of the effects of very cold weather is how it dramatically reduces the speed at which chemical reactions occur in a battery while at the same time increasing electrolyte resistance. So it is important to remember to remind drivers of how important it is to keep batteries fully charged during times of extreme cold weather. Batteries that are not fully charged or are in a discharged state are susceptible to freezing which will damage the plates.
It is also recommended that batteries be regularly checked to see what their cranking and cold cranking amp levels are. Cranking amps are the number of amperes a traditional lead-acid batter at zero degrees C can deliver for 30 seconds and maintain at least 1.2 volts per cell. This CA cranking amps figure determines how much power you will have to start a car in most weather conditions. In cold weather, a battery will have to produce more power so as to start the vehicle and other systems. Cold Cranking Amps is the number of amperes a battery at -17.8 C can deliver for 30 seconds and maintain at least 1.2 volts per cell. As well as Cold Cranking Amps it is important to check for reserve capacity as this is the battery’s ability to produce a minimum vehicle electrical load to operate the vehicle in conditions such a winter driving. This is critical for drivers who need to be told that if their batteries do not have this minimum reserve capacity, or the battery is unable to hold that reserve capacity, they are likely to find themselves stranded someplace waiting for tow in the middle of a snowstorm. And it could be a very long wait.
Winter tires are another thing to try to sell to a customer. While Quebec has mandatory winter tire legislation, other Canadian provinces do not. But even being stuck in snow drifts often is not enough to sell winter tires to most people. The reason most people give for not buying winter tires is not because they don’t know their advantages; it is because they often do not have a place to store their existing summer tires. This is especially true in urban areas where not every home has a garage or most condominiums have limited storage spaces where people can place their tires. What more shops need to be doing is finding a way to help vehicle owners store their existing tires during the winter months when switching to winter tires. Making this part of the pitch for winter tires will make the sale easier. An added benefit is that by storing a driver’s tires, one also has the means of selling other maintenance services: brake and suspension inspection, tire rotation, and spring maintenance services along with a range of other services. Once you have made that first winter tire sale, you may find yourself with a long-term customer that will bring long-term profits for the shop.