Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2009   by David Halpert

Benefits Of Learning More Than Hot Air

Emissions System Training:

What rises to the top of any discussion on emissions components–aside from pricing and availability–is the challenge of getting training to those who need it, and the unmistakeable benefits to those who get it.

Because emissions systems are so complex and involve myriad parts and components each with its own specific purpose, it’s difficult to stay on top of everything.

Given the complexity of modern systems, comebacks are all too often caused by misdiagnoses on the technician’s part. Even so, the supplier is forced to shoulder the blame, and most offer flexible return policies and money-back guarantees. Many customers–both trade and consumer–assume that the jobber is completely expert in the full range of these systems, without realizing how difficult that can be.

“Our customers are expecting more from their counterperson because they figure we should almost be like a mechanic, which we’re not,” says Richard Osborne, vice-president of Pineridge Auto Supply in Oshawa, Ont. “I would say about 80% of the countermen don’t even lift the hood of their own car. Because of the Internet, it’s so simple to locate your own parts now. You don’t really have to be a hands-on type of person.”

Misdiagnosis often leads to garages ordering the wrong part–leading to all kinds of problems for both the garage and the supplier, ranging from comebacks to lost time and revenue. “A lot of times garages don’t have the proper equipment, and as a result they’re misdiagnosing,” says Lynn Bryce, manager of Hamilton Auto Parts in Hamilton, Ont. “They say they need a MAF sensor, and it turns out they need a coolant temperature sensor. [Even so,] most times whenever we get a call we have the part and are able to order it for customers, so we’re not really getting caught.”

A couple of years ago, NGK Spark Plugs of Canada noticed a major SKU proliferation at the OE level, and in its attempt to manage the needs of technicians wanting OEM fit, form, and function, discovered that knowledge of the firm’s products among jobbers and counterpeople was notably inadequate.

As a result of this finding, says Jeff Desveaux, product manager, “One of the things we did was to put up an e-learning site called ‘Plug Pro’ where anyone can register. It’s marketed to the jobber and counterperson as a training module, designed for people to actually learn about the different product categories–which for us include spark plugs, wire sets, and oxygen sensors. We have six levels of information across the three product categories, totalling 18, and another set of 18 modules once the first set is completed.”

The days of the simple, pre-OBD-II oxygen sensor are gone. NGK estimates that oxygen sensors sold in the aftermarket today are its seventh or eight generation since the firm first switched from unheated to heated oxygen sensors in the early ’90s.

While knowledge of emissions systems and how they work is important, some manufacturers believe that awareness of the market is just as crucial, as in the case of Federal-Mogul’s Carter division, which specializes in fuel and water pumps.

“The countermen are always giving out a price. However, it’s understanding the product line you carry and what’s included in the box [that’s important],” says Ann Skrycki-Mohler, brand manager for Carter. “We know that there’s not necessarily a one-to-one interchange with the product lines, where you can compare everybody and come up with a single price. You might have somebody supplying a pump, and the competitor is supplying a module for the same application. You can have components or products where you have a strainer in the box, and other manufacturers that sell the extra parts separately. So you need to understand your line and how the competition is positioned, and what your price really represents when you’re quoting it out to a customer.”

“Our biggest challenge dealing with this segment is education, and trying to train people so that they know that they’re doing the repair correctly the first time,” says Jeff Richardson, product manager, fuel delivery products for Federal-Mogul. “We get a lot of people that are putting a lot of parts on cars that don’t necessarily need to be there, and end up coming back to us [and the jobber] for no apparent reason.”

Delphi is in the position of manufacturing parts for both OE and the aftermarket for both fuel and emissions systems. Like Federal-Mogul and NGK Spark Plugs, Delphi’s biggest challenge ies in communicating to jobbers that understanding the technology allows them to make educated suggestions to their customers, whether they are technicians or do-it-yourselfers.

“Our main goal in the training and education services group is to make sure we’re imparting this seemingly complex data in a simplified version the average person can absorb. We’re trying to make their job a little easier,” says Doug Vidler, product line director, training for Delphi. “It’s really easy to convince an engineer that some parts are better than others, because they’re the ones that run the tests and have a better understanding of what can go wrong. It’s harder to communicate that message to the jobber and technician population out there.”

Often situations arise where a particular emissions or fuel part will get recycled to and from the jobber and the technician, he says, only to discover that a misdiagnosis on another part is what led to the trouble code in the first place.

“Part of what counterpeople need to do is to not automatically take the word from the customer who’s asking for a particular part. There’s a couple of Q&As that would have to go along with it. What I’m saying is [in times of repeat comebacks] there’s usually another issue, and oftentimes the parts counterperson is standing there saying it’s defective because their customer may not have known how to test it, they might not have known what was involved with it–and now you’re bridging that area where you have parts counterperson as technician. So what we advise when you encounter one of those grey areas is for those counterpeople to give us a call.

“Training eliminates ignorance and we can make sure these guys are up to speed, either one-on-one with the customer or by calling us for backup and support.”

Manufacturers are more than willing to help jobbers and counterpeople to better educate themselves on their products. Taking advantage of the materials currently out there will help you to better take advantage of new opportunities when dealing with your customers.


Available Resources

There are a number of resources for jobbers and counterpeople available from manufacturers that can help you better educate yourself about such systems. Here are a few:

NGK Spark Plugs

“Plug Pro” ( an e-learning site that acts as a training module for the products NGK offers (which include spark plugs, wire sets, and oxygen sensors). The website currently holds 18 training modules across two difficulty designations, 36 in total.


Federal-Mogul offers a Carter DVD on fuel pump installation and diagnostics as a quick refresher specific to the jobber, and can be used to show walk-in customers what’s going to be involved in that repair. This is in addition to Carter videos available on YouTube, updated technical bulletins on its main website, and a counterperson training course that jobbers can take online.


In addition to having its own hotline, Delphi also has a CD available called “Auto IQ” which contains 30-to 90-second explanations on the various systems and parts that make up the car, not just covering emissions and fuel systems. They also offer product information seminars geared towards jobbers averaging three to three and a half hours.

Robert Bosch LLC

Bosch provides specific training for counter staff as well as technicians. It is also constantly adding to the knowledgebase on its Webs
ite, addition to its vehicle parts finder and hotline, the technical services section provides useful PDFs on diagnosing problems with oxygen sensors, spark plugs, and wire sets.

Blue Streak

While Blue Streak has two trainers that promote its professional technician seminars, it also has a jobber/counterperson program that’s delivered by territory sales managers. Blue Streak is also soon to be launching its Canadian website which in addition to videos will contain updated manual PDFs available for download.

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