LONG BEACH, Calif. — If ever there was such a thing as grudge purchases, shocks and struts certainly rank among them.
Though the replacement of worn ride-control components addresses multiple safety and vehicle maintenance considerations, many consumers believe both that these ride control components are designed to last the life of the vehicle and that their primary function is ride comfort. So when presented with the recommendation for a repair costing upwards of $1,000, many consumers also are apt to decline the purchase — or so the thinking goes.
In addition to comfort, shocks and struts enhance vehicle performance in a number of ways, including promoting vehicle control, preventing premature tire wear, reducing stopping distances and reducing wear and tear on other suspension components. However, according to ride-control components manufacturer Tenneco Inc., automotive service providers aren't always doing a good job of making consumers aware of these considerations.
“I would say it's mostly an education issue, as to why a consumer wouldn't be interested (in replacement),” said Mark Boyle, director of product and brand marketing, North America aftermarket for Tenneco. “It's the service technician or the service writer who's got to feel confident and have the background and knowledge of how important it is to replace ride control, from a braking perspective, from just the whole ride of the vehicle and from the suspension of the vehicle.
“We do know that, over time, the ride control is going to degrade like most components do, and it's important to understand that it needs to be checked and replaced at the proper interval.”
Mr. Boyle said Tenneco recommends the first serious ride-control inspection of a vehicle should occur at about 50,000 miles, with replacement generally taking place between 50,000 and 100,000 miles, depending on the type and use of the vehicle. But he noted that many dealers don't recommend replacing shocks on a vehicle until they find one that is leaking or otherwise catastrophically damaged.
“In Tenneco's own research, one of the major reasons that more shocks and struts aren't sold is because the service provider doesn't ask for that sale,” Mr. Boyle said. “...I think one of the toughest things for service providers today is just asking for that sale and letting the customer know there's some safety issues here if they don't change out their shocks, from a braking perspective, and also the potential for failure of other components as well.”
However, not all automotive service businesses are the same, and Mr. Boyle said the ones that perform well in ride-control sales have taken the time to formalize the process so that it's part of the shop's service culture.
“Some tire dealers do a fantastic job selling ride control, they really do, because they understand how important it is from a safety standpoint — and they know how to communicate that to the consumer,” he said. “And they also understand how important it is to tire life.”
Allen Park, Mich.-based Belle Tire Distributors Inc. is one tire and automotive service dealership that has made a concerted effort to focus on ride control component sales.
Chad Hively, store manager for the firm's Sylvania, Ohio, location, said he believes boosting sales of shocks and struts is primarily an issue of education and attitude — and it starts with the technicians.
According to Mr. Hively, often part of the issue for technicians is that ride-control replacement can be a long, labor-intensive job, and it can be a struggle to get technicians to see the value in replacing ride control, both for them and for the consumer.
“(Ride control) is a very educational sale, as opposed to, you know, 'My brakes are squealing and I need my brakes replaced,' or, 'My tires are worn out, I need to get more tires,'” he told Tire Business.
“Shocks and struts are more educational because people don't realize the difference in it. I tell these guys all the time, because I want my technicians to know the difference too.
“A lot of technicians like to do what they know is quick and easy and they can make money off of, one,” he continued.
“Two, they don't like to do anything that they don't see a benefit out of doing. So with shocks and struts, if they don't understand or know the difference, they don't sell it because they don't see a benefit to the customer.”
Mr. Hively emphasized that when it comes to increasing ride-control sales, dealers must start with the technicians.
“Once they get the technicians on board, then that will automatically roll into the service consultants because now it's something that the technician wants to sell,” he said.
“It's going to take the technician saying to the service consultant, 'Hey, you need to sell shocks and struts on this thing.'”
According to Mr. Boyle, the presence of a leak isn't the only indicator shops should be using to determine whether shocks and struts are degraded.
The first step in the process should always be talking to the consumer to find out what's happening with their vehicle, how it's riding and how they're using it.
Technicians should follow up an initial conversation with the customer with a road test of the vehicle, said Denise Hanefeld, Tenneco's brand and marketing manager, North America aftermarket.
“In a test drive, one of the things you'd want to look for is if the vehicle's bouncing or floating excessively,” she said. “Do you notice a lot of brake dive or brake squatting, rolling or swaying that's more excessive than normal, or do you notice the suspension topping out or bottoming out? And then also looking for noises as well.
“Those are some things that, when you're going out on a test drive, you might be able to feel that could indicate there might be a worn component or there's something going on under there.”
Following the test drive, Tenneco recommends that technicians inspect vehicles for visible signs of ride control issues. These can include uneven tire wear and tire cupping; excessive wear on the front brakes; worn and damaged suspension components; and missing or damaged jounce bumpers and bump stops.
Mr. Boyle noted that it's also recommended that shops replace all four shocks or struts at the same time for the best vehicle ride and to reduce the likelihood of continued premature wear of tires and other components.
As it stands, most automotive service businesses replace only two shocks/struts at a time, with the national average being 2.5 units per sale, he said.
Most importantly, according to Ms. Hanefeld, service professionals should be sure to always replace both units on the same axle. Failing to do so can result in worn out control arm bushings.
Tenneco offers dealers training assistance for selling shocks and struts in the form of its Safety, Service & Value clinics — an evolution of the “Four More” educational program Tenneco launched eight years ago.
“These are really intense clinics, where our team goes out and meets with a selection of installers in a particular market and then really does an in-depth, deep dive into ride control and the benefits of replacing ride control, the failure modes and those types of opportunities to identify worn ride control,” Mr. Boyle said. “We make these available to any shop around the country that's interested in this, whether it be in the U.S. or Canada.”
Mr. Boyle added that Tenneco has nearly 100 sales team members in the marketplace today offering these presentations, “So we're doing these on a weekly basis. It's just part of their daily routine to educate the industry as much as we can.”
Ms. Hanefeld said the company also will take its clinics to specific shops that request additional training.
“A lot of shops out there are looking for the manufacturer to help provide training and information for how to improve their business and make sure they're doing the inspections and going through the process correctly,” she said. “We get a lot of good feedback on our training clinics that we do to help push that along through our training channels and the shops as well.”
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