Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2010   by Auto Service World

Nothing Low-Tech About Visibility Technologies

There is one simple fact about driving: you can’t be safe if you can’t see where you’re going. That rule supersedes the most advanced safety technology you will find in vehicles today.

While it is true that emergency stop systems and lane departure warnings do a lot to keep drivers safe, for the most part a car will still go where you point it and keep going that way unless you steer it in a different direction or hit the brakes.

To make sure that drivers can do that when darkness reigns or bad weather rolls in, visibility systems–lighting and wipers– need to be kept in good working order.

Unfortunately, most consumers do not think about the poor condition of their wipers, or how dim their headlights have become, until they are in the thick of inclement weather.

Your role, then, is to use the marketing and promotional materials at hand to get them thinking about changing and upgrading their worn-out wipers and lighting before they put themselves at risk on the road.

Understanding the technology is not as easy as it sounds. Even wiper blades, often thought of as being extremely low-tech, have more advancements than they are often given credit for.

Beam blade technology, for example, has virtually revolutionized the way wipers look and work. While the majority of aftermarket blades still use multi-piece assemblies to provide consistent pressure of the blade against the windshield, typical traditional wiper blades have only six or eight pressure points, while beam blade technology provides more even, continuous pressure across the entire length of the wiper.

One of the key advantages of the technology is that it can more readily handle the severely curved windshields of modern, more aerodynamic cars. The benefit for the jobber is that the technology has been rolled out to more and more applications, providing you with a “super premium” wiper blade for the customer who is looking for the very best-performing, sleekest-looking technology out there.

Of course, the technology doesn’t end with the structure of the blades. The materials that the wiping surface is made from, and the use of coatings such as Teflon, continue to make wiper blades more effective at knocking water, ice, and snow off a windshield.

So familiarize yourself with the full offerings from your supplier, and be able to talk to the consumer and your trade customer about it, so they can pass along the word too.

Overcoming The Installation Barrier

While wiper suppliers have worked long and hard to simplify the installation process, consumers, and more than a few technicians, can struggle on occasion to quickly install new wipers with confidence.

Here are some tips to ease the process:

Double-Check Applications

Sometimes the difficulty that consumers have with installation stems merely from having bought the wrong wiper. Application guides can be tough for some people to read, so it’s a good idea to ask about the application and double-check.

Help Out

Whenever possible, offer installation service. You might even consider posting a sign that says “Free Wiper Installation, Rain or Shine.” It might even induce some customers to change their wipers when they need it most: when it’s raining. Customers will absolutely pass along the word about your great service to their friends if you do.

Online Assistance

One handy, relatively new set of tools is the online installation guides available from a number of suppliers. Consumers can access these on their own, or you can pull them up at the store. Installation tip videos, like those from Trico featured in the screen shot, can really simplify the task for the consumer (and maybe even the occasional counterperson who wants to lend a helping hand).

Lighting Technology: LEDs and Beyond

There is no doubt that lighting technology has made tremendous advances. Remember the days when headlamps came in sealed- beam, with your choice of round or square?

Today, even the most modest of passenger vehicles has lighting that would rival the best of only a decade ago.

And yet the most powerful technologies remain mostly at the top of the automotive food chain. High Intensity Discharge (HID), or Xenon, lighting is rarely found on anything but luxury vehicles. And LED lighting, for all the flexibility it offers vehicle designers, has remained largely restricted to use as accent lighting as well as stop-turn-tail lamps–even though the technology can provide excellent forward lighting performance.

From the aftermarket’s perspective, though, the big change has been the shift from replacing lighting assemblies to replacing bulbs. Even though this shift occurred many years ago, some jobbers still struggle with the new opportunities that this change represents.

No longer are you restricted to offering your customers only one or two options; upgrades to meet many needs are now available. And vehicles today use more lighting than in the good old days of the short-lived sealed beam: under dash, marker lights, stop-tail-turn, foot well, ashtray, door sill, door, underhood, trunk, etc. An application search for a 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser on one manufacturer’s website offered up 23 lighting products for 30 lighting applications on the vehicle.

Here are some tips to ensure you don’t miss out.

Merchandise Intelligently

Merchandise lighting products together, but not necessarily just by brand if you carry multiple offerings: Standard, Long Life, Improved Performance.

Lighting upgrades should be easy to find, but if a customer is considering them, make it easy for him to compare by displaying them together, too. Consider placing lighting near the counter–if you have a traditional setup–so you can answer questions easily without having to leave your post. A high-visibility location will also help to reduce shrinkage.

Stock A Broad Inventory

While your local market may be strongly tilted to one set of popular numbers–9003, 9006, etc.–it really makes no sense to only restrict yourself to the most popular.

Replacement rates being what they are, and inventory replenishment being easily at hand, there are few reasons not to have as broad a display as possible. Considering the nature of walk-in customers, if they don’t see the bulb they need, they’ll likely just walk out without you even noticing, taking the sale with them.

Performance Lighting is for Everyone

There was a time when performance lighting was considered the sole preserve of the sports-car driver and the off-road enthusiast. This is not the case today and hasn’t really been for some time, though there are still some amazing products on the market for those special needs.

Don’t relegate your super-premium offerings to the accessory aisle, or lock them up behind the counter as some stores do. Canada’s aging population recognizes the value of seeing better at night, and they also rec- ognize the fact that they don’t have the night vision they once had. This, and the fact that today’s mature customer understands the value that top-quality products bring, and are likely to be able to afford it, makes them prime customers for the best lighting you have to offer.