Ride control is one of those product categories that is seldom thought of by both the consumer and the trade, but for different reasons.
The consumer doesn’t think about it because, quite frankly, they don’t really understand its function. Most consumers actually believe that shocks and struts are there to keep their backsides from feeling bumps, or to hold the car up.
The trade, on the other hand, is well aware that the true function of ride control is to allow the vehicle’s tires to maintain contact with the road surface and to mute the oscillations that occur when a vehicle accelerates, brakes or turns. If shocks and struts were only intended to make the driver more comfortable, they’d be installed in the seats, not the chassis.
That explains why the consumer doesn’t think about it, but what about the trade? Perhaps the reason for at least part of the reluctance to broach the subject is that the consumer fails to complain about it. That’s an old excuse, however. Simple inspection techniques can uncover worn or failed ride control components. Perhaps the most effective inspection can be conducted from within the car.
1) Get yourself seated comfortably behind the wheel.
2) Adjust the seat so that you have a clear view of the instrument panel.
3) In models with a digital dashboard, it may be necessary to insert the ignition key to activate the instrument panel.
4) With both hands on the wheel, focus on the instrument panel.
5) Read the mileage!
The fact is that, short of a bounce test–and even then maybe not–or actual physical damage to the component, any technician or DIYer will have a hard time determining ride control failure from an undercar inspection.
If, however, a car’s mileage has kissed the 120,000 km mark goodbye and has not had its shocks replaced, you can be guaranteed that they are not performing their job properly. It is not a question of how the person drives. Even on a smooth road, a ride control component will encounter more than 500 strokes every two kilometers; that’s more than 15 million every 50,000 kilometers, which is about the estimated life of a strut.
Still, many cars end up in the recycler’s yard with their original struts on. Considering that a key factor in replacement is the technician’s recommendation, it is an indictment of the lack of attention they give to the component.
I won’t go into proper inspection procedures, or looking for clues such as tire wear or roll etc.–there are ample resources for those who need a course in “Inspection 101”–but for those who would venture into the conversation with a customer if they felt more comfortable, here are some tips.
After determining the need for replacement, either through our little inspection technique or a visual determination of damage or wear, broaching the subject with the consumer will always require a gentle touch. While shocks are relatively affordable, struts can often cost more than the consumer had imagined. Consequently, they will possibly voice an objection.
Something you and your trade customers should understand is that eliciting an objection from a customer does not mean you are alienating the customer or providing poor service. Quite the opposite: it is important for you, the expert, to point out the reasons why work needs to be done that the car owner was not aware of.
When the customer objects:
1) Do not argue or fight their emotions. If you argue and position yourself in the right, you have made the customer wrong, which can stifle any further effective communication.
2) Let the customer talk it out. Interrupting is rude and may stop them from giving you the information you need to truly understand their objections.
3) If you don’t fully understand the objection, probe for further details. Sometimes, by having them explain it further, they will resolve it themselves.
4) Answer the objections and ask for the order.
This process is really no different from any sales conversation. Let’s look at it from the specifics of ride control. A conversation might go something like:
You: “Sir, I’ve noticed that you have 130,000 km on your vehicle. I know you’re looking at some work already, but you should really be planning to replace your struts. They’re quite far past their operating life.”
Customer: “No, they’re fine.”
You: “In my experience, a car with your kind of mileage is overdue.”
Customer: “But my car’s not sagging.”
You: “That’s true, but struts don’t support the car. Springs do that. Struts keep your tires on the road. If they’re worn, you can find that your handling is erratic and your braking distance is longer, especially on bumpy roads.” (Here you may ask about the handling and braking performance. Tenneco has data supporting this, too.)
You: “Most of the time people get used to them being worn. They think those rattles are just part of the car getting older when it’s really because road bumps are getting transmitted right into the body of the car. It also makes a lot of other parts wear faster.”
Customer: “Well, okay, assuming that I did get them replaced, what’s it going to cost?”
At this point, whatever the price, it’s probably going to take the customer by surprise. Never preface the price with “It’s pretty expensive,” or “There’s a lot of labor.” Work out the price, consider the labor quotient realistically–some cars can require half a dozen hours according to the book, too much to realistically expect at your full door rate–then state the price.
You: “You’re a good customer, so I’m only going to charge part of the labor. All four struts are going to be ($$).”
Customer: “Gee, that’s quite a bit. Do I have to?”
You: “I’d really recommend it.”
Customer: “Can I put it off?”
You: “Maybe for a little while, but maybe we can spread it out a bit.”
At this point, you’re really negotiating when the sale will be made and how. There are sometimes pricing options with the parts, worth investigating if you need to, but if the customer still refuses to believe you, you’re going to have to move on.
Obviously the above example may not play out precisely in the real world. Sometimes a customer will just say no because they have too much on their mind and don’t want to think about it right now. Maybe the best time to bring it up is during an oil change, not when they have major brake work being done.
If the customer does say yes, congratulate him on making the right decision. Tell him that he’ll really notice the difference, and that his car is going to drive more comfortably and safely.
If the customer says no, tell them you understand, then make a note on their file so that 5,000 km or 10,000 km later, you can remind them of the need to replace the ride control, which will be more urgently needed than during your first conversation.
Ride control has, unfortunately, been treated as an optional purchase for a long time. While shocks are often replaced at the behest of the customer as a result of damage, struts don’t manifest wear as obviously and, therefore rely on the expert, either the counterperson or the technician, to bring it to the attention of the customer.
Doing so can start a conversation which is both profitable for you and beneficial to the customer.