Bad brakes can lead to big trouble. As the only device to stop a speeding car — aside from an empty fuel tank and very good luck — brakes are one of the top repairs that an owner won't let slide. This is why shops will consistently see high traffic in terms of brake maintenance and repair.
To keep things interesting (and profitable), bleed and flush equipment is getting smarter. Aside from freeing up hands around the shop, the machines are learning to recognize and service a variety of vehicles.
"Today's machines can make [brake maintenance and repairs] a one-tech job," said Marc Pagliuca, director of business development at MotorVac. "Basically, if techs are bleeding or flushing brakes without the machine, it's going to take at least two techs to do it; the machines make it a one-tech job, which is what they're looking for."
Equipment and procedures that were commonly used two or three years ago are now obsolete with modern cars, according to Andy Wasielewski, division manager at Vacula.
And if you're a mobile jobber, this is good news.
"With hybrid vehicles on the horizon, and different forms of antilock and computerized braking systems," said Wasielewski, "there are different specifications now, even in regards to vacuum and pressure bleeding. It's coming down to having to go to your information data service to find out the proper procedure whereas, in the past it was routine, no matter what the car was."
Manufacturers of brake service equipment are striving to create all-encompassing — yet effective — machines. One way manufacturers do this, according to Wasielewski, is by "always going to the original equipment manufacturers of the vehicles to find out what the procedure is, and then having a tool built around that, based on their specification."
WHAT'S IN YOUR SHOP?
Despite the increased sophistication of bleed and flush equipment, or perhaps because of it, customers need to be aware that not all machines do the same thing. Shop owners who are interested in updating their equipment should assess what kind of cars are rolling into their shop, and which machines will service them best.
"Some of the things to pay attention to are how you would bleed — either by pressure or vacuum," said Wasielewski, "and then you would ask in what sequence you should bleed and at what pressure. There are specifications for all of that.
"It's getting more specific than ever," said Wasielewski. "For example, Honda and BMW both recommend bleeding at 38-41 psi, whereas your typical Chevy is about 9-13 psi. That's a pretty broad range.
"The Ford Escape hybrid is a vehicle that has
to be bled at 35 psi. This opened the eyes of the aftermarket that you just can't go
and bleed the normal way anymore."
Pressure and vacuum
The next thing customers need to learn about the machine, is whether it pressurizes the system or uses a vacuum, and how many wheels it will service at one time.
"Vacuum is still how 80 percent of people bleed their vehicles," said Wasielewski, as the procedure is clean, convenient and inexpensive.
"Every tech can own a vacuum bleeder, whereas the shop will buy the more expensive $3,500 flushing machine," said Wasielewski. "So for the mobile distributor, if they're not really into selling high-dollar equipment, the [big-ticket] item is not going to be as easy to sell as that $300 vacuum brake bleeder."
Vacuum bleeders became popular because of ease of use, but as more cars are coming out that require pressure, more companies are going to a machine that pressurizes rather than using the vacuum, said Wasielewski.
When using a pressure bleeder, techs must apply pressure to the master cylinder, push the fluid through and collect the old fluid by opening up the bleed screw at each wheel. It's an elaborate procedure, said Wasielewski, because now you have a specific adapter for every vehicle.
He adds that a lot of companies are getting into electronic technology, and are equipping their brake machines with systems that will bleed in sequence automatically rather than doing it manually.
"With the old vacuum cleaner type, you would just go to the wheel, the bleed screw, and just suck the fluid out. So there were no special adapters needed; it was pretty much a universal-type bleeding system."
Manual pressure machines require users to physically go to each wheel and collect the brake fluid. But this, too, has an advantage.
"[When done manually], this gives the machine more reliability because there's really no electronics to malfunction. Not only that, you're following the recommendation of the car-makers by bleeding at one time in sequence, where some of the fancier machines bleed all at once. It becomes a time-saver more than anything."
Because the machines are so profitable, Pagliuca indicated, mobile jobbers can sell based on how fast you can do the job. "When you talk about using the machines versus not using the machines, it's going to save the shop quite a bit of time because otherwise they're going to have to have one tech in the vehicle pumping the brakes, while the other tech is out bleeding each wheel one at a time."
Buyers also need to take into account what the machine offers in terms of service.
"Dealerships are … looking for more machines to get a good ROI," said Wasielewski. "I think they probably drive that more than anybody, whereas your typical shop is sort of just going to bleed the brakes and get the job done rather than promoting extra service."
Additional features to consider with brake bleeding equipment is whether the machine has drawers (for adapters, etc.) and whether or not brake fluid is included.
As a distributor, selling brake service equipment can be a success for everyone. The biggest things distributors can to do to make the most of a sale, are to conduct research on the various models out there, help a tech figure out his potential ROI and point out the time they will save.
The bottom line is that whether techs are looking for something to get the job done or go the extra mile, today's machines are up to the challenge.