Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2004   by Auto Service World

Safety Imperative Bolstered by Economic Arguments

The safety imperatives of lighting, visibility, and ride control are undeniable. Getting that message across is an ongoing process.

There are certain products that will continue to provide some degree of service even when they’re well and truly broken. Wipers and lighting are notorious for these, as is the whole category of ride control.

It is amazing how many drivers will continue to squint through the windshield by day or night, or endure a ride more at home at the Calgary Stampede, and do nothing about it.

This happens despite a great deal of evidence that aside from braking–which is hard to overlook–proper vision and ride control are critical safety items.

It is true that in many product categories, the safety argument, or even an economic one, is unnecessary. If a car has a holed muffler, the owner is reminded every time he starts the car. Brakes that squeal and grind and barely slow the vehicle can send a driver’s heart into his mouth, and his thoughts to the nearest repair outlet.

Yet, when it comes to improving a driver’s ability to see in poor conditions, underperforming lights and wipers that streak and chatter are forgotten once conditions pass, and ride control barely breaks into the consciousness of the driving public.

Communicating the importance of ride control has, of course, been the focus of Tenneco Automotive’s efforts for several years.

From testing and quantifying the effects of having even a single deficient strut or shock absorber, to the company’s “Monroe Ride Safe” industry/trade tour through North America in 2003, the organization has been working hard to get the safety message across.

“Extensive vehicle safety testing has shown that the presence of just a single worn shock absorber can severely degrade a vehicle’s ability to stop short of an obstacle in an emergency situation. The same independent testing showed that vehicles with one worn and three fully functional shocks might be more likely to lose control or exit the roadway in sudden evasive manoeuvres. These facts are understood by most vehicle service professionals, but they’re not widely known by consumers,” says Richard Alameddine, vice-president of marketing, Tenneco Automotive.

“We fully understand that this initiative will grow the market for ride control and steering and suspension service, even in product areas not served by our own brand. But the bottom line isn’t about dollars and cents, but to help vehicle owners better understand the components and systems that assist them in avoiding accidents. If we can achieve this goal, our brand will certainly prosper as well.”

Communicating safety issues may be falling on fewer deaf ears than before, but economic arguments can only help make the point on preventative maintenance.

“What we’re trying to do is show that shocks and struts have a lot of bearing on the rest of your vehicle,” says Jim Betournay, branded sales manager, ArvinMeritor Light Vehicle Aftermarket. He says that real cost savings can be had by consumers through proper ride control service.

“It’s the old ‘you can pay me now or pay me later’: cupping of tires, uneven wear, wearing ball joints, etc. Ride control is an integral part of the whole steering mechanism.”

Betournay says that part of the problem is that many vehicle systems can run for years without attention, so what used to be considered regular maintenance doesn’t get addressed.

“It’s common sense stuff. There is a whole new group of people who need to be told that we aren’t doing the preventative maintenance that we did years ago. Meanwhile you’re ruining a set of tires.”

Being on the lookout for opportunities like that takes practice, but consumers will believe a credible argument, whether it involves safety, economics, or both.

Certainly the safety argument seems to be getting more sway than it used to.

“It’s critical,” says Cameron Young, Canadian national sales manager, Robert Bosch. “There is something about being a European company–we have always pushed the safety factor. I think that really comes out of Europe where the safety factor is promoted more.” He says that this has long been a part of the company’s efforts in the wiper blade market; more so with the introduction of washer pumps.

Young says that the industry could probably do a better job than it is currently doing, but that emissions testing programs and, in the U.S. at least, the Be Car Care Aware campaign, are drawing people’s attention to vehicle maintenance.

“We’re happy to see that the U.S. has gone that way. We can only hope that Canada follows suit. It’s good for business, but it’s common sense as well. Cars are something that people will try to delay preventative maintenance on as long as possible.”

Still, he says that the message about safety is getting though, if slower than hoped.

“It’s starting to take hold,” agrees Roy Shannon, senior district manager, Federal-Mogul Canada, for the Maritime and Atlantic provinces.

It seems to be more on the lighting category than on wipers, he says, though the two are related, inasmuch as vision is affected by a shortfall of either. “Some OE lighting doesn’t light as well as it used to. And the fact that SUVs are riding higher than cars provides more glare to oncoming drivers.” In addition, he muses, perhaps the greying of the population has something to do with it. Older eyes don’t see as well as younger ones, he says, and products that improve the forward lighting can have easy converts among those drivers of “a certain age.”

