Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2004   by Auto Service World

Cooling System Components Market Shifting

While maintenance intervals lengthen, new opportunities emerge.

It is no secret that there are few markets in the maturing underhood categories that are seeing steep increases. Outside of those product categories driven by new technologies only now coming into their own prime replacement years –such as those related to fuel and emissions systems–engines and the components under the hood have largely been driven by the automaker’s imperative that the car owner seldom if ever has to open the hood of his car.

Engines that are designed to have no scheduled maintenance for 160,000 km, long drain transmissions, and fewer belts and hoses, to minimize service needs and simplify assembly operations at the factory, have all combined to push units down over a variety of categories.

Cooling systems components are no different.

According to research firm Frost & Sullivan, belt production in North America has steadily declined. In a report published in 2001, three manufacturers were said to dominate the market, with over 90% of aftermarket manufacturer level revenues. Still, units decreased from 38.8 million in 1999 to 38.5 million in 2000. The decline in units was attributed to longer lasting belts, the decrease in average number of belts per vehicle, and oversupply within the distribution channels.

Notwithstanding the temporary supply chain issues caused by consolidation among warehouses, the fact is that belts and hoses are lasting longer.

Automotive belts are normally replaced around the 100,000 km range–particularly as concerns timing belts–but better engineered and designed products have extended the replacement rate, in some instances, up to the 120,000-160,000 km range.

However, this reduction in replacement rates has been largely outstripped by the more dramatic reduction in the number of belts on a vehicle.

Serpentine belt-configured engines over multiple V-belt-configured engines continue to dominate aftermarket belt demand. In the late 1980s, the average number of belts on a vehicle was 3.2. In 2000, the average fell to approximately 1.3 belts per vehicle. By the year 2000, virtually all accessory drives were designed with the serpentine configuration.

It isn’t all bad news, however. As vehicles age more gracefully, more will make it to those higher replacement intervals.

But, while belts are suffering from a mature market syndrome, the automatic belt tensioner market offers significant opportunities.

Considering its relatively young age, the aftermarket for belt tensioners impresses with its growth into a fiercely competitive market. Within four years, it was estimated that the market had already grown to $75 million in North America, and the growth of vehicles on the road equipped with the technology was pegged to grow at 25% a year. It’s no wonder the market has been attracting attention.

Still, the fact is that too often the tensioner is left out of the equation during belt replacement. While the message that belts and hoses should be replaced every four years or so may have gained some recognition in the aftermarket, no similar interval for tensioner replacement has made its way into the psyche of the technician. Perhaps, when they are replacing a belt, they should ask themselves whether that tensioner would last another four years.



It is important to understand that in a cooling system, there tends to be more than just coolant. There are a variety of contaminants circulating–from scale and rust, to metal and silicate particles from the coolant itself–and the concentration of these rises over time until at some point they start to seriously affect the ability of the engine cooling system to work efficiently.

According to a survey conducted in the U.S., the condition of the cooling systems on cars is less than ideal.

The survey found that the cooling systems of seven out of 10 vehicles contained rust and scale; that more than 60% of water pump failures can be attributed to seal failure; and more than 50% of engine failures can be attributed to cooling system failure.

Additionally, a thin coating of deposits on a 2.5 centimetre thick portion of cast iron is equivalent to 8.75 centimetres of cast iron, reducing heat dissipation by 40%.

Proper cooling is extremely dependent on proper circulation of the coolant. That is, of course, the job of the water pump. Most water pumps are perhaps not as robust as their predecessors; but rather than lightness of construction, it is the environment they live in that pushes them to the breaking point.

There has been much discussion over the past few years looking for a link between Dex-Cool coolant and premature water pump failures. Most of this has been anecdotal, and there is even a class action suit being pursued in the U.S., but there has yet to be any definitive evidence that it is solely due to a problem with the coolant formulation.

There is some evidence to suggest that the plastic intake plenum of the GM 3.8L can suffer from pitting that can allow coolant into the intake air stream, as well as letting air into the cooling system, which promotes corrosion.

Frankly, most of the descriptions of the coolant where problems have been found read like classic cases of contamination, which may have more to do with other engine fluids and exhaust gases combining with the coolant. That assumption is, however, just that: an assumption.

Other causes of pump failure may have more to do with belt tension and vibration, as many have less robust bearings than the previous generation.

A Cadillac water pump is a classic example. Equipped at the OE level with a pair of narrow barrel bearings, the pump suffered higher than normal failure rates. Remanufacturers found that replacing this with a single, longer-barrel bearing eliminated the problem; this strengthened the press fit and the durability of the units fell back into line. It is notable that this change was also echoed at the OE level.

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