The rapid emergence of vehicle technologies that are made to assist drivers with maintaining control over their vehicles and to reduce the chance of crashes is putting renewed emphasis on ride control maintenance and replacement. Jobbers will see a greater emphasis on ride control maintenance, and greater sales and profits, but only if they can educate service writers on how to sell ride control maintenance and replacement to owners of vehicles with these new technologies.
Crash avoidance Before one can talk about how jobbers are going to find profits in ride control with vehicles equipped with what is sometimes referred to as semi- or fully autonomous systems, it is best if one takes a step back to talk about what these systems really are and what they do – and why ride control is so important. What jobbers need to know is that when terms such as semi-autonomous or autonomous are used, what these terms mean are technologies that are made to help drivers avoid, if possible, a crash. Today’s advanced computer-controlled systems are really the next step in a long evolution of such technologies that first began to appear in vehicles as far back as the 1950s. Anti-lock brakes were first developed in the 1950s, and by the 1970s were a common feature on vehicles. Along with other electronic assists, anti-lock brakes and related technologies were designed to help keep a vehicle under control in an emergency braking situation. Today’s systems, with computers controlling many more of a vehicle’s systems, are essentially designed to do what anti-lock brakes are meant to do: provide greater control of the vehicle in a crash situation, either to avoid a crash or to minimize the impact of one. But at the heart of these advanced systems is ride control. And all that advanced technology can only work well if the ride control system as a whole is maintained and functioning properly.
Why ride control needs to be maintained more than ever KYB Americas Corporation director of marketing and training Mac McGovern says that jobbers need to get back to the fundamentals of ride control, and understand that the whole ride control system is at the centre of today’s crash avoidance systems. “It is an ‘Aha!’ moment [for jobbers and technicians] when they begin to realize that ride control is the central part of all crash avoidance,” McGovern says. “All of those complex systems, including the electronics, are in one basket, and what all of those electronics do is control the ride control.” Tenneco North America Aftermarket director of marketing Mark Boyle says that today’s ride control systems are now carefully tuned to the vehicles they are placed on. “The latest mechanical OE shocks and struts are precisely tuned to the desired ride and handling profile of each vehicle. In a growing number of cases, highly advanced dampers are now being used to provide enhanced responsiveness and driver control.” For jobbers and technicians, what has to be central in their thinking about ride control is that the only way today’s vehicles can operate properly – especially those that use advanced computer controls to make thousands of adjustments to the vehicle’s handling and to its ride control system – is if the ride control system as a whole is operating at optimal parameters. Think about it this way: If a shock, strut, or coil spring is worn, the vehicle’s electronic controls will not be able to perform their job properly, because they are working with a ride control system that is itself not operating properly. If components are worn, the vehicle will have diminished control and cannot stop properly, regardless of how advanced the computer controls operating them are. A vehicle’s advanced electronics and crash avoidance systems are only as good as the ride control system they operate with. If a part, or several parts, in the ride control system are worn, that will impact how well the crash avoidance system will operate. “Should a crash avoidance event occur while you have worn parts, and it causes an oversteer or an understeer, the coil springs are expanding or contracting too rapidly because of worn struts. Commands are being sent to components that cannot properly react, and so you are going to have a system that is not going to be as effective in providing the crash avoidance capabilities the advanced electronics and controls are supposed to provide,” says McGovern. This is why jobbers must put an emphasis on having service writers and shop technicians sell maintenance of ride control systems. Tenneco’s Boyle says that, while ride control replacement rates have been fairly flat for an extended period, “We believe the industry can grow the category by implementing formal inspection and recommendation practices at the repair shop level. Millions of vehicles are candidates for thorough ride control inspections, and possibly, replacement of badly worn units.” Boyle adds that Tenneco has for some time been working to help shops incorporate fast and simple processes covering inspection and replacement of worn ride control units. “Shocks and struts sustain abuse over the course of their service lives, and they often do lose their effectiveness over time. When this occurs, the vehicle’s steering, stopping, and stability – and ultimately the driver’s safety – can be affected. This is why the Motorists Assurance Agency recommends inspection of shocks and struts at 80,000 kilometres. The key to increasing your ride control sales is to encourage formal inspection and to communicate the importance of replacing worn units to the consumer. You can’t get a sale if you don’t identify the need and ask for the work. That’s what we need to do across the industry.” Makers of ride control technologies stress that jobbers need to emphasize much more that shops inspect the whole ride control system. Too often, shops will focus on a single part that shows signs of wear and neglect to examine the other parts in the system. And jobbers need to do a better job educating service writers and technicians to use the maintenance and replacement of other parts and systems connected to ride control as an opportunity to promote the inspection and maintenance of ride control. Take the example of a brake job. When a service writer places an order for a brake pad, caliper, or rotor, the jobber counter staff should use this as an opportunity to ask the service writer to have the technician inspect the ride control system. Why? KYB’s McGovern says that the brake job is only going to be as effective as the ride control system that brake pad or rotor is placed on. If the ride control system has reached its recommended change interval or has worn parts, and the system or parts are not replaced, the effectiveness of the new brake pad and rotor will be diminished. The reason is that the ride control system is not functioning at its optimal efficiency. And that will have an impact on braking and stopping distance. “Let’s take a shop that believes it does fantastic brake work,” McGovern says. “Let’s say they did a thousand-dollar brake job on my vehicle, used the finest parts available. But before I write that cheque, I will ask one question: Does this mean my vehicle will stop within the vehicle’s design parameters every time I apply the brakes? You will likely get a pause. The reason is that brakes are only one part of a ride control system. Stopping is not just a measurement of how effective the brakes are, but a measurement of all of ride control. So by just selling brakes, you are doing the vehicle owner a disservice, because you have probably left behind very old shocks, struts, and springs. nJN