“There are a lot of old eyes out there and they don’t see as well as they used to.” Shannon says he has noticed a significant increase in products that improve lighting performance. “I have customers who don’t normally buy my lighting calling for our [TruView] product. That tells me that the message is starting to get out. I’m sure other companies are seeing the same thing.”

There is still a ways to go, however. Though efforts to promote car care south of the border are gaining ground, last year 90% of vehicles inspected in the U.S. during National Car Care Month failed one or more aspects of the inspection.

Some 21% of vehicles had front windshield wiper failures and 14% of vehicles needed service on their rear wipers and/or washer.

From a lighting standpoint, 8% of vehicles inspected needed work on at least one of their turn signals, 6% had problems with at least one of their brake lights, and 5% failed their side light inspection.

While only 1% of vehicles failed the inspection for their headlights, parking lights, taillights, backup lights,k and license plate lights, this number only reveals whether the items were operating, not whether they performed well enough for the driver to comfortably see where he is going.

It is this point which is the crux of the matter. Visual inspections of some parts like brake pads and rotors can reveal to some degree whether they have passed their useful life. But when it comes to ride control, or even lighting, performance testing or at the very least an interview with the customer is required to reveal a problem.

Take, for example, the popularity of HID lighting technology. Before it made its debut a decade ago, people had an idea of what constituted acceptable lighting. Once HID came to the fore, doubling or tripling the available light, turning night into day, the whole perception of what constituted acceptable lighting changed.

A recent study of U.S. car owners by Dorr Research Corporation found that 92% of vehicle owners currently using High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights would buy a vehicle with this technology again.

The results of the independent study, funded by Osram Sylvania, indicate that drivers currently using HID headlights consider it to be an important feature to have for future vehicle purchases. Significantly, while only one-third of new vehicle owners polled in New York, Florida, Illinois, and Texas cited HID lighting as having some influence on their current automobile purchase decision, more than 60% said they would be influenced to some degree by HID availability on their next vehicle. These findings indicate that the availability of HID lighting on automobiles is becoming an influencing factor in vehicle purchase
decisions. Another finding of the survey was that 94% of the respondents said they would recommend HID to a friend.

The study reveals that 81% of HID owners cite vision improvement as the number one advantage of having HID lighting on their cars. Of those polled, 94% said that they see better with HID lighting than with traditional halogen lighting, and 92% stated that they see obstacles in the road sooner. From an aesthetics standpoint, 88% of respondents agreed that HID lighting “looks better than regular lighting.” The majority of the respondents also agreed that HID is worth the cost.

But it’s not just about perceptions.

Detailed engineering research shows that not only does HID lighting provide better lighting, it helps older drivers avoid objects better, too.

That, at least, according to research by John Van Derlofske, John D. Bullough and Claudia M. Hunter, Transportation Lighting Group, Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for a Society of Automotive Engineers paper.

The paper focused largely on improved lateral lighting qualities, as well as the improvements in perception that the blue-white quality of HID light exhibits.

“Subjects over 50 years old do have higher reaction times than subjects less than 30 years old, particularly [concerning peripheral vision]. Reduced reaction times under HID illumination at high target angles are still seen in the age-correlated data. However, the relative magnitude of change between the HID illuminated targets and the halogen illuminated targets in reaction time is approximately the same for both age groups.”

In other words, both older and younger drivers see an improvement in their ability to see and react to objects at the roadside.

“The properties of HID lamps may make them ideal for improving [peripheral] vision. As stated, HID lamps also produce light with different spectra than halogen lamps.” The light from HID systems is of a shorter wavelength than halogen lighting which, the study says, the eye perceives more readily, particularly in dimly lit conditions.

The study concludes with the statement that the combination of these factors may translate into greater driving safety.

This is probably true, but nonetheless requires experience on the part of the consumer to accept the fact, to the point where today so many people believe it to be an important safety element in the next vehicle they buy.

The same fact holds true for the more affordable lighting upgrades. In a very real sense, seeing is believing.

For the aftermarket, getting consumers to make that kind of a connection with products beyond lighting–wiper blades, ride control–requires effective communication. The reality is that the driving public will not know what it is missing until it is shown what it can have.

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