Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2015   by Steve Pawlett

Ride Control: How to Educate The Consumer


The primary key to increasing ride control component sales is to ask the right questions and take the time to educate the customer/technician on the safety and performance benefits of replacing the four corners of the vehicle. In addition, replacing shocks and struts will also save on future repair costs by reducing excessive wear on other components.
A number of research studies into the effect of poor ride control on the safety of the vehicle have shown unequivocally that poor ride control can manifest itself in a number of negative ways. These include degraded handling, braking, steering, and excessive tire wear, as well as a negative performance effect on the electronic stability control system.
“The one study I’m keeping a close eye on is from the NHTSA. The December 2014 Traffic Safety Facts shows that vehicle crash fatalities dropped every year from 2004 until 2012, but have levelled out since then. My belief is that crash avoidance technology is working great until the vehicles get older and under-maintained,” explains KYB director of marketing and training Mac McGovern.
Today the average vehicle age is over 10 years, and that means a lot of vehicles on the road are in need of ride control repairs. Research has shown that having just one degraded shock or strut can lengthen stopping distance, because tires can lose contact with the road. Degraded shocks and struts also reduce the vehicle’s ability to handle turns, especially in evasive man­oeuvres.
“The biggest thing that has happened in this category is the quick strut or the complete strut assembly. It has made it almost obsolete for someone to call up and order just a strut or just coil springs,” explains Andrew Malone of B&B Automotive. “Even though you are spending another hundred dollars for the complete assembly when you only need a certain portion of it, with the labour that you are saving on the job by going this way, it doesn’t make sense to disassemble the old part and put the new part in and re-assemble it and re-install it.”
“Ride control (steering, suspension, brakes, and tires) comprises the mechanical side of crash avoidance systems. The electronic (thinking) side of crash avoidance doesn’t wear and lose performance, but the ride control components do, and the outcomes of crash avoidance situations become ‘at risk.’ Smart vehicles deserve smart parts – parts that are capable of vehicle-designed performance, not just a portion of it,” explains McGovern. “The term ‘premium parts’ is outdated. Counter staff professionals should be helping the customer make wise choices about maintaining designed ride control performance that [maintains] crash avoidance.”
Also, be sure to point out to your customers that worn shocks and struts also lead to other suspension component wear. This means if the vehicle owner ignores the problem for too long, additional repairs will be required much earlier. Recommend that the technician do a visual inspection of the shocks and struts, and examine the tires closely, looking for signs of cupping, which is caused by weak shocks or struts.
It’s also helpful to point out that most vehicle owners can’t easily inspect their shocks and struts. They often can’t feel the loss of steering precision, stopping performance, and stability, as these components slowly wear out. But in an emergency situation, they need their tires planted firmly on the road to help avoid an accident. That’s a big part of what new shocks and struts do.
“Ride control companies, like Tenneco’s Monroe Shocks & Struts and KYB, invest a great deal in educating both the consumer and technician about when you should look at replacing ride control components. The general rule is 80,000 kilometres now. It may not be accurate for every vehicle, but is a good general benchmark. Consumers don’t generally think of ride control, because it’s something that degrades so slowly over time that they may not even notice it. The ride is getting worse and worse on the vehicle, and the customer may have close to 200,000 kilometres on their vehicle now and they still have the original shocks on it.
“We are always aware of the promos that are going on. For example, right now there is a Tenneco Quick Strut program on where installers get back $30 for every pair they sell. So when we are quoting out those strut assemblies, we are going to have a premium choice, which is the Tenneco Quick Strut, and we also have Monroe’s Econo-Matic strut assembly line, which is an entry-level model with a basic warranty (no lifetime warranty). But if you factor in the $30 savings that the shop gets for selling the premium pair, that may be enough incentive to push them towards the premium product line, which comes with a lifetime warranty,” adds Malone.
“The challenge for most counter staff, and even technicians, is trying to convince a consumer they need to change ride control. The key is making sure the consumer understands the condition of the car, and the challenge for the counterperson is to show and present facts of what that customer’s car is actually doing,” explains KYB senior business development manager Ray Proulx. “What we have seen over the years with counter staff and technicians is that when they try to describe a condition to the customer it often seems to the customer that they are speaking a foreign language. The layperson just doesn’t understand the terminology.”
To help motorists protect their driving safety, Monroe ride control engineers suggest that automotive shocks and struts be inspected at 80,000 km. After the initial inspection at 80,000 km, it is always a good idea to recommend a “safety triangle inspection” of chassis system components – including ride control components – every 15,000 km. 
Ride control components wear out due to everyday driving and a variety of load and road conditions:
• Shocks and struts may not show any visible signs of wear, but internal components may be past their useful life.
• Typical shocks and struts “stroke” an average of 1,750 cycles per mile – that’s 21 million cycles per 15,000 km.
• Shocks and struts are susceptible to additional wear caused by heavy use and severe road and environmental conditions.
• Ride control components interact with, and depend on, other key steering and suspension parts.
KYB has developed a DVD that features full 3D animation, which the company makes available to service providers so they can show consumers what the car is doing.
“Our goal is to educate counter staff and technicians on how you present, in layman’s terms, the conditions of the car to consumers so they can understand that they need to change their ride control components,” adds Proulx.
The DVD shows nine different elements affected when a car is not performing at 100%. These include steering response, stopping distance, nosedive, acceleration squat, and body roll. “You really have to show the customer what the car is doing for them to truly understand the effect it is having on their vehicle,” adds Proulx.
When you look at what is now referred to as electronic crash avoidance systems, you are talking about electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, proximity sensors, automated driver assist, autonomous driver override, telematics, and remote control. Clearly, the platforms are getting much more sophisticated now. But the point is that when you look at the core products – tires, brakes, steering, and suspension – if they are not performing at 100%, those other systems will not perform as they are designed to.
“It gets back to the point that you have to make sure that steering, brakes, tires, and suspension as maintenance items are always maintai
ned properly. If these systems don’t get addressed, the other systems will be impacted in a negative way,” advises Proulx.
Whenever possible, utilize point-of-sale material and cutaways to help illustrate your points on ride control. Once customers understand how a worn ride control system can compromise the safe performance of their vehicle, all that is left is to close the sale.
In addition to regular training programs, KYB provides replacement struts and shocks to service-provider customers. “In most situations, we have found that even the owners of these shops, as well as the technicians, have more than 80,000 kilometres on their own vehicles with the original ride control still in place. We want them to feel the before and after first-hand, so when they do change the four corners they can see how that car dramatically changes how it handles itself. It becomes like a testimonial. That technician can now say, ‘Look, I did my four corners and I couldn’t believe the change in how that car performed,’” explains Proulx.
By taking the time to educate your customer on the real facts about deteriorated ride control, you will earn that customer’s trust and make them feel important and valued, key factors in effective salesmanship. In addition, having confidence in the products you sell will come across to your customer. If you believe in what you have to offer, the customer will sense your sincerity and be inclined to have confidence too.