It has been a very long time since any knowledgeable aftermarket sales professional viewed spark plugs, wires, oxygen sensors, EGR valves, etc. in isolation. Even the term tune-up has been redefined.
Yet even as part of an integrated system, the parts that make up the emissions and tune-up category fail individually, not usually as a system. And this fact means that a successful sales approach has to focus on the parts that are being sold, even as one recognizes their importance to the overall functioning of the system, and of a successful repair.
Know the Components and Their Function
If you want to take an intelligent sales approach with your customers, you need to understand the function and potential failure modes of the components you are selling. This doesn’t mean that you have to understand every diagnostic trouble code and how to address it (though this would certainly be an advantage), but it does mean you have to know the difference between an EGR valve and a MAF sensor, or that an Idle Air Control valve is the same as an Air Bypass Valve.
Here’s a quick brief of major components:
The Electronic Control Module’s (ECM) job includes the fuel system controls, but also stretches to ignition and other systems.
The Air Charge Temperature Sensor converts air temperature to a voltage signal and operates 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 or Meter performs essentially the same function as a MAP sensor, but uses a vane which is forced open by engine vacuum/air flow rather than reading pressure.
The Oxygen (O2) Sensor is, as its name would imply, a device for measuring the oxygen content in the exhaust manifold or exhaust pipe. It supplies a varying voltage 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 which 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.
Overcoming Resistance to Aftermarket Parts
Every service provider, even your best customers, can be prone to hanging onto preconceived ideas about how aftermarket parts will perform on certain applications or for certain types of fixes, and gravitate to the original equipment service option.
While there can be a general acceptance of the aftermarket solutions offered in most service categories, when it comes to engine management and emissions work, some technicians are reluctant to accept aftermarket options if they believe there is a risk of an unsatisfactory result, the logic being that diagnosing and repairing driveability and emissions problems is tough enough without having to worry about the quality of the parts you are installing.
What many technicians holding onto this perception fail to realize is that the parts that make up the aftermarket’s inventory are, by and large, precisely the same parts they are able to obtain through the car dealer network. The old ideas about aftermarket emissions parts being mismatched to the applications they are listed for are just that: old ideas.
Do Your Homework
To get to the bottom of the question of whether your customers are cutting you out of a set of purchases out of resistance to aftermarket options, pricing, or other issues requires analyzing the buying patterns of the individual customer. Work with your computer system and see if it can give you any insights. Are they buying only for domestic applications? Are they only buying one brand from you, but not another? Are they only buying older application parts from you?
And then you need to go talk to your customer. If he isn’t buying for import applications, for example, it might mean he isn’t doing much work on them, or it might mean he’s not calling you for parts. You can’t assume what your customers are or are not working on simply by their buying patterns from you, even if you’re their number-one source. Go out, talk to them, and check out their bays. Ask yourself if what you are seeing is matching up with what they’re buying.
And if it doesn’t match up, you should be excited: it means you have an opportunity to increase your sales with that customer.