Lighting system innovations shine light on value of specialized training

Sept. 13, 2016
You don’t want to be in the dark when called upon to help shine some light on meeting the vehicle lighting needs of your DIFM and DIY customers. Having evolved into becoming more complicated than simply pushing in a matching bulb, obtaining the necessary education to impart illuminating repair and replacement information is taking on heightened importance.

You don’t want to be in the dark when called upon to help shine some light on meeting the vehicle lighting needs of your DIFM and DIY customers. Having evolved into becoming a bit more complicated than simply pushing in a matching bulb, obtaining the necessary education to impart illuminating repair and replacement information is taking on heightened importance.

“Good lighting knowledge is paramount to good lighting sales,” says Ann-Marie Hines, senior marketing manager at Lumileds LLC (founded by Philips).

At this year’s Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas the company is launching its Phillips Automotive Lighting Training Academy. “The primary focus of this program will be to train, inform and educate our retail partners and their service customers on lighting sales and service so they can grow their lighting business and maximize their profitability,” she says.

“The program will feature a series of modules that will cover everything our customers will need to know in order to create the best lighting selling experience. It will include lighting basics, performance, product technology, installation, maintenance and merchandising.” More modules are to be continually added to expand the program.

“Our best advice for both retailers and shops is to check the vehicle’s shop manual and review the manufacturer’s recommended replacement procedure for servicing the headlamp properly. Some of this information is also available from technical information services such as ALLDATA and Mitchell,” says Hines.

“To help customers find the right bulb for the application, we offer both a print version of our Philips catalog and an easy-to-use Philips online bulb finder that retailers, shops and do-it-yourselfers can use to search for their bulb application by vehicle year, make and model.”

“In addition to their primary safety function as forward lighting, carmakers have been using them as key styling elements,” Hines continues. “As a result, headlamps have become more complex, and because of their integration into the body of the vehicle, more difficult to service. Most technicians will agree that lighting maintenance was much easier in the age of the sealed beam headlamp. Replacement was simple. Removing the mounting rim gave you access to the headlamp, which could be easily removed and replaced from the front of the vehicle.

“Today, practically all vehicles are fitted with some form of composite headlamp design where its halogen, HID, or LED based, or a combination thereof. They feature multiple bulbs, which in many cases can only be accessed from inside the engine compartment and require extra effort and disassembly to remove and replace.”

CHIPS, or Change Headlight Bulbs in Pairs, is a recently rolled-out safety initiative from the company. “The campaign is aimed at encouraging service technicians and vehicle owners to change headlight bulbs in pairs whenever they need to replace a bulb due to damage, failure, or when one of the bulbs starts to dim,” Hines says.

“Headlight bulbs tend to deteriorate and lose effectiveness over a period of 2-3 years. Typically, motorists only replace the bulb that has burned out or is failing. This is not advisable because replacing just one failed bulb can result in an unbalanced or unpredictable headlight beam and potentially present a safety risk.”

“Today it is much more complex as automobiles are becoming more fancy, including the way headlights are assembled in cars,” reports Robert Gill, North American sales manager at GE Lighting. “In the past, you could just replace the lamp. Now, you may need to take off the bumper or the battery, and this, therefore, may require help from a skilled, knowledgeable person.”

GE has downloadable apps to facilitate accurate bulb replacement along with an instructional video. “The more-trained, the more-knowledgeable,” according to Gill. “We also offer training through our distributors in key accounts and support through the Auto Care Association.”

“Without proper training and knowledge it’s easy for technicians and owners to miss out on parts and service sales and profits,” says industry consultant Daniel Stern. “I say ‘proper’ training and knowledge because if it’s just based on promotional and advertising material it can quickly land a shop owner in expensive doo-doo.”

If a lighting system is modified in an unsafe manner, as in installing improper products or incorrect aiming, in the event of a crash “the shop can be held liable, and it can get very costly,” he cautions. “Lamps need to be high-quality appropriate parts in good condition – and adjusted correctly.”

“Glare issues (adversely impacting oncoming drivers) are usually a result of poorly aimed headlights,” says Matthew Brumbelow, senior research engineer at Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IHHS). For example, “SUV headlights are mounted higher than car headlights, so they generally should be aimed lower. Instead, many of them are aimed higher than the car headlights we’ve tested so far.”

Incidents of excessive glare induced by improper aiming are a way-too-common occurrence, according to Stern. “Most vehicles in North America never have their headlamp aim properly checked or adjusted after they leave the factory. If it’s ever adjusted at all, it’s usually a random adjustment, often upward” when performed by someone lacking a suitable understanding of how the systems are designed to operate.

“Bulb replacement ranges from easy to very difficult depending on the vehicle make and model,” says Stern, who provides training recommendations and conducts individualized onsite sessions.

“While the basics are pretty universal, the particulars are highly specific in terms of what kinds of vehicles are in mind, what kinds of products, what sorts of goals and results customers are seeking at that particular shop or what services the shop is considering offering,” he says. “So in order to be useful and cost-effective, an education program really has to be tailored on a case-by-case basis.”

