Educating the vehicle owner about preparing for winter driving
Selling winter maintenance presents a challenge for service operations in Canada. The vast geography of the country along with the demographics of the diving population today makes it tough for a service operation to sell the winter maintenance package of old.
Ask anyone in their sixties or older and that person will likely remember when winterization packages were the norm. Even before the first leaf began to change colour, independent service operations and their dealer-based cousins would send out reminders for preparing one’s vehicle for the coming winter months. Local newspapers would carry advertisements offering a range of winter preparation packages for vehicle owners
While such package have not vanished entirely, they are less common.
One reason is geography. While those living in Northern Canada or some distance outside major metropolitan centres know how quickly winter can arrive, those living in such cities as Toronto or Vancouver often never see a snow fall or extreme cold temperatures; or if they do, it is fleeting. For these vehicle owners, winter maintenance seems an unnecessary expense. Then there is the fact that many of today’s new vehicles are designed to have longer drain intervals for everything from motor oils to coolants.
The reality is regardless of where one lives or how much snow manages to accumulate on the ground, winter maintenance is an essential service.
It comes down to education
What independents have to learn is selling winterization is not about selling on price, bundling several maintenance services together at a discount to attract someone. That will only get you a few vehicle owners who likely will not remain repeat customers. What sells winterization is the education you provide to the vehicle owner as to why they must get their vehicle ready for winter.
Let’s take tires. That seems like an easy sell. You put out a display of winter tires from the major tire makers, place an advertisement in the local newspaper and wait for the customers to roll into the service bays.
Now, if you live in Toronto you know that last winter was something of a bust. The city saw little snow fall and few terrible cold snaps. Vancouver saw its usual rain. In this kind of winter environment, it is not surprising that many service operations complained of poor winter tire sales. Customers told them they did not need winter tires because there was no snow or ice on the roads.
This is where the knowledge of the technician and service writer comes into play.
Bill Hume, vice-president of Hankook Tire Canada says the first thing service operations and their front-line staff need to do is tell vehicle owners to stop calling them ‘Snow Tires,’ a term that was popular thirty years ago and used still by some older vehicle owners and even a few younger ones.
“It is more accurate to call them ‘Winter Tires’, because they are designed and dedicated for the winter season, regardless if there is a lot of snow on the ground or not. What is fundamental is not just the obvious aggressive tread pattern you will see on the winter tires, but it is the unique rubber compounds and components used in the tire.”
As Hume mentioned, let’s begin with the tread pattern. All Season tires are designed to operate best in the Spring, Summer and Fall months, and the tread patters are made to give drivers the needed grip and handling for both dry and wet conditions, as well as a comfortable and quiet ride. Winter tires, as you will point out to a vehicle owner, have a tread pattern and design that is completely different.
“Winter tires have many more sipes that give the tire an improved ability to grip and ‘bite’ into the road surface for improved control and grip,” says Jame de Chave, marketing manager with Yokihama Tire (Canada) Inc. “The straight and lateral grooves are there to evacuate the snow, slush and water, and maintain a continuous contact with the road. Winter tires also come with blocks that provide a biting edge for snow, slush and ice.”
Winter tires use rubber compounds that are specifically made to remain ‘soft’ in cold weather, Hume adds.
All season tires are made with material that is ‘harder’ so they can last longer while providing needed handling and traction on dry and wet surfaces. But there is a downside which becomes apparent when the temperature begins to dip, Hume says.
“As the summer temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius begin to tapper off in September and October, with highs of only 10-15 Celsius being reached in the mornings and dropping down to near freezing in the evenings, traditional rubber compounds become stiff, just like other materials,” Hume continues. “The harder the rubber compound, the less traction and grip it will have on the road surface.”
The analogy Hume uses is that of a hockey puck. As temperatures drop towards seven degrees Celsius and below the rubber in All Season tires stiffen and lose their ability to provide needed traction and grip on roads now covered with ice or snow. That is why service writers and technicians need to emphasize that is it not important that there be snow on the ground for a vehicle owner to switch to winter tires. It is the temperature that is important. When temperatures drop bellow that seven degree Celsius mark, you need to make the switch to winter tires.
“A winter tire is made of rubber compounds that do not get stiff or hard as you see in an All Season tire,” Hume says. “That means the tire is better able to grip on dry, wet and icy surfaces. Trying to get through a cold winter with an all season tire product is not your best option.”
