Preventative maintenance helps friction product sales and services

June 24, 2016
Auto parts stores and repair shops that promote the value and safety of routine brake inspections can pump up their sales of braking products and services. Most motorists tend to disregard this aspect of vehicle maintenance until noticing that their friction system has gone awry.

Promoting the value and safety of stopping by for a routine brake inspection can pump up your sales of braking products and services. Most motorists tend to disregard this all-important aspect of vehicle maintenance until noticing that their friction system has gone awry.

“Almost 55 percent of both DIY and DIFM customers wait until there is something wrong with their brakes before going in for service,” says industry consultant Bill Thompson, president and CEO of IMR, which conducts the Continuing Consumer Automotive Maintenance Survey (CCAMS). “There is a lot of opportunity for brake repair business if shops and retailers plan accordingly.”

Squealing, grinding or other indicators of concern aside, 10 percent of these drivers rely on seeing the dashboard brake warning light come on before taking any action.

“Repair shops and parts stores that have a comprehensive strategy for preventative brake maintenance could really take advantage of this potential business year in and year out,” Thompson says.

“The repair shops and stores with an effective plan would also develop great trust with their customers by being proactive and honest with them, which could lead to more repeat business as well as more business for other repair areas.”

Close to 16 percent of vehicle owners are still up for going the shade tree mechanic route, although 70 percent of them will reach out for professional advice before tackling a brake job – underscoring the benefits of ensuring that your counter people are up to date with their product knowledge.

“Our research in regard to DIYers working on their own brakes shows that a vast majority are either going to the parts store or calling the parts store to find out what the stores have in stock as well as information about pricing,” Thompson reports.

“As brake parts can be a very profitable item, it is imperative that stores train their staff properly in regard to brakes and keep them informed with the latest updates related to products and pricing,” he advises. “The last thing any store wants is a DIYer calling and not getting the information they request.”

Some 25 percent of customers seeking DIFM brake system services are patronizing independent shops; 19 percent have the work done at a dealership.

“Independent repair shops are getting about a quarter of the brake service and repair according to our research,” says Thompson. “However, with a majority of the remaining brake business being split between retailers, car dealers, repair specialists and tire dealers, there is ample opportunity for everyone to grow their brake profits with an aggressive and proactive strategy.

“With brakes being such a major safety issue, independent repair shops and retail stores could really develop customer trust by being proactive with their customers and developing a preventative maintenance plan for brake service that would save their customers money while at the same time keeping them safe,” he suggests.

“Another area that shops and stores could grow their brake business is in brake upgrades,” Thompson continues. “Over 12 percent of DIY customers brought their vehicle in for brake performance upgrades, while 10.5 percent of DIFM customers upgraded their brakes when it was time to replace them. If shops and stores do a good job of explaining the value of higher quality brakes to their customers, there is a potential for a real increase in brake profits.”

Going with WDs

Warehouse distributors are getting the bulk of the brake parts orders placed by independent repairers.

“Our research relating to the first call for brake parts is very consistent as almost two-thirds of shops start with the WD when looking for brake parts,” says Thompson, citing IMR’s Repair Shop Tracking Study. “No matter the manufacturer of the vehicle, whether it is domestic, Asian or European, a wide majority of independent repair shops feel they can find everything they need at their WD. Almost six out of 10 of the independent repair shops we surveyed said their primary supplier for brakes parts is their WD.

“However, compared to filtration parts, more repair shops call the retailer first for brake parts than filtration parts. Over 37 percent of respondents said a retailer was their first choice for brake parts compared to 31.2 percent for filtration parts. These results tell us some independent repair shops do vary their supplier choice based on the specific part or product category,” Thompson explains.

“Although this research reveals that WDs are the overwhelming first choice for brakes for both Asian and domestic vehicles, we do see more independent repair shops contacting their WD for Asian (63 percent) vehicle brake parts compared to domestic (59 percent) vehicle parts,” he says. “This research indicates that some independent repair shops find a better selection of brake parts for Asian vehicles from their WD than at a retail outlet.”

Elements of concern

The content of the components being purchased and installed is another trending aspect under consideration.

“One of the most pressing issues in the friction materials industry today is imported brake friction materials containing asbestos,” says Leigh Merino, senior director of regulatory affairs for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) and the organization’s Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC).

In 2013, $2.2 million in asbestos-tainted brake parts were imported into the country; half of them came from China, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“U.S. manufacturers do not use asbestos in their products due to toxicity and state laws. For example, in addition to reducing copper in brake friction materials, the California and Washington laws also required the removal of other constituents in brake pads, including asbestiform and other materials,” Merino notes. “The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Reform legislation currently being considered in Congress would provide stronger EPA authority to regulate toxic chemicals already in commerce.”

Copper is another element facing increased scrutiny.  “Members of BMC have made, and continue to make, significant capital investments in developing reformulated products that meet the highest safety and performance standards while also reducing copper content,” says Merino.

“The laws in the States of California and Washington effectively created an industry-wide 'de-facto' standard. As a result, many brake friction material manufacturers are changing their U.S. products to be compliant with the California and Washington requirements in order to be sold in all states,” she says.

“The government-industry collaboration on the voluntary “Copper-free Brakes Initiative” memorandum of understanding, which is based on the timelines and requirements of California and Washington, was necessary to establish a national-level program to ensure consistency in reporting requirements and recognition of the industry’s compliance with those laws,” according to Merino “MEMA, AASA and BMC support stronger authority in this area as well as a renewed EPA effort to regulate asbestos, particularly in imported brakes.”

“A lot of it is still coming into the U.S., a lot of people aren’t telling the truth, and a lot of people don’t know what’s in there” when purchasing overseas-sourced components, according to Jerry Forystek, director of friction product development at Brake Parts Inc./Raybestos.

As asbestos and copper content went by the wayside, “we had to learn how to re-develop friction at that point,” Forystek recalls, referring to the quest for introducing alternative materials capable of meeting the industry’s ongoing demand for suitable stopping performance. “It’s not an easy thing to engineer out of.”

Future considerations

Dave Antanaitis, a senior brake engineer at General Motors, parent firm of ACDelco, observes that “regenerative braking and active safety will be growing technology trends in the coming years, but it will take a few years for these technologies to widely impact aftermarket technicians and counter staff.”

Future considerations involve situations such as the fact that “regenerative brake systems reduce the braking energy absorbed into the friction system, which in turn lowers the operating temperatures and wear of the friction material. In some cases regenerative brake systems may double or even triple the life of the friction material, and for some customers the brake pads and rotors may even be a 'life of vehicle' component,” according to Antanaitis.

“There are still mechanisms that degrade the pads and rotors that are not related to energy absorption, such as corrosion and damage from road debris, so customers in some environments will still need to replace pads and rotors due to this type of degradation,” he says.

There will certainly be an impact because the base foundation brake is smaller in some cases on new models,” says Steve Ruiz, vice president of engineering at Centric Parts/StopTech. “On others – where adaptation to offer a hybrid model has taken place – the work done by the original foundation brake will be less per mile driven. Another impact to consider will be the type of driver who buys a car with regenerative braking. They often drive to realize a gain in fuel mileage so they will try to take maximum advantage of the technology.”

“Regenerative braking converts some of the kinetic energy to electricity to charge the batteries rather than using the wheel-end brakes to convert it all into heat,” according to Centric technical department head Pat McCleish. “Wheel-end brake components, under the same driving conditions, will have a greater service life on a vehicle utilizing regenerative braking than on a vehicle lacking this feature.”

Additionally coming down the pike is widespread adaptation of increasingly sophisticated electronic controls. “There are several levels of driver assistance and automatic braking features, and the results could vary greatly based on regional traffic and driving patterns,” Antanaitis says.

“For many vehicles and systems today, the impact will be minimal. However, automatic safety features could lead to increased applications of the braking system,” he adds. “For example, a full range adaptive cruise control (FRACC) might frequently use the brakes to match traffic speeds, whereas a human driver may apply the brakes at the last minute. Over time, this could lead to increased wear and faster replacement cycles, but it is still too early to predict the impact on lifetime wear with any certainty.”

“The industry needs to keep an eye on this,” says Forystek at Raybestos. “That’s new technology that really hasn’t been seen out there,” concurs Dave Wagner, the company’s product manager. “You should be ready to learn about it and watch what’s coming out.”

Full product offerings

When selling products to installers, Ruiz advises you to “suggest minimum safe pad friction thicknesses and offer higher performance product upgrades: Pads with anti-noise shims and features, rotors with better finishes on friction surfaces and other areas – especially if they can be seen; rotors with slots and drilled features, higher performance brake fluid, pad wear sensors – items that can increase the basket size.”

“A full product offering can allow the installer to invest to understand the owner’s brake needs and then recommend the right components or system,” says Mark Cornwell, Centric’s vice president of performance sales and marketing. “Solutions can be generalized, but this is not the correct way to sell the end user the right parts. Happy customers recommend you to their friends, and this also helps drive additional business.”

As for reaching out to DIYers, Cornwell reports “companies that can make their information informative, convincing and easy to use will gain market share. Companies selling kits or systems can also benefit from strong branding efforts. A kit or system sale ensures that the customer is spending the most with your brand.”

“We’re seeing the evolution of the braking system,” says Wagner. “A guy should be really careful about working on these today. It’s more than just putting pads on a car.”

“There are a lot of things you have to look for, the list goes on and on,” notes Forystek. “It really comes down to education and communication. When that parts provider is deemed the expert, he’s the one you’re going to go to. He knows how to get the brakes replaced properly.”

Given these increased complexities, Wagner stresses the importance of engaging in best practices when professional technicians are at work out on the shop floor. “The guys who are doing this can be in a hurry, and you don’t want the car coming back – every time you have to rack the car again you’re losing money.”

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