In recent years, European imports have risen to account for an increasing share of the vehicle population in Canada. At the same time, the age of the cars on our roads has risen to an average of almost eleven years. This vehicle trend is likely to continue as more car buyers look at foreign nameplates to replace the older domestic models in driveways throughout the country.
Even as recently as 1999, there were only a few million European import cars on Canadian roads. Today, that number has more than doubled, and this presents an opportunity for general repair shops and service stations to cater to this growing category.
However, as these cars get older, they are passed to their second, third, or fourth owner. In most cases, these new owners share the same passionate pride in their automobile that the original owner did. And they look to maintain their automobile to the same high standards to which it was manufactured.
Owners of these cars will increasingly look to local aftermarket stores for parts. But keep in mind that owners of European cars tend to be very particular about maintenance – as you probably know already. They tend to maintain OE brand loyalty, and extend this to the parts used in repairs.
This means the quality of the parts you sell them is particularly important to your European-car owners. And this applies not only to critical suspension and engine components, but to regular replacement items like filters.
Filter media needs to be designed to trap contaminants without restricting the flow of the oil. The material and quantity of the media is important, especially in turbocharged engines, to ensure an extremely clean flow of oil without restricting the supply.
OE design standards dictate that the filters installed at the factory must be able to exceed normal service intervals. Plus, they are designed to meet the increased flow requirements of high-performance European engine designs.
Anatomy of a canister-style oil filter
If you cut apart an OE-quality and a regular oil filter, you can see the difference visually:
Check Valve (Anti-drainback Valve)
The oil filter check valve prevents the engine oil from flowing out when the engine is turned off. It ensures the engine will be lubricated when it is started again. The check valve should be made from high-temperature silicone material. Some oil filters on the market just use a nitrile rubber material, which saves money for the filter manufacturer but may fail from the extreme heat often seen in today’s engine compartments.
When cold, even multi-grade oil will be thicker than at normal engine operating temperatures. When the engine is started, the flow of oil through the filter can be restricted until the temperatures rise. The oil filter bypass valve allows oil to flow through without filtering, if necessary, to ensure adequate supply of lubricant to the engine during the initial warm-up period. OE-quality filters use a tempered steel spring and an elastomeric gasket to completely seal off the bypass valve, ensuring oil is only allowed to bypass the filter media when necessary. Oil filters without this quality seal design may allow some bypassing all the time.
Some oil filters use a spring plate with integrated bypass valve. The spring is actually a plate made of thin sheet metal, providing minimal movement compared to a coil spring, and leading to poor sealing capability.
Canister-style Oil Filter Element
The heart of an oil filter is the filter element. The materials used, and the way the media is constructed, greatly affect the filtration performance.
On an OE-quality filter, the filter pleats are organized closely together and are all very even in appearance. This ensures optimal oil flow through the filter material. Lesser-quality filters have fewer pleats, meaning less filter media. Less filter media can result in a higher pressure drop across the filter; also, these filters will collect fewer contaminants since there is less surface area. The final result is a filter with a shorter filtering life.
Another interesting feature of OE-quality oil filters are the embossed media that oppose each other on the inside of the pleats. These work to maintain even spacing between pleats. Even when the filter gets old, these help prevent the filter from clogging and reducing filter efficiency. Some oil filters either have minimal embossing or none at all.
In an OE-quality oil filter, the adhesive used to seal the filter material to the top and bottom plates is evenly applied, ensuring a perfect seal all around. If you look inside some oil filters, you’ll see the adhesive used is very haphazardly applied. This can allow gaps, allowing oil to bypass the filter.
The top and bottom plates of OE-quality filters are manufactured from high-gauge metal to withstand the pressure inside the filter. Some filters only use thin gauge metal, while others do not use metal at all, but instead use cardboard.
Inside the filter media of an OE-quality filter is an inner filter tube that is made of heavy-gauge steel. This keeps filter material from collapsing from pressure in the oil system. Some filters have tubes made from thin-gauge steel, or cardboard that can collapse under pressure.
Finally, the filter housing of an OE-quality filter is made from heavier-gauge steel. This is important since when driving, the engine creates a pulsing oil pressure situation that can rupture the housing if it is not designed to handle this pressure.
European cars can represent a lucrative opportunity for your operation, especially as these quality automobiles are being passed down to subsequent owners. However, these new owners are no less demanding than the ones who drove the car off the new car dealer’s lot. Be sure to recognize the need for original-quality replacement parts, and the very real differences they represent.
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