Don’t Neglect the Batteries
Canadian winters are tough on many vehicle components. One that is often neglected by vehicle owners is the battery. In fact, you should probably ask when was the last time the vehicle had the batteries checked. You may be surprised that, in some cases, it might be never; or at least, not anytime they can remember. And it almost never occurs to them to check the battery before temperatures begin to drop or the first heavy snows start to happen, suggests Alayne Crawford, manager of public affairs with CAA Canada. Batteries, she continues, should be checked at least every three to four years and to make sure they are fully charged.
There is a reason for this and it should be explained to vehicle owners. Batteries that lack a full charge or are in a discharged state are prone to freezing in very cold weather. If this happens, that freezing will damage the plates inside the battery. Another thing to do is to check the battery to see if the battery has sufficient cranking and cold cranking amps. Cold cranking amps is the number of amperes a car battery can deliver for 30 seconds when it is dropped to a temperature of nearly minus-18 degrees Celsius, while maintaining near 1.2 volt per cell. Cranking amps is the number of amps a battery can put out when it is at zero degrees Celsius for 30 seconds. If there are any problems with those numbers or the battery is discovered to lack sufficient reserve power, vehicle owners will find themselves in some trouble when the cold weather hits and they try to start their cars.
This is where today’s electrical system diagnostic analyzers and battery testers come into play. Unlike older units, today’s diagnostic testers and analyzers give a lot more information and let technicians and vehicle owners see what exactly is happening with the battery and connectors. In some cases, these testers will print out the diagnostic information. This printout can be shown to the vehicle owner so they can visually confirm the health of the battery and if it should be replaced or charged.
Belts, Hoses and Coolants
Whenever we speak about winterizing a vehicle, we often make sure to tell the owner the obvious things they need to do: make sure the windshield wipers are in good condition, use the right antifreeze, check the battery and tires. But do most drivers know that belts and hoses are components that must checked as well?
Winter places an added stress on belts and hoses. They must operate in an environment where they will suddenly go from a sub-zero temperature to high heat and stress only to drop back down into freezing temperatures again, often several times a day.
If there is a problem with a belt or hose, it could leave the driver stranded on the side of the road.
“Cold engine starting is concern,” says Randy Chupka, director of marketing for Gates Canada Inc. “Typically the battery load is depleted from the cold and immediately after start up, the alternator is running under full load to recharge the battery, as well as run high electrical loads from rear defrosters elements, HVAC fans, AC pumps (defog), heated seats, and lights. Water pumps work a little harder in the cold weather as well, with slightly higher fluid viscosities. All of these factors place enormous strain on the Accessory Belt Drive System (ABDS) so it is essential that the belt is properly maintained. Recent studies indicate that one in five vehicles is in need of replace…no better time to perform maintenance prior to the winter season.”
Older belt technologies using Neoprene will show obvious signs of wear on belts include cracks or holes, glazing or incorrect alignment. Belts made with more advanced EPDM are made to last longer, but they do wear, but not in a visibly obvious way. EPDM belts lose rubber material over time and a wear gauge needs to be used to find out if the belt has to be replaced.
Wipers are another wear item that vehicle owners need to have checked and replaced regularly, even if on the surface things look fine.
“Winter takes its toll on wipers, and technicians should check wipers regularly for cracking, tearing or to see if they have taken a ‘permanent set,’” says Ezequiel Allegrina, group product manager, wiping systems for Bosch. “When a wiper develops permanent set, the rubber remains bent to one side which diminishes the “flip-over” capability of the wiping edge between the upstroke and downstroke, causing streaks and generally poor wiping performance. These factors can lessen optimal wiping characteristics.”
Coolant replacement can be a particularly tricky issue for some vehicle owners. The days of buying off the shelf coolant are gone as coolants are formulated for specific vehicles. Many vehicles use Organic Acid Technology which are silicate free and other vehicles demand Hubrid Organic Acid Technology (HOAT) coolants and others use phosphated HOAT mixtures.
Vehicle owners also need to be educated on the need to regularly change the fluid and to have the proper coolant/glycol mix. Many drivers will sometimes try to convince themselves or will tell the technician that coolants are made to last for years and coolant flushes and replacement are really just money-grabs by service shops. To be blunt, they are wrong. What they have to understand is just as your motor oil and filter have to be regularly changed so do coolants.
Over time, coolant mixes can become diluted with water and their chemical components can break down. It is generally agreed that every two year, a complete coolant flush should be done and in the fall the coolant/glycol mix needs to be checked and adjusted if need be.
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