With the average vehicle age now sitting at 10.4 years, the need for replacement shocks and struts is greater than ever. In addition, many of these aging vehicles are equipped with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which depends on a properly functioning suspension and braking system in order to perform to OE specifications.
Estimates show that 60% of all vehicles in service bays are four to 12 years old, and within that age range there are literally millions of ESC-equipped vehicles.
Described as the seatbelt of the 21st century, ESC is an onboard electronic system that helps prevent spinouts and rollovers. Most accidents that involve losing control of the vehicle occur when the vehicle is driven beyond its traction limits, such as during oversteer or understeer conditions or driving too fast for conditions. The ESC system senses when the vehicle is rolling or leaning too far or when the tires begin to lose traction. It instantly reduces engine speed and applies one of the individual wheel brakes in just the right amount to maintain vehicle control. The ESC system utilizes several ride control components to keep the vehicle under control.
“Electronic stability control isn’t new; it has been standard equipment on millions of vehicles dating back to the mid-1990s. In fact, Tenneco ride control units were OE on the first vehicle model (in Europe) to use ESC,” says Chuck Osgood, sales operations and training manager, North America Aftermarket, Tenneco.
“Tying ride control replacement to the overall performance of ESC is a very complicated sell for consumers, many of whom aren’t even aware of the presence of ESC on their vehicles. Replacing worn shocks and struts can improve steering, stopping, and stability on all vehicles – whether ESC-equipped or not. And each of those three characteristics can have a significant effect on the safety of the driver and his or her passengers,” adds Osgood.
“I have abandoned the term ‘ESC’ for ‘Crash Avoidance System,’” explains Mac McGovern, director marketing and training, KYB. “The ESC term seems to create a mind’s-eye [picture] of a computer system and diagnostic codes that no one can really relate to. Instead, I now use ‘Crash Avoidance System’ in training sessions. When I use this term people seem to pay a lot more attention.”
“When someone says to me they are not interested in ESC because not many vehicles in their area have it, I point out that the crash avoidance system includes the brakes, tires, the steering, and the suspension, because once a computer sends out instructions to the mechanical apparatus that needs to actually control the vehicle, suddenly now we see this as an actual system. When you paint that picture, it creates an understanding of system selling and who has a responsibility to communicate all of this so better decisions are made,” adds McGovern.
Numerous U.S. studies have shown ESC is highly effective at preventing loss of control and fatal crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates 10,000 fatal crashes and up to 238,000 injuries could be avoided each year. Vehicles with ESC reduce the risk of a fatal loss of control by half, and reduce rollover risk by up to 80%. ESC has been described by automotive experts as the most important advancement in safety in many years.
However, consumers need to be made aware of the fact that the effectiveness of ESC is limited by the ability of the tires and the vehicle’s suspension. If the tires can’t grip the road, then it’s just like driving on ice, and therefore it’s important to have good tires and ride control components that aren’t worn.
“ESC has been very instrumental in lowering traffic fatalities. There was a 5% reduction in fatalities during a five-year period up to 2011, which I attribute to the technologies that I now refer to as the Crash Avoidance System. But in 2012, the number of deaths or injuries increased by about 3.3%,” points out McGovern.
There have been a number of research projects identifying the impact of degraded ride control on handling and stopping. While most consumers consider the function of ride control is to keep their vehicle smooth-riding, its real function is to keep the tires in contact with the road. When ride control begins to fail, tires begin to lose traction under turning and braking, possibly compromising safety. Testing has shown an increase in stopping distance of more than three metres from 100 km/h.
“I’m still trying to figure out all of the data to really understand why it went up. What I like sharing with the industry is that, in my opinion, the same thing is happening all over again that happened to anti-lock brakes. At the end of its popularity, the effective rate was something like 0.3% at saving lives, so it didn’t work.
“As I look back on that, I think that what happened was the vehicles with that technology got much older and less service was done to them, so the end result was that those tires locked up more easily because of fatigued springs and worn everything underneath the vehicle, the tires lock up more easily, the anti-lock brakes release more easily and repeatedly, so stopping distances get longer on that older vehicle in its third trimester of life, and fatalities went up exponentially. So I think in the end, I can point the finger at an audience of service and parts professionals and say it was your fault. You did not adequately inform and coach your customers to do proper vehicle maintenance so that they could enjoy or benefit from all those onboard technologies,” explains McGovern.
“If we don’t see this as a crash avoidance system and keep the brakes, the suspension, the steering, and tires all at a level that it can execute the commands of the ESC or crash avoidance system, I think we might be seeing the same perils as we did with the anti-lock brakes,” he adds.
“OEs have been producing ESC-equipped vehicles since the late ’90s and we are now at 2014, and maybe 60% of what’s coming into the bays has ESC, and it has been under-maintained, again.
“If you don’t understand the technology and if you don’t take the time to learn about how these systems work, and if someone isn’t getting in front of the customer and saying that this product, this shock, strut, brake shoe, or this rotor is part of the crash avoidance system, and if you are going to unknowingly sell a part or buy a part that isn’t in a performance and quality range that supports the onboard technology, aren’t you doing a disservice?” asks McGovern.
Whenever a customer asks for the cheapest part, that should send up a red flag and the counterperson’s response should be to ask what the customer is trying to accomplish. The counterperson should explain to them that they have choices they may not have considered.
“You have to get into that stream of decision-making and make sure you are offering the customer, the one least informed, information about the choices and repercussions and consequences of their choices,” says McGovern.
“It’s important to take the time to put a sense of responsibility on the shoulders of your counter staff so that they understand that what they do in the end could cause an accident, even though they are three steps away from the person actually driving the vehicle that’s having the repair done.
“When that counterperson is driving home after work, that vehicle next to them could have questionable replacement parts on it and that vehicle may not stop properly. But the customer who bought the repair feels pretty good about it because the mechanic said, ‘Look, I can do a good job and save you some money at the same time,’ and nobody will know the difference until that vehicle slips off the highway and somebody gets hurt,&rd
quo; adds McGovern.
“I think that now that crash avoidance has taken on electronic input, electronic decision making and mechanical execution, the parts community needs to see themselves as integrated with the vehicle – so that the person that should be educated about the parts replacement who is selling the parts, can see the value in educating service provider customers on the need for proper parts replacement, who in turn, can communicate this to the vehicle owner,” explains McGovern.
“It has evolved from a point in time when it was very mechanical and you didn’t need to know a lot. Today, because the performance of mechanical parts is being monitored by a computer, it’s increased the importance of a level of knowledge needed to make better decisions, and I believe that the jobber community needs to sit up and take notice of that. The decision you make, the answer you give, the information you provide makes a difference at 60 kilometres per hour,” concludes McGovern.
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.
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