Getting back in the suspension game

Jan. 1, 2020
On recent trips I accidentally discovered that, as an industry, we are apparently out of the suspension repair business. What I discovered on two trips to shops out west and what I have verified in recent weeks is that as a whole, we are confused abo
On recent trips I accidentally discovered that, as an industry, we are apparently out of the suspension repair business. What I discovered on two trips to shops out west and what I have verified in recent weeks is that as a whole, we are confused about when to replace shocks and struts. The result of this confusion is that for all intents and purposes, we have taken ourselves out of the suspension business and unless a shock or a strut is broken or damaged beyond useful function, we are not recommending replacement.

This, despite irregular tire wear and customer comments that include ‘a rough ride’. In an economy that has our customers holding on to their cars, we are missing huge opportunities for suspension sales simply because we are not sure what constitutes a worn out shock or strut.

My original intention on these trips was certainly not to look at suspension sales. Every once in a while I have the good fortune to visit a shop or shop owner and I take these opportunities to see what is going on out there. There is no doubt that the sound of air guns invigorates me but there is nothing better for me than watching and observing what a shop owner is doing in his shop and at his counter and I look forward to these opportunities. On these most recent trips, I was truthfully going to assess the inspection process in the stores I was visiting.

I quickly noticed that there were issues with shocks and struts. Where nearly every item on the inspection form was checked in some fashion, very often the shocks and struts were passed over completely.

This was a pattern I noted in several stores I checked in North Carolina, Virginia and now in southern California. We, as an industry, don’t know what constitutes a worn out shock or strut and we aren’t recommending replacement because of this. With this hands-off approach, we are squandering huge opportunities to serve our customers needs and are missing out on chances to make sales and be more productive and profitable.

For anyone who might be interested, I recommend going to www.motorist.org . This is the Motorist Assurance Program website. They are a coalition of consumer and automotive industry groups who, among other things, set standards for inspection and communication in the automotive repair world. Their entire reason for existence is to educate consumers and to set consistently high standards for repair shops and help all of us know when and why we should do certain repairs and what constitutes a bad part. In various links and attachments, MAP does a pretty good job of explaining why we do the things we do and even encourages regular bumper to bumper inspections.

For the record MAP has the support and backing of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the National Safety Council, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Consumer League. Their standards are accepted by Goodyear, Firestone, Midas, Monro Muffler Brake & Service and the TBC Retail Group that includes Tire Kingdom, NTB and Merchants Tire among many others. There is an equally long list of parts and equipment manufacturers and industry publications that affiliate themselves with MAP and their published standards.

 

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Just like tread depth on tires, thickness on rotors or draw on a starter, when a part is bad or worn out it is time to replace it. The problem here has been our being unaware as an industry of an accepted standard and minus that standard, we have in many cases elected to step back from recommending shocks or struts, only selling them when they are damaged. Over the past six or eight weeks, I have asked at least thirty technicians and service advisors at what mileage shock or strut replacement would be recommended. Most of these industry professionals simply did not have a clue, but among those who answered, I most typically heard answers from 75,000 -100,000 miles. The correct answer, which I only heard once, is actually 50,000 miles, this according to MAP.

In every shop that I have checked, owners, service advisors and technicians all acknowledged that they were a little confused about suspension repairs, but all of them thought that they were getting their share of this business and were making reasonable attempts to sell shocks and struts. Looking at the inspection sheets in the shops I have visited and going back several months, it seems very obvious that most shops and shop owners are opting out of the shock and strut business.

Armed with a specific accepted replacement interval, we have seen shops making these presentations double and triple the number of shocks and struts sold when compared to previous months. In a market where customers are choosing not to purchase new cars, they have seen the need and advantage of maintaining their vehicles and this effort will pay obvious dividends in safety, in ride and in driving characteristics. In choosing to hold onto a car, our customers are accepting repair & maintenance as a cost of ownership. Shocks and struts need to be an important part of that effort.

Though the information has been out there all along, we seem to be missing out on a significant sector of our business. I suggest we find out exactly what we are currently doing and redefine our expectations. Educate, train and make sure your people are making the appropriate recommendations. If you are unconvinced and unconcerned that this is driven by an effort to recommend services that might not need to be done, I am going to strongly suggest you start checking the condition of the tread on your customers cars. I did this myself and feel very strongly that we are doing our customers a huge disservice in failing to make these recommendations. Our customers rely on us to keep their cars safe and reliable and if you are not selling shocks and struts when they are obviously needed, you are failing your customers. Like any part, shocks and struts wear out. Train your people appropriately and make those recommendations.

Suspension sales are an excellent opportunity just waiting to happen.

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