Auto Service World
News   June 9, 2022   by Adam Malik

Getting back on the road

As warmer months near and new driving habits take shape, here's what trends leaders see coming, along with some advice


The last couple of years have changed the composition of drivers and their vehicles. Motorists are driving their automobiles differently than in so-called normal years, and their vehicles have gotten older.

That means changes in how automotive aftermarket shops do business.

For most shops in Canada, more than half of the vehicles they see require synthetic motor oil, according to Ian Hutchison, aftermarket marketing manager at Wakefield Canada.

“That means most shops should be moving away from conventional motor oil in their bulk tanks to stocking synthetic motor oil to get the best pricing for the oil their customers need,” he told CARS. “In some cases, if bulk is not the best option, the ASP should work closely with their oil supplier to establish the kind of vehicles in their area, and the best way to stock oil for their customer profile.”

This time of year also means ensuring customers are staying on top of their vehicle maintenance needs. While travel picked up late last year, that quickly stopped with the rise of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. However, restrictions have been lifted for the most part in Canada. People are back on the road, be it for road trips or to go back to the office. Making sure their vehicle is in top shape should be top of mind.

“If motor oil has been sitting idle in a vehicle for several months, or has been only driven occasionally, it’s probably time for an oil change,” said Sean Nguyen, Pennzoil scientist and technology specialist. “It’s important for customers to understand if their vehicle has not been driven for an extended amount of time or only occasionally, it is a good idea to change the vehicle’s motor oil before putting it back into service or returning to previous driving habits.”

Not to mention that oil changes are based on time and mileage. If customers are driving less, the time intervals become more important. This allows shops to reach out to customers, Hutchison advised. “This is the ideal opportunity to have a discussion with consumers around how they use their vehicle, and what motor oil is appropriate for their driving pattern.”

Hutchison reminded that OEMs to create their own specifications based on fuel economy and emissions requirements. So while one oil may have met most customers’ needs in the past, multiple products could be now required.

“This can be particularly prevalent with European vehicles,” he said. “An ASP should work closely with their oil supplier to choose a product that offers broad coverage with multiple specifications and OEM approvals to avoid having to manage inventory of multiple products. This can be particularly problematic with ATF (automatic transmission fluid).”

Both Hutchison and Nguyen noted that customers are increasingly looking for better performance from their motor oils. Vehicles are older — on average about 12 years, a number that increased during the pandemic due to the shortage of new vehicles —and require more than run-of-the-mill maintenance.

“When it comes to motor oil, a majority of customers are looking for engine protection and longevity,” Nguyen said. “Thus, consumers are looking for ways to extend the life of their vehicle. The engine is the workhorse of the vehicle and regular service and maintenance with high-quality motor oil will help keep that engine running for longer.”

So consumers will turn to their service pro for recommendations. “As cars age, oil seals can harden and leak and can begin to burn oil. A car burning oil will quickly lead to a failed catalytic converter, and a car operated with low oil due to leakage can lead to catastrophic engine failure,” Hutchison said. “An ASP recommending a high mileage motor oil can help a consumer prevent an expensive engine rebuild or catalytic converter replacement.”

“When it comes to motor oil, a majority of customers are looking for engine protection and longevity.”

Brakes

Brake component manufacturers have also been adjusting to new driving habits. Drivers using their vehicles less means reduced wear and tear. But that doesn’t mean there’s less demand. Nathan Killeen, Continental associate product manager, and Sean Lannoo, Continental sales and technical training supervisor, noted that there has been an increase in do-it-yourself brake system maintenance.

“We’ve also seen an increase in the service of other brake components outside traditional brake pad replacement,” they observed.

Furthermore, with vehicles idle much more the last few years, rust, corrosion and moisture have become common issues.

“Rust can build up on articulating brake parts such as slide pins, calipers and rotors which can reduce braking efficiency. In some serious cases, it can even bind up the brake parts or result in seizing. If the brake fluid gets contaminated by moisture build-up from long periods of inactivity, it can also cause damage to the piston and caliper,” said Killeen and Lannoo, who are part of Continental’s ATE Brake Systems team.

That said, noted Dann Ingebritson, senior technical trainer at First Brands Group, even if people aren’t commuting to work as often, they may now be making more in-town trips.

“Some families that went from driving 25 miles on the highway to work, now drive 10 miles around town, dropping off children at daycare and school,” he said.

So while distance travelled may be down, the number of braking events may increase.

And it’s now easier to have vehicles serviced in the middle of the day if the customer is working from home — that could mean more attention paid to maintenance needs. With more attention comes a better opportunity to educate customers on what they need and why they should invest in particular products.

“The industry is spending more time relaying information to consumers,” Ingebritson told CARS. “Pads and rotors used to come in plain white boxes with minimal print. Now, we explain the attributes they are getting with our products so they can compare and make intelligent selections.”

Another example is educating consumers to match the use of their vehicle to the right pad. “The person who bought a Ford F-150 may not use it as a work truck, so we offer different pad options to suit their requirements,” Ingebritson said.

It’s important for service pros to press the importance of brake system maintenance. “Additionally, with the proliferation of e-vehicles and regenerative braking, many drivers think that they don’t need to service the brakes on these vehicles. But these systems still need to be inspected routinely and the fluid and calipers need to be replaced just like on a conventional vehicle,” Killeen and Lannoo told CARS.

“Some families that went from driving 25 miles on the highway to work, now drive 10 miles around town, dropping off children at daycare and school.”

Spring time

As seasons are changing, at the top of Killeen’s and Lannoo’s minds is safety.

“As the winter season makes way for spring weather, we want our jobbers and shops to think brake safety and encourage systems safety checks as well as mileage-based service requirements, such as a brake fluid flush and lubrication of critical moving parts, such as caliper slides, pins, and bushings, as well as parking brake cables and linkages. Brake systems have a lot of moving parts that need to be well-lubricated to make sure everything is working smoothly and quietly,” they said.

For Ingebritson, he recommended a full vehicle inspection — not just brake systems. Chat with the customer to see if they notice any pulling or unusual noises. “Then drive the vehicle before inspection. The brake pull may turn out to be suspension-related. When the vehicle is up on the lift, pull all four wheels and pay attention to things such as brake hoses and rusty brake lines.”

On the oil side, Nguyen once again highlighted synthetic options. “By offering a synthetic motor oil to your consumers, you can be assured that it will give them peace of mind when they begin to plan for getting back to normal and hitting those family road trips again. Additionally, a high-quality synthetic motor oil will help to keep those engines running longer, reduce fuel consumption and save money from future repairs in the long run.”

Hutchison reiterated talking to the customer and finding out what their planned use of the vehicle is. “This spring is the ideal opportunity to have a discussion with consumers around how they use their vehicle, and what motor oil is appropriate for their driving pattern,” he said. “If the consumer will be using their car for stop-and-go traffic, loading up the car for upcoming vacations, towing or high-performance driving, in many cases, this is defined by OEMs as ‘severe service,’ and has a much shorter oil change interval.”


This article appeared in the April issue of CARS

Image credit: Depositphotos.com


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