With drivers holding onto their vehicles longer, jobbers can unlock new sales opportunities for belt and hose technologies, as well as other related technologies, by working with service writers to promote more regular inspections and replacement of those parts. A consistent trend over the last several years has been the increasing age of vehicles on the road across North America. A report published in 2015 by IHS Automotive finds that the average age of vehicles on the road in the United States is 11.5 years. In Canada, a similar trend is seen, with the average age of vehicles in Canada similar to what it is in the United States. An interesting side note to this trend can be found in a story published by The Chronicle Herald in November 2011, citing a DesRosiers Automotive Consultants’ report that found “a 20% increase over the past five years in the number of vehicles on the road that are 16 years or older.” This trend of drivers holding onto their vehicles longer is advantageous for jobbers. It means many of these vehicles will be in need of belt and hose replacement, along with other components involved in the cooling systems and other systems run by belts.
Looks Can Be Deceiving The greatest challenge jobbers face in looking to increase sales of belts and hoses is that most technicians today still rely on a visual inspection to see if it’s time to change them. Technicians will look to see if a belt is cracked or missing chunks of material, or if a hose is showing signs of cracking or a conspicuous bulge. This was a fine way to check belts and hoses designed over a decade ago. Today’s belts and hoses, however, are made from materials that not only last longer, but will not show visible signs of wear. So potential sales of replacement belts or hoses are being missed, because the traditional signs that it’s time to change a belt or replace a hose are not going to be there to tip off the technician. “Modern belts are made of a durable synthetic rubber known as ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), which lasts longer and performs much better than previous belts of a decade ago made of neoprene,” says Continental Contitech automotive marketing manager Tom Lee. “But regardless of the better material, mileage and age are big factors in belt wear, and belts will wear down and lose performance. EPDM belts resist cracking because of their increased elasticity, and can run as long as 160,000 kilometres with no visible cracks. But wear may not be so obvious, nor will signs of imminent failure.” Jay Swope, Dayco’s regional commercial centre manager of belt technology, agrees that today’s EPDM belts have significantly extended the life of belts compared to older neoprene belts. But today’s new belts are a challenge for service writers and technicians to properly diagnose. Service writers and technicians who still rely on a visual inspection are missing an opportunity to replace a belt before it fails; and that impacts the bottom line for the jobber, who misses the opportunity to provide a higher-quality aftermarket replacement. “Yes, EPDM compounds have extended the life of the product significantly as compared to the older neoprene-based compounds,” Swope continues. “Because of this, the failure mode of rib cracking has drastically been reduced to the point that it is not typically the primary failure mode of an accessory belt. With the extended life of the accessory belt, the failure mode that should now be the focus is in the area of rib wear. Just like a tire, the rib rubber will wear over time as it rotates in and out of the accessory pulleys.” Hoses also should not be inspected just on a visual level alone, as doing so will cause the technician to miss where problems actually occur with new hose technologies. “Motorists are holding on to their cars longer, and in spite of advanced materials and new technologies, parts are eventually wearing out or degrading,” says David Hirschhorn, brand director at CRP Automotive. “This is especially true of cooling hoses. While the hoses are tougher and more resilient, the thermoplastic parts used in the connectors are not holding up as well. Many European carmakers use thermoplastic quick connectors on the coolant hose ends because they are easier to install on the assembly line. However, this procedure does not translate well to the aftermarket and creates added service issues. Over time, the connectors tend to become brittle and crack when exposed to high temperatures. These connections are typically sealed with a single O-ring and are prone to leak if removed and reinstalled. As a result, the entire hose assembly needs to be replaced, even if the hose is still in good shape.” Gates Canada Inc. director of marketing Randy Chupka says jobbers need to educate service writers and technicians on what to look for to find signs of wear or imminent failure on hoses. More sales of quality aftermarket hoses can’t be made to service shops if jobbers don’t tell them what to look for and when to replace that worn hose. Tell service writers and technicians that waiting for visible signs of problems with a hose is waiting too long, he says, especially as failures begin on the inside of the hose. However, Chupka continues, “Micro-cracks in the interior tube of the hose [are] unnoticeable from the exterior until coolant penetrates the tube and creates bubbles in the outer cover.” “Branched hoses (hoses with connections for multiple hoses to stem off the main hoses) are now very common,” continues Chupka. “Also, hoses with quick connects are common on today’s vehicles. These hoses have similar failure modes, plus frequently fail at the connection to the plastic components within the hose, where heat makes the components become brittle and crack.”
How To Increase Sales If jobbers want to make and increase sales of aftermarket belts and hoses, the first thing to do is get shops to make inspection and replacement of belts and hoses a regular part of their service routine. In fact, many makers of aftermarket belts and hose technologies even suggest a regular replacement regime when a vehicle hits a certain number of kilometres, regardless of whether there are signs of wear. “Market studies have shown most failures occur at about 150,000 kilometres. Thus it is recommended that hoses be inspected at 100,000 kilometres and replaced at the 150,000-kilometre interval,” Chupka says. “Belt and hose sales are very lucrative add-on sales opportunities for counter and service technicians,” says Continental’s Lee. “While a belt or hose may run 160,000 kilometres, many fail way before that point, due to duty cycle, climate, general heat and oil conditions, or age, regardless of mileage.” In fact, by encouraging regular inspections and replacements of belts and hoses, jobbers will also open up other sales opportunities as well. “Instead of trying to sell just a hose or a belt, jobbers should look for much broader opportunities and think ‘system change/service,’” says CRP’s Hirschhorn. “This brings the other components involved in the system into the equation. Jobbers should be promoting and selling these additional parts. For example, when an accessory drive belt needs to be replaced at the appropriate interval, other important parts of the drive system such as tensioners and idlers should be replaced as well. These parts also have the same 100,000 kilometres of wear on them. The same advice holds true for coolant hoses. Jobbers should encourage service technicians to check the entire cooling system, from thermostat to water pump to expansion tank. The amount of additional labour will not be significant when compared to the time it will take for the overall repair, but it will ensure the vehicle won’t have a breakdown or worse before the next service. Thinking in the ‘bigger picture’ of system service will help keep profits up for jobbers and their technician customers.” Dayco corporate marketing and communications manager Brian Wheeler agrees that jobbers can increase profits in the belt and hose category by insisting on the inspection and replacement of other components that are operated by the belt or are part of the cooling system. “When selling belts and hoses, counter staff have an excellent opportunity to increase store sales. Suggesting the replacement of belt tensioners and/or pulleys while replacing the belt will help ensure a properly functioning belt drive system. Alternators work hand in hand with serpentine belts, as the belt must be removed to replace the alternator. When a customer needs an alternator, a new belt should certainly be recommended.” “The cooling system is just that, a system, and should be treated as such,” adds Gates’ Chupka. “All the components are manufactured with a similar lifespan. If one hose fails, the others are soon to follow, unless it’s a unique instance, so replacement of all hoses is recommended. Furthermore, other cooling system components, such as the water pump, thermostat, radiator/reservoir cap, clamps, etc., are all parts of the system and should be inspected at the same time, if not replaced. These components could be the cause of the hose failure, or at the very least, have experienced similar wear, meaning they too may soon be failing.” nJN