With the median vehicle age exceeding 10 years, the automotive technology on which repair operations must be competent on a daily basis spans more than 20 years.  This is especially daunting when you look at the rocket ship trajectory of near-term developments.  This reality dictates that your financial and time commitment to training, equipment and information services has to step up.  And your ability to reflect that commitment in your pricing has to keep pace if you are going to maintain a sustainable profit margin.

Lest you think that the technology gap always runs to the complicated, like new hybrid systems and dual clutch automated manual transmissions, let’s look at something decidedly low tech: serpentine belts.  Since the mid-90’s, serpentine belts have been made from EPDM.  There’s a big difference in how EPDM and the old neoprene belts age and wear; and there’s compelling evidence that a lot of service advisors and technicians haven’t kept up with this simple advancement.

  • Neoprene belts tend to crack and lose chunks of material as they age.  EPDM belts don’t.  They lose material in the walls of the grooves.
    • EPDM belts that are worn to the point that they are no longer able to provide the wedging force necessary to transfer torque to the accessories are left on the vehicle because they aren’t cracked or glazed.  Technicians aren’t testing with a belt wear gauge.  
  • EPDM belts now have the same service life as their belt tensioner (rather than the 2 to 1 ratio under neoprene)
    • A small fraction of EPDM belts that are returned under warranty are actually defective.  Noise complaints are due to a worn tensioner.

Further evidence of the impact inadequate training on EPDM serpentine belt and tensioner systems comes from studies that show that 25% to 75% of alternators that have been replaced are actually still working within specification when bench tested.  The serpentine belt simply didn’t have enough tension to properly spin the alternator. 

The serpentine belt system transfers torque to the accessories and dampens the firing impulses of the engine.  A slipping belt and weak tensioner allow slippage and vibration that translates into heat transferred into the bearings of the accessories: Can you say “premature wear”.

  • One shop began replacing serpentine belts and tensioners with alternator replacements and reduced alternator comebacks by 47 a year 
  • Replacing a worn belt and tensioner can lower A/C temperature by 20 degrees 
  • Loose belts can cause false codes

OK – this is a simple example of an advancement that’s been with us for nearly 20 years that is still not as recognized (and