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SUMMER DRIVING SEASON
SAFE TRAVELS FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS CAN STRENGTHEN LOYALTY TO YOUR SHOP
Summer is the proverbial road trip season. According to AAA, this summer, more than one-in-three Americans will log more than 50 miles driving to and from vacation destinations, visiting friends and family, or just hitting the open road. And that means extra wear and tear for your customer’s vehicle.
But summer is also known as the orange barrel season, and for good reason: American roads and highways are the worst they’ve been in decades. After another winter of freezing slush, salt and rain, followed by scorching heat, bumps, potholes and otherwise bad roads are taking their toll on cars, trucks and SUVs. While that’s bad news for drivers, it’s maybe not so bad news for underbody service centers.
For shops, keeping a vigilant eye out for worn out or damaged suspension systems is critical to keeping customers safe during the summer driving season. Aside from safety, most drivers are completely unaware of the condition of their vehicle suspension components.
“Suspensions have become quite sophisticated, and they’re designed to last a long time, but if a customer locked a wheel on a patch of ice and slid into a curb or parking block, they could easily have bent an alignment component without even realizing it,” said Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association.
Most shops and experts agree: a seasonal inspection is key to understanding the condition of underbody components for performance and safety. Molla and the ASA recommend a twice-annual inspection, and not just the basics of brake and tire wear, but for the whole vehicle system.
“Customers should have their cars inspected by a professional at least twice a year, just like you go to the dentist, you should have a vehicle checkup twice a year,” Molla said. “Get a checklist, be thorough, do the underbody, under hood, bumper to bumper, and clean things up when you’re done.”
And before any of that happens, a quick trip to a full-service car wash should be the first order of business, according to Molla. A good underbody wash will clean away any dirt and corrosive materials from the winter and allow a technician to get a better look at the condition of the vehicle underbody components to best evaluate them.
“Among all the automotive repairs and normal maintenance items out there, the most commonly overlooked area is vehicle suspension,” said Richard Blosnick, product line manager, Mopar® Maintenance Parts.
“For most, shocks and strut maintenance is one of those areas that people tend to take for granted, in part, because they’re so slow to wear down and deteriorate, but they’re integral to the vehicle’s steering and road handling, and for the vehicle’s overall safety and performance.”
Most critical are the front suspension and steering components. Often the most susceptible to harsh road impact and the elements, front-end underbody components are essential to safety and drivability.
Affected front-end parts include shocks and strut dampers, springs, tie-rod ends, ball joints and strut/spring mounts. Less critical, yet still important to overall safety and performance, are sway bar links and secondary locating links and bushings.
“Today’s independent front suspension, and fully independent suspension systems have a lot more components used for alignment, road handling and stability than even cars just a dozen years ago. That means there’s a lot more to watch out for and replace as needed,” Blosnik said.
Because FCA US LLC steering and suspension systems and components are precisely tuned for optimum road manners and performance, it’s important to replace worn components with the parts that were originally designed and engineered for the make and model vehicle.
“There’s no question that Mopar® steering and suspension components are the best match for every FCA US vehicle repair,” says Blosnick. “Whether you’re installing new O.E. parts or even Mopar Reman parts, our side-by-side parts tests with aftermarket parts have always shown Mopar parts to be superior for fit and function. There’s no comparison, really.”
Knowing you’re installing the best part for the vehicle is even more important when many drivers are not sophisticated enough on automotive technology to know the difference. They depend on you to steer them right.
7 WARNING SIGNS OF A SUSPENSION SYSTEM PROBLEM
As a member of the repair community, it is important that you listen to what your customers are saying, or go the extra mile and ask these questions because they might not know they should be asking them.
Does Vehicle dip or “nose dive” when stopping? When the car dips or noses excessively during braking, it could be a sign of worn shocks.
Does Vehicle pull to one side when driving? There are actually a few reasons why this could be happening, such as the level of tread wear or tire pressure is different on opposing tires, or there is need for a wheel alignment. However, it could also indicate that suspension and steering components are worn.
Is the vehicle visibly lower in one corner? Make sure all four tires are the same and equally inflated. Check the suspension in the low corner.
Is the vehicle “pulling” or “drifting” when turning corners? This could be a sign that the suspension system is no longer keeping the body stable.
Does the car continue to bounce after hitting a bump? Worn shocks allow continued bounce.
Do the shocks appear to be oily or damaged? Confirm that the grease or oil is coming from the shocks and replace as necessary.
Is the ride rough? When the road no longer feels smooth, it’s time for a suspension refresh.
SEASONAL INSPECTION TIPS
According to Tony Molla from the Automotive Service Association, a twice-annual vehicle inspection is the best way to ensure vehicle performance and safety are optimum.
✓ Tires, Brakes, Suspension Components – Look for cracked rims, damaged tires, broken or bent suspension parts – in front and rear. Check emergency brakes and metal brake lines for rust and proper function.
✓ Chassis – Inspect exhaust systems as well as the general underbody and rocker panels for dents and crushed areas. Check O2 sensors and underbody electrical.
✓ Under Hood – Check and inspect all fluids, oils and coolant – top off if needed. Plus, all hoses, belts, tensioner(s) and filters. Recommend replacement as needed. Check all accessible electrical connections and harnesses.
✓ Body – Check for rust, damaged glass or seals. Make sure all lights, turn signals and brake lights are working properly. Check wiper blades and battery as they can fail more often in summer.
✓ Interior – Check interior lights and instrument panel displays. Plus, rear-view mirrors, turn signals and HVAC controls for proper operation.