Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2013   by Steve Pawlett

How to Sell More Exhaust,Emission, and Tune-Up Parts

With the aftermarket “sweet spot” now stretching from six- to 12-year-old vehicles, the exhaust, emission, and tune-up parts categories offer plenty of opportunity for increased sales. Selling successfully into these categories is largely dependent on knowing your customers’ needs, and having the right supplies on hand.

To sell successfully in the exhaust market, you need to have a solid inventory supply covering all the categories in your particular market, as well as a comprehensive backup supply of some of the hard-to-find slow movers.

Catalytic converters have become strong performers in recent years, and have been making up for the slowdown in exhaust system sales. More and more specialized aftermarket units are being engineered, as manufacturers continue to improve the technology. Having a good selection of these units in your inventory can boost your bottom line.

The popularity of direct-fit systems over universal fit systems may well play a role in your particular market. The street-level economic, demographic, and preference factors of your customer base will dictate what you need to have in stock and on-call better than any of the national stats you may be relying on.

With consolidation across model years, we are now seeing kits that will fit a wider range of models. The one-piece-fits-all-models approach is definitely growing with manufacturers.

Even though stainless steel is very resilient to rust and lasts much longer, there are still several models out there that have vibration issues and insufficient flexibility issues that result in exhaust system failures. Often, the aftermarket replacement parts are designed to be much more robust and will reduce the chances of a reoccurrence of the problem. This is a good opportunity for counter staff to mention, “Aftermarket products are built better than OE.”

If you are in the game but are not always hearing what you’d expect from your customers, don’t dismiss this feedback out of hand. Look to your supplier reps as a quality source of information on ways to meet customer needs, with options they have available that you may be unaware of. Keep in mind, different suppliers will have different approaches, should a change be necessary.

Emissions and the Aftermarket Perception

When it comes to engine management and emissions work, some technicians are reluctant to use aftermarket options because they are under the misguided belief that there is a risk of an unsatisfactory result. The question of quality aftermarket emissions components might have held water a few years back, but that perception is no longer valid.

What some technicians still fail to realize is that the parts that make up the aftermarket inventory are actually the same parts they are able to obtain through the car dealer.

To determine if a customer is avoiding purchasing emission parts due to an outdated perception, look to your database and analyze the customer’s buying patterns. Is he buying only domestic applications? Is he only buying one brand from you? Is he only buying older application parts from you?

The next step requires you to go to his shop and have an in-person conversation. This way, you can see first-hand if you are missing out on an opportunity to increase sales of quality emission components to this customer. You can’t presume to know what type of vehicles your customers are working on simply by their buying patterns. By going out to see them, you can look around and see what vehicles are on the lot and in their bays. Then ask yourself if what you are seeing is matching up with what they are buying. If it doesn’t, then you have an opportunity to increase sales with that customer.

Component Function Refresher

Solid product knowledge combined with strong sales skills are what lead to customer satisfaction and increased revenue and profitability. To be successful in sales in exhaust, emissions, and tune-up parts, counter staff should be comfortable and conversant with the functions and potential failure modes of the components they are selling.

Here’s a basic refresher on the main components:

The Electronic Control Module’s (ECM) job includes the fuel system controls, and stretches to the ignition and other systems.

The Air Charge Temperature Sensor converts air temperature to a voltage signal, operating similarly to the engine coolant sensor.

The Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor (ECT) converts temperature into a voltage signal for the ECM to control fuel mixture, spark advance, and cold start idle, as well as other parameters.

The Cold Start Valve provides an engine with additional fuel for better cold starting. Its operation is controlled by the Thermal (or Thermo) Time Switch.

The Crankshaft Position Sensor/Camshaft Position Sensor reads the position of the crankshaft or camshaft using a magnetic field, and sends a signal to the computer.

The Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve and the EGR Valve Position Sensor work together to control NOx (nitrous oxide) emissions.

The Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) Sensor uses a pressure-sensitive disc to convert manifold air pressure to a voltage or frequency signal for the ECM. Its function is to allow the ECM to monitor engine load to accurately control ignition timing and the air-fuel ratio.

The Mass Air Flow (MAF) Sensor performs essentially the same function as the MAP sensor, but uses a vane that is forced open by engine vacuum/air flow rather than reading pressure.

The Oxygen (O2) Sensor measures the oxygen content in the exhaust manifold or exhaust pipe. It supplies a varying signal to the ECM to control the air-fuel ratio. Pre-converter-positioned O2 sensors measure combustion; post-catalytic-converter O2 sensors measure catalytic converter efficiency.

The Throttle Position Sensor sends a variable signal that the computer uses to set air-fuel mixture, spark timing, torque converter lockup, air conditioning operation, EGR flow rate, and idle.

The Evaporative Emissions Control System is a method of recapturing fuel vapour that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere. Generally this is in the form of a canister with a charcoal filter; vapours collect there and are condensed. The canister is purged at normal engine operation and the fuel routed to the fuel system.

The Idle Air Control Valve, also known as the Air Bypass Valve, is a motor solenoid that varies the amount of air passing around the throttle plates on fuel-injected vehicles. The Idle Speed Control (ISC) controls the idle speed during periods of closed throttle. It is an electric motor-operated plunger located adjacent to the throttle body.

Air Diverter Valves (or Air Management Valves) re-route the compressed air from the air pump under certain conditions. This air may be vented to the outside or, on some vehicles, it may direct air upstream of the O2 sensor on cold starts, to clean up HC and help heat the O2 sensor.

Pulse Air Injection Valves perform the same function as air pumps, but use the natural pressure variations in the exhaust stream to draw in fresh air.

The PCV Valve is the oldest emissions control item. It replaced the old dump tubes that vented crankcase vapours to the atmosphere. The PCV Valve is a one-way check valve that vents these vapours (mostly HC from unburned fuel) back through the induction system to the combustion chamber for burning.