Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2014   by Steve Pawlett

Ride Control: How Knowledge Sharing Can Benefit Your Bottom Line

Many vehicle owners believe ride control is simply a comfort feature, when in fact it is a very complex safety system that incorporates several components that require regular maintenance, like brakes and tires, in order to maintain proper, safe performance.
Shocks and struts affect the driveability of the vehicle by optimizing braking, traction, handling, and wear. When talking drivability with a customer counter, staff need be sure they understand that this means more than a comfortable ride. It involves handling and control of the vehicle during any driving condition. When in perfect operating condition, the vehicle will respond the way the driver needs it to – steering, stopping, and manoeuvrability – on demand. To do this, the vehicle must keep the tires glued to the road, with properly functioning shocks and struts that keep the tires from bouncing and losing contact with the road. They also keep the vehicle body weight from shifting and rolling, which can cause a loss of vehicle control and handling.
“In the training that we have done in Canada, we have found that technicians are often challenged to convince the consumer why he or she needs to change ride control components,” explains Ray Proulx of KYB Americas Corp. “It’s certainly not like tires or brakes, which are very visual and the technician can easily convince the customer why they need to change those components, because they can see they are actually worn down and can affect the performance and safety of the vehicle.”
“When you talk about shocks and struts, you initially don’t see anything unless it’s leaking or squeaking, and that really does not happen much anymore. The technician has to somehow convince the customer, now that they have done the tires and done the brakes, about the need to look at the four corners of the vehicle – the shocks and struts,” explains Proulx.
“Because the change is so gradual, most don’t realize how uncomfortable their ride has become until they have the new shocks installed,” adds Kevin Fleury, sales director for Transbec, which carries the Gabriel line of shocks and struts. “Replacing the shocks can restore the vehicle’s performance back to the way the manufacturer intended, and simultaneously improve driver satisfaction for the second half of the vehicle’s life.”
“It’s important for technicians to give the customer a complete report on the condition of their vehicle and then help them make the right decisions based on their input. Service writers should never hesitate to tell the customer that they need new shocks and struts – after all, the customer depends on the shop to give them an accurate assessment of what needs to be fixed and what doesn’t,” explains Bill Dennie, director of ride control channel management, North America Aftermarket, Tenneco.
“Once you recommend ride control replacement, explain that the number-one role of shocks and struts is to help protect the customer, through safe steering, stopping, and stability. A great follow-up to this message is the fact that worn shocks and struts can lead to longer stopping distances and reduced vehicle stability. They also help protect other expensive components – especially tires – from premature wear,” adds Dennie.
Be sure to remind your technician customers to conduct a ride control inspection on any vehicle they have on the lift, whether it’s for brakes, tires, alignment, exhaust, or other service. There are millions of vehicles on the road that are equipped with shocks and struts that have more than 80,000 kilometres on them. So frequent inspections are very important, especially at or after 80,000 kilometres.
With an ever-growing car park of aging vehicles, there are plenty of opportunities for jobbers to tap into this market and build sales. The target customer is likely someone with a 10-year-old vehicle. They can’t afford a new vehicle, but when they go to the shop and discover they need four shocks, some customers may be put off by sticker shock at the cost of the job. In order not to lose those first-line sales, jobbers should have an option for a second-line shock.
“When jobbers talk about safety systems to their customers, they must be clear about how they present conditions. For example, when talking to a customer about electronics systems on vehicle platforms today, they should be talking about automated driver assist, telematics, ABS, traction control, and electronic stability control. Basically, those are all safety systems that are tied to ride control components. If the shocks and struts are not performing at 100%, the braking distance for that vehicle has increased. And that being said, the ABS and traction control systems are being adversely affected,” explains Proulx.
“Ride control components are part of a vehicle’s safety triangle system, which plays a vital role in providing safe steering, stopping, and stability. The safety triangle includes the tires, brakes, steering components, and shocks and struts. The presence of just one worn shock or strut can compromise the performance of this system and the safety of the vehicle,” adds Dennie.
“What we have done, in our training programs, is develop an educational component for parts and service providers that depicts, through animation, what the car is actually doing when shocks and struts are not performing 100%. This enables the jobber or technician to clearly present these conditions to his customer,” explains Proulx.
According to market data provided by the AIA, the average car age in Canada today is nine years. That tells you the consumer is keeping their car longer, and that presents a clear opportunity for jobbers and technicians.
If the consumer is keeping that car, then they have to maintain it. Proactive counter staff will ask the right questions to determine the type of customer they are dealing with. For instance, the vehicle owner may want to pass it on to his kids, so maintenance could be very important.
Identify the type of customer you are dealing with; is this a loyal customer? Does he believe in maintenance? Is he prospectively looking to maintain his vehicle, or is he just looking for price?
“We educate technicians and service providers about the type of customers they need to cultivate and retain to ensure they keep the bays full,” adds Proulx. According to KYB Americas Corp., 86% of all cars going back to the wreckers have the original ride control components in them.
“You can look at this statistic two ways,” says Proulx. “One, technicians are not looking for that opportunity; or two, it’s an incredible opportunity for the aftermarket to not only sell those components but teach technicians to properly capitalize on this opportunity, which is even larger than the brake market.”
It’s no secret that there are millions of vehicles on the road with one or more worn ride control units. Monroe, KYB Americas, Gabriel, and other ride control manufacturers have invested in communication programs and training materials to help close this gap.
Ride control is probably the most communication-dependent automotive category that counter staff must deal with. By taking the time to educate yourself on the latest ride control systems, then sharing that knowledge with your technician and consumer customers, you will soon see the benefits of increased sales and customer satisfaction.

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