Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2008   by Andrew Ross

Training Feature: Inspection and Communication Key Interest Areas

Iis somewhat surprising to note that there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for chassis parts and steering system training among jobbers and their customers.

This is surprising for two reasons. As a category, it is likely second only to the brake market in its importance to your jobber business, and presumably to the business of your service provider customers. And it is an area that continues to see subtle but important changes in technology.

“Chassis training is probably down,” says Ron Henningson, owner of Undercar Specialist Incorporated and a trainer for the last 20 years. “Chassis has been pretty stable, but if there is anything of high interest it is vehicle inspection to determine serviceability.” Speaking from his car just prior to a training meeting, Henningson says that rather than nuts-and-bolts training in repair, much of the interest in chassis training is in learning accepted inspection techniques and communicating these to the customer, which is often a matter of state regulation south of the border.

“That is what I keep getting asked for: vehicle inspection and determining whether a part is good or bad. It is more important than doing the repair.”

Henningson says that he is not receiving any requests for electronic steering and suspension training, or the high-tech component. However, Steve Cartwright at the Federal-Mogul Technical Education Center (TEC) says his experience is somewhat different.

“Based on their feedback and questions during our field training activities, undercar technicians are interested in electronic steering and suspension, traffic management systems, e-steer, variable ratio steering (BMW), distance-based cruise control, e-corner (Siemens VDO), electronic wedge braking, aluminum suspension precautions, vehicle accident avoidance and preparation (Mercedes PreSafe), and GPS interaction with tomorrow’s vehicles.”

One area that both Henningson and Cartwright agree on is that there is a desire to inspect rather than repair what is already broken.

“Vehicles are lasting longer, and when they’re finally breaking they’re really broken. The chickens are finally coming home to roost,” says Henningson, adding that it is not what most technicians want their customers to face.

“I also think they are interested in helping vehicle owners return to the idea of maintaining their vehicle, instead of just fixing it when something falls off!”

Each of these topics is offered in Federal-Mogul’s latest chassis and brake courses.

In fact, communication strategy has come to the forefront more than ever. It has been most vividly seen in the ride control segment of the undercar market, where leading companies such as Tenneco (which supplies the Monroe brand), KYB America LLC, and ArvinMeritor (makers of Gabriel shocks and struts), have all instituted training programs that deal with the technical issues surrounding ride control, but do so largely as support for providing confident customer communications.

It should be noted that service providers attending these courses have seen significantly improved success in convincing car owners of necessary repairs.

This is not to suggest, however, that there is no need for ongoing technical support. While there are often information gaps in the bay when faced with new systems, these are often best handled with on-the-spot advice.

That is most helpful on a daily basis, says Pierre Lalonde, technical support for Affinia Canada.

There are the calls on basic procedures for checking wear that he gets often, and then there are the special cases. “All kinds of aluminum wheels are very special,” he offers as an example. One customer had a vibration issue that Lalonde says refused to be solved by balancing or other methods that the technician could think of. “It ended up being the wheel mounting,” he says.

With this kind of on-the-spot technical support available, jobbers would be wise to ensure they tap into supplier resources on the Web and on the phone. Technical bulletins can be a real time-saver for shops, as can technical support.

Even for counter staff, a well-informed sales rep can help them through a tough-to-decipher application.

Lalonde adds that it is important for counter staff to know what their suppliers have available, especially in those areas that give them a competitive advantage over the car dealer. Often this type of learning only comes to the forefront in a classroom situation.

“There are little things that can help. It is amazing what you can hear. We have all the alignment products the OE doesn’t sell; they are available and that opens up an amazing market.

“It all comes down to the basics: you have to check the SAI, then you can go ahead and use the assortments of alignment parts, camber shims, caster shims.”

For the guys in the chassis service business who do the alignments, it is found money. Naturally, profit is the name of the game, for you and them, so it would seem wise to gather together your customers in one place at least a couple of times a year to talk about undercar service issues, including chassis and driveline issues.

“Every guy should attend a clinic every six months or a year,” says Lalonde, who himself goes twice a year for five days of training at Affinia’s training facility in McHenry, Ill. “The trainers are so up-to-date and know the latest things. You always learn something, no matter how smart you are. When I had my shop, if there was a clinic, we would go for sure. It is amazing what you can hear.”

While still just eking their way into the automotive world, systems such as the Active Steering found on the late-model BMW X5 from Robert Bosch subsidiary ZF Lenksysteme are set to change the very way that traditionalists see steering, braking, and suspension systems.

Bosch uses the term “Vehicle Dynamics Management (VDM)” to collectively describe the functions performed by everything from Electronic Stability Programs (ESP), ABS, and braking stability systems.

Its Dynamic Wheel Torque Control by Brake (DWT-B) improves a vehicle’s agility, by increasing engine torque and lightly braking the wheel on the inside of the bend at the back axle when the vehicle moves into a bend at speed.

Active Steering, in concert with other control systems, will adjust the steering force in cases where control may be compromised. Dynamic Steering Angle Control (DSA) can stabilize the vehicle at a very early stage by correcting the steering angle independently as soon as the ESP detects the onset of a skidding movement. Dynamic Steering Torque Control (DST) makes use of electrical power steering to vary the steering support provided by the system.

In essence, these systems, and those like them, present service providers with components and systems that have previously been viewed as passive, but are now able to take significant control from the driver.

Understanding what can go wrong with these systems promises to provide some real training challenges ahead.

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