AKRON (Aug. 1, 2005) — Tire dealers and service shop operators who are serious about maximizing service sales cannot overlook the importance of a thorough road test.
An attentive ride-and-drive is still the best way to evaluate a vehicle for legitimate service sales opportunities.
I got my first job in a service station in 1967. That was an era when, to say the least, service stations really did sell lots of tires and did a great deal of repair work. I don't think I was on the job two weeks before I heard the older workers talking about road testing. They boasted that they diagnosed cars our competition didn't just because they road tested—the competition didn't. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?
Yes, road testing is such an obvious diagnostic path that service personnel do it instinctively, true? Fat chance, readers! My field experience has been that service personnel take road testing as seriously as they do gathering adequate vehicle history. Regular Tire Business readers know that I've been carping about the dearth of vehicle history and road testing for years in this column.
First of all, go to any worthwhile training class on undercar diagnosis and the first thing the instructor emphasizes to you is the importance of road testing—especially with today's sophisticated braking and ride-control systems. Without fail, the next thing the instructor does is lament that service personnel don't take road testing seriously enough.
Second, several of these undercar instructors convinced me that my experience and impressions were on the mark. That is, road testing is so underutilized that I ought to emphasize it in this column—so I did.
Third, that research (which was done 15 years ago) made me emphasize that shock and strut performance often degrades gradually. Experience shows that the quality of ride and handling often slips so gradually that the driver becomes accustomed to the additional bouncing, leaning, nose-diving, etc. I work with many shops that specialize in Asian vehicles and this process is a familiar one on those vehicles.
Fourth, I found a feature I wrote in 1992 for Tire Business urging readers to use 50,000-60,000 miles as a yardstick for evaluating shock and strut replacement.
I don't cite my work and field experience—not to mention previous articles in this publication—to boast or play know-it-all. By the same token, I don't want to sound like some Johnny-come-lately who just discovered these road test and ride-control themes.
This brings me to Tenneco Automotive Inc. and its Monroe ride control products division. Monroe is a product name that's been synonymous with shocks and struts for as long as I can remember.
In the July 18 issue of Tire Business, Editor Dave Zielasko reported that Monroe recently hosted a ride-and-drive event at which journalists compared vehicles with original struts to ones with fresh Monroe struts.
The results were dramatic—even refreshing. Until you performed a thorough road test before and after, you couldn't believe the improvement in ride and especially handling. Improved handling, of course, translates into improved overall safety.
Mind you, these were not stunt-driver antics. Rather, the simple course we drove well simulated what motorists encounter on the highways.
The point is, until we drove the subject vehicles, we couldn't know or say, “Wow, there's a lot of room for improvement here. This car leans, sways and nose-dives a lot!” Service personnel who bother to road test will draw the same conclusions about countless vehicles that come into their stores.
In the same vein, hats off to Monroe for committing the resources to its “Monroe Ride Safe Tour,” which promotes the virtues of restored ride and handling to consumers and professionals alike. It includes a similar ride-and-drive program for technicians.
Contact your local representative for more information about it. Even salty old veterans will learn something from it.
The more some things change, the more they remain the same. I compliment Monroe for emphasizing that road testing is a timeless technique.