Auto Service World
Feature   April 2, 2004   by Tom Brown

Tiered Selling

Offer your customer three tiers of A/C repair to keep the business...and your profitability.

A/C repairs can be quite profitable, but comebacks will eat you up! Customers also have a strange attitude when it comes to this category of fix. They will often say “I just had it fixed” when referring to a two year old compressor that’s leaking again… or, when the shop tells the customer the news of what the estimate is for this year’s repairs, often he will hear “But I hardly used my A/C since you fixed it! I expect warranty!” You reply, “Yes sir, but last year we put a compressor on this car, and now it’s leaking at the evaporator.” To which the customer replies, “It’s the A/C system, isn’t it?”

The way to avoid comebacks or customer complaints — and pleas for free repairs- is to make a thorough diagnosis of the A/C system and all the other systems that affect it.

These systems are:

Drive Belts, Tensioners and Pulleys

Cooling System

Electrical System

Electronic System

Since most customers expect a year’s warranty on their A/C repairs, the shop can only guarantee the job if all these systems are healthy. But you can make money with a less than perfect job if you don’t have to warranty it as long. Consider a three-tier strategy:

Plan A: Fix everything on all five systems, get a one year guarantee

Plan B: Fix everything critical to lasting the summer: 90 day guarantee

Plan C: Cold air for today, no guarantee….pay cash

Lets look at these in more detail.


After recharging an A/C system, the Belt drive must now turn up to 12 more horsepower to drive the compressor. That’s a big increase in load. Can the drive belt system handle it?

Examine the serpentine belt. Is it cracked more than 5 cracks per inch? Hard, polished or at the end of the tensioners travel? Chunking or Fraying?

Automatic Tensioner: Does it move freely up and down as the engine revs? Is there any change in how the belt tracks? Over 140,000 kms? Always replace belts and tensioners as a pair.

If it has V belts, are they glazed, cracked, frayed or sunk down into the pulley. A belt should run flush with the top of the pulley.

How about the pulleys? Rusty or noisy bearings? Put them on the list.


With the A/C working, that rad is going to receive quite a bit hotter air than it has been getting. There’s no sense trading a working A/C system for an overheating car or leaking head gasket

Check the Rad: Fins OK? Any leaks or weak upper rad hose neck? How about the air flow plates or guides — are they still there and in the proper place?

Rad Hoses: Swollen or starting to crack at the clamps? Soft at the bends?

Coolant: Look old? Any voltage? Does it need a flush and fill?

Water Pump: Starting to seep? Bearing OK?

Head Gasket: Starting to sweat? This one’s not going to improve with the added load of the A/C system

Fans: How is the fan clutch and the fan itself? Does it lock up when hot, is it leaking silicone and does the fan itself look excessively rusty or if its plastic, is it cracking?


If this vehicle has electric fans, the Electrical system will be stressed more when the A/C is on. With the fans and blower on high speed and the A/C clutch engaged, the system still has to power up the fans at IDLE. When crawling through traffic on a hot summer day, those fans had better be spinnin!


Just from looking, is it old? Any wetness around the vents or caps? Connections clean or corroded? What’s the voltage with the engine off? It had better be over 12.6! High CCA batteries can start the car for a long time as they age, but these will drop in static voltage and drain the alternator. That lowers the voltage at idle.


What’s the charging voltage when hot with EVERYTHING on and foot on the brake? Better be over 13V.

Compressor Clutch:

Does it look rusty? Could be a voltage drop causing slippage that needss repairing or the clutch will slip even more and burn up.


Here, the computer turns on the A/C system and the sensors/switches tell it what’s going on. If, after replacing the evaporator, the control head gives the ‘Blinking light of Death” and no compressor engagement, there’s some diagnosis and parts replacement ahead. Sometimes LOTS of it!

Fill the system with 80 psi of Nitrogen to make the computer think it’s charged. Now just run it and see if the compressor engages. Check to see if the electric fans come on at the right pressures. This will also tell you if the compressor pumps or is noisy.

NOW you can check the A/C system.

Plan A is often over $2,000 but it will ensure FIVE healthy systems.

Plan B will get him through the summer, but the technician has to make wise decisions as to what will make it for 90 days. This is the one most owners take. OH, if a customer takes Plan B (declining that battery and rad you called on Plan A) then if he shows up before the end of the 90 days and gets them installed…now he’s back on the Plan A warranty! AND REMEMBER: only your shop can extend the extra 9 months guarantee so these improvement jobs need to be done by you.

Plan C: A can of sealer and a couple of cans of Hydrocarbon refrigerant. Cash and go. Not upgradeable to another Plan.

There’s profit to made on any Plan as long as the customer is aware of what’s being done and how long its covered.

Tom Brown, Professor, Automotive Technology, Climate Control Department, Centennial College in Toronto, has been an automotive air conditioning expert since 1975.

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