Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2004   by John G. Smith

Emerging Markets: Fuel system components see changes ahead

Because fuel systems are out of sight and out of mind, they’re often neglected.

Until performance and fuel economy begins to suffer, many consumers give little thought to servicing fuel-related components . . . that is, until a warning light catches their attention. (Even then, the initial “solutions” might involve finding a strip of electrical tape to cover the glowing light.)

“Back in the old days, you had tune-ups and threw a bunch of parts in the car,” says Doug Vidler, Delphi’s manager of North American service operations. Long-life components changed all that.

But fuel systems still account for a significant share of aftermarket business.

About 4% of Canada’s vehicles required some sort of engine/fuel system work in 2003, according to J.D. Power and Associates. And dealerships accounted for a whopping 88% of the related service on vehicles that were two to three years old, largely because of the share of work completed under warranty.

While independent shops account for a third of the work overall, they don’t manage to gain their share of the market until vehicles begin to age. (Independent shops performed 43% of engine/fuel system work on vehicles that were eight to 12 years old.)

The dealerships even earn some extra business from independent shops that are looking to source fuel system parts, says Joe Stephan, Federal-Mogul’s marketing director of brake, chassis, and fuel products.

“About 50% of the time, technicians are going to the dealer,” he says. “Their trust is something that we need to gain. Clearly, the opportunity to pick up 15 to 20 points (in market share) is there over the next two to three years.”

Federal-Mogul also hopes a new education campaign will reduce related double-digit warranty rates, largely caused by installers who replace fuel pumps without diagnosing problems that lead to original failures. A training video will be released in the next couple of weeks, and a monthly newsletter called Fuel Solutions (to mimic the existing Moog Problem Solver) is on the horizon. Charts to step installers through proper diagnostic procedures, a counter mat and customer brochure are also on the way.

By training Federal-Mogul’s sales force to ask a few diagnostic-related questions about fuel delivery products, the warranty rates have dropped by a couple of percentage points in just six months, Stephan says. And he has a goal of reaching rates of 2% to 3% in just a couple of years.

Many fuel pump failures can be linked to contaminated strainers, suggests Tom Thompson, Delphi’s global products manager. It’s why the company’s installation instructions reinforce the need to replace both parts at the same time. “We say that to the point where it may affect the warranty if you do not (replace the strainer).” After all, a clean supply of fuel is more important than ever.

Vehicle manufacturers may have been incorporating multi-port fuel injection systems since the 1990s, but the components have been undergoing some radical changes, explains Autoline Remanufacturing regional sales manager Brent Karr.

“We are seeing increased fuel pressures with the new fuel injection systems, in an effort to better atomize the fuel entering the cylinders,” he says. “On older applications, fuel was continuously circulated between the fuel tank and fuel rail assembly. Many newer applications are using a return-less fuel system, which will increase the likelihood of injector failure since any contamination that enters the rail has no (other) place to exit.”

Other failures can be linked to issues ranging from external leaks to coil failures. And time will tell how well plastic injectors and components will perform when compared to the metal components they replaced, Karr adds.

“Beginning in 1992 and continuing through 2001, GM used two variations of Multiport Fuel Injection called Central Multi-Port Fuel Injection and Central Sequential Fuel Injection on most truck applications. These systems relied on plastic hoses and poppet nozzles to deliver fuel to the cylinder, and after 2001 were no longer used by GM, as they opted for the more traditional multi-port designs. Due to the extreme environment these components operate in, and the design, servicing these systems can be very expensive.”

While a fuel pump will typically last seven to eight years, its life can be affected by a number of factors — such as drivers who let their cars run low on fuel, pulling in additional contaminants from the vehicle tank, Thompson says.

A region’s fuel quality also seems to have a dramatic affect. The high grade of fuel that’s used in Europe corresponds with fewer fuel pump replacements, he offers as proof. “But they go through probably one and three-quarters as many pumps in Mexico as the U.S.”

Meanwhile, Delphi is also updating the design of its fuel pumps to prepare for the new fuels that will accommodate tighter emission standards for diesel engines. (Lower sulfur levels are being introduced to protect the traps that will be used to capture particulate matter in exhaust.)

A focus on diesel could be overdue, says Al Krenz, director of aftermarket service for Robert Bosch, suggesting that North American buyers could be poised to embrace diesel-powered vehicles because of ever-rising gasoline prices.

Bosch is already promoting the value of diesel around the U.S., with a travelling road show that includes 20 diesel-powered European vehicles.

“Every time the gas price hiccups a little bit, they sell out,” Krenz says, referring to the as-yet-limited production of diesel vehicles carrying nameplates from Mercedes-Benz to Volkswagen. More than 40% of Europe’s new cars are now running on diesel, and the fuel is used to power 70% of Germany’s ultra luxury cars, he says. And the Jeep Liberty will soon add its name to the list of models with the option of diesel power.

While some North American introductions may be stalled as manufacturers wait for the coming standards, Mercedes-Benz has already announced that it plans to inject small amounts of urea into exhaust systems as its solution to lowering emissions — and a fresh supply of urea will need to be added into the cars during regular service intervals.

Installers also need to be encouraged to swap fuel pressure regulators when replacing a fuel pump, Thompson adds, explaining how the next Delphi catalogue will show the two parts together.

The practice could be encouraged even more after 2005, when the regulators will be incorporated in Modular Reservoir Assemblies (MRAs).

“The potential for sales and replacement sales is huge in that particular area,” he says, referring to MRAs.

Meanwhile, climbing fuel prices should make consumers more aware of maintaining their fuel injection systems, adds Autoline’s Karr. But while the independent aftermarket tends to lean toward the cleaning of injectors, Delphi is stressing the need to replace the equipment.

Chemicals used to clean the parts can actually etch the ball on a ball and seat injector, causing leaks, Vidler explains.

“Eventually, that injector has to be replaced. It’s a wear item.”

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