Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2008   by Andrew Ross

Engine Parts Opportunities

There is no question that the engine parts game has changed, in step with changes in engine technology. Longer–often much longer–service intervals, and the seemingly paradoxical demand for greater horsepower and greater fuel mileage, have combined to change more than just the demand curve. For anyone involved in retail or wholesale trade, it means trying to anticipate not just what parts will be in demand, but also certain specifics regarding those parts.

Nothing can damage your credibility more in front of a customer than not having a good understanding of the parts you are selling. And for such labour-intensive jobs as those involving engine components, correcting a problem is not usually easy. With myriad new applications and a steady increase in the import vehicle population, you need to know more than the difference between a Pontiac 400 and an Oldsmobile 403.

The first step in serving customers is, of course, having the right parts on hand.

Information from parts manufacturers indicates that certain applications are in ascendancy.

Primary among these are light-and medium-duty applications. While recent fuel price pressures have caused many consumers and small business people to rethink their future vehicle purchases, the roads are still full of a new generation of light-and medium-duty trucks that serve them well.

This has brought certain applications to the forefront, including Ford/Navistar 6.0L Power Stroke, GM 6.6L Duramax Diesel, and GM’s Generation III and IV 4.8L/5.3L/6.0L engines.

There is also a notable rise in the non-automotive world of GM’s 6.5L truck diesel engines, N14 Cummins, 3406 Caterpillar, and forklifts with Ford and GM engines.

Considering these factors, it is useful to take the opportunity to think about your own engine parts customer base. Given the extended reliability of today’s automotive engines, among other factors, it is imperative that you broaden your customer base beyond the conventional rebuild market, if you haven’t done so already.

There has been ample evidence over the past few years that the recreational engine market holds promising growth potential, without the same price pressures as either the passenger car market or the on-road fleet market.

For example, the Earthmaster tractor that was made for only two years (1948 to 1950) is currently enjoying a surge in popularity as a show tractor, due to its rarity and versatility.

The collector/restorer of such a tractor will look long and hard for a catalogue listing, but if you know that it was equipped with a Continental N62 engine, or that compatible engine parts can be found by looking up Allis-Chalmers G or the Massey-Harris Pony, you can help a customer like this immensely and also make a reasonable profit for your troubles.

Also, since this type of customer is often in communication with like-minded collectors, you may get some future calls from unexpected places.

You may be surprised to learn that some older muscle car platforms have risen in popularity recently, giving the performance market similar profit potential.

While there are always local market factors at play, in the overall market, applications like the big block Pontiac engines (389/400/421/455) have been reportedly getting some new demand. The demand has been such that some suppliers have put parts for these applications back into pro- duction–parts that had been discontinued years ago.

Considering this, it is wise to update yourself on just what parts have been brought back into production. While with older collector cars, say from the 1960s or 1970s, there are almost always some items available exclusively from specialty suppliers, the surge in popularity of so much of that classic Detroit muscle may mean that items you previously had to source from specialty suppliers can now be had from your main engine parts sources, with the added benefit of streamlined invoicing and supply as well as the attendant shipping and pricing benefits.

One of the important things to consider when searching out specialty applications, whether for a performance car, restoration, or rare out-ofthe-blue request such as a classic tractor, is to streamline your processes as much as possible. While there’s a certain pride in being able to put together the desired selection of parts from two dozen suppliers around the continent, the time involved, and the need to manage the delivery following the order, can easily outstrip the financial benefits of filling the order.

This does not mean you should shy away from such business, but it does mean that you should consider the value of your time in the equation.

As to the more conventional market areas, there is still quite a bit of opportunity courtesy of some less-than-stellar decisions at the OEM level.

There has been much talk in the industry of both the Ford 3.8L V6 cylinder head failures and GM’s now-legendary trouble with the intake manifold gasket sealing on its 3.1-litre and 3.4-litre V-6 engines, but no discussion of engine parts sales could leave them out.

Considering that the troubled GM engine noted above is its most widely used engine and can be found in Chevrolet, Buick, and Pontiac vehicles along with some light trucks, it has provided ample opportunity for gasket sales. Moreover, since the initial reports of trouble with those engines, the call for fixes has expanded to include a wider range of intake manifold applications, including GM’s Vortec series (4.3L, 5.0L, and 5.7L).

A key point to note in these sales is that there are OEM replacements and aftermarket replacements that may not be quite the same; the aftermarket parts have often been re-engineered to better cope with the harsh environment these parts encounter.

While the original equipment gasket used silicone rubber sealing inserts and a nylon carrier, the replacement parts use HNBR rubber (acid-resistant Hydrogenated Nitrile Butadiene Rubber), or FKM, one type of which is more commonly known as Viton. Both are resistant to damage from coolant. The addition of better carrier materials also provides greater assurance of a good, long-term seal.

Whenever discussing engine parts with a customer, it is wise to always recommend the best parts in your inventory for the job. There is simply no such thing as an easy or quick engine parts replacement job. The small premium for top quality parts pales in comparison to the cost in time and your reputation, should the job fail due to the use of old technology or substandard parts.

Special thanks to Duane Bethke, Mahle Clevite Inc. team coordinator for its Victor Reinz gaskets, for information used in this article.

GM’s Intake Manifold Failures

Failures of these intake manifold gaskets have often been attributed to GM’s use of Organic Acid Technology (OAT) coolant under the Dex-Cool brand name. Previous investigations have been unable to confirm this as the cause, but do point to shortcomings in the bead sealing and carrier materials selected by GM that had difficulty handling the movement and temperatures experienced, compromising the sealing capability.

An investigation into the issue in the July 2006 issue of Jobber News reported that the materials used in the carrier, a type of nylon, combined with the silicone bead sealing materials, created a less than ideal situation. The carrier became weakened in contact with the coolant and the silicone swelled, stressing the weakened carrier and eventually causing its failure.

Still, there is more to it than this: discussions with engineers in the past suggest that there may have been shortcomings in the construction and assembly of the engine components. As reported in the article, the official position of Chevron Texaco, one of the suppliers of the GM-specified formulation, is simply that no link exists. “The Dex-Cool line of coolants, licensed by General Motors to multiple coolant manufacturers for its GM 6277M specification, is not involved in the failure mechanism of the GM
intake manifold gasket issue. GM thoroughly investigated these allegations and concluded the coolant was not at fault. Chevron’s own review concurs with GM’s findings. GM continues to fill all of its new vehicles with Dex-Cool.”

However, regardless of the root cause, the fact is that the new replacement gaskets work better and last longer, meaning that you have some significant value to offer customers dealing with this problem.

The article on GM’s intake manifold troubles, “A Fate Sealed” (Jobber News, July 2006), is still available in the Jobber News archives at Click on “Print Issues” and follow the links.


GM’s Intake Manifold Failures

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