“Lighting devices have lots of engineering involved, therefore training will provide details and arguments for technicians and sales crews to provide better service, advice and support for their customers or end-consumers,” reports HELLA product manager Alfredo de la Vega.

“From color temperature to wattage consumption, from technology to better aiming, it makes a huge difference,” he points out. During last year’s AAPEX the company launched its “one-stop shop” technical portal with an array of online training programs, videos, manuals and bulletins regarding vehicle-specific lighting systems.

HELLA sales and product advisors are also available upon request to conduct specialized onsite instruction at your particular business.

Maximizing safety and sales

“Asking a simple question such as ‘do you want to see better when driving at night?’ can help motorists understand the importance of changing their headlights for an improved on-road experience,” explains SYLVANIA Automotive Lighting marketing manager Brian Noble, echoing the Car Care Council’s recommendation that headlamps should always be replaced in pairs to maximize lighting performance and safety.

“Vehicles have more complex lighting options today than ever before. New and improved technology includes adaptive headlights, laser headlights and systems that manage high/low beams,” says Noble.

“Additionally, consumers need to know a lot more about their headlights if their car comes with either halogen, HID or LED bulbs,” he says.

“Newer technology adds to the safety of headlights, but it also affects the overall cost. Today, a front-end accident could cost thousands of dollars as compared to a couple of hundred. Furthermore, most of the new systems, outside of halogen headlights, require going to a dealer or a mechanic for repairs if there is an issue,” says Noble.

“Luckily, newer technology lasts longer than traditional products that have a filament,” according to Noble. “The overall market still has the vast majority – over 90 percent – of the cars and trucks using halogen bulbs that are less expensive and easier to replace,” he says.

“Most vehicles have a similar, but slightly different, process to change-out bulbs. They could use the same bulb, but would need to use different tools and follow a different installation process based on the car and manufacturer,” says Noble.

“With lighting, the first place we send installers is Training videos and other resources are organized based on vehicle-specific install. The site also includes guides that detail how to aim bulbs, what happens if grease is on the bulbs, the benefits of value-added product, and more,” he says.

Store-level training is provided as well. “Most of the time it is specific to the retailer based on their objectives, product lines and the needs of their target audience,” says Noble.

Knowledgeable aftermarket businesses are able to assist owners of older vehicles by providing the latest lighting fitments for yesteryear’s fixtures.

“Safety is a major concern when driving our vintage and classic cars on today’s highways. Original vehicles move slower on the road than their modern counterparts,” notes Stephen Kassis at The Filling Station restoration house in Lebanon, Ore. “Having LED tail lights on the rear of our vintage cars helps other drivers see us quicker than with standard tail lights. This is helpful even in daylight hours.”

Philips’ Hines points out that the recently released Philips Classic Car Lighting Catalog for 1969 to 1998 domestic and import cars, SUVs, light trucks and vans showcases headlamp upgrades that “let vintage and custom car enthusiasts maintain a stock look during the day while having a dramatic, bright white light at night.”

Turning the corner

“There are a variety of auto lighting technologies, though many of them aren’t for the U.S. yet, due to NHTSA standards that say headlamps should have a low beam, high beam and a means of switching to thus,” says Jason Bartanen, director of industry technical relations at I-CAR, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair.

Bob Jansen, I-CAR’s senior instructional designer, says the up-and-coming laser headlamp technology, for instance, is said to be some 1,000 times more efficient than LEDs.

“I’m also talking LEDs that cater their beam in multiple patterns based on the road ahead and vehicles oncoming. The beams are able to both give a bright light to where you’re going and avoid dazzling oncoming drivers at the same time,” says Jansen.

“In the U.S., the most advanced technology is LED lamps, which started in rear lamps, trickled slowly to the front as daytime running lamps, then finally headlamps,” he recounts. “The issue with LEDs is that you can’t replace the bulbs individually, just as a complete lamp assembly. Expensive, but that’s all you can do. The plus side of that is that it’s not that difficult, since you’re basically unbolting and bolting on a part.”

“There are adaptive headlamps that change direction as you’re going around a corner, a technology perfected back with the Tucker. Not that much high-tech as far as the lighting, just a motor. It’s a hassle after a collision, though,” Jansen says.

“The only other technology in the U.S. is a high beam that automatically dims with oncoming vehicles. That requires a sensor that isn’t in the headlamp assembly but often in front of the rearview mirror. Of course, high-intensity discharge, or bi-xenon, lamps are still around. Those are standard on a few vehicles, but mostly still an option,” according to Jansen.

“As far as changing headlamps, the biggest challenge is still your classic halogens, which are still prevalent in the industry. No touching the new bulbs, or it can shortchange its life. Technicians sometimes forget that,” he says.

“HIDs are a challenge as well, since they are so complex with their ballast, high voltage and nasty chemistry. LEDs are relatively simple. There are some dos and don’ts when it comes to switching out lamps, but complex training is not required,” says Jansen.

Although I-CAR focuses on body shops, its online Automotive Lighting (LSC04e) course is open to anyone. It identifies the varieties of interior and exterior lamps, describes the repair considerations around operation and repair of headlamps along with addressing collision-related problems arising with interior and exterior lighting. Jansen observes that the enrollment process “is easier than changing a light bulb.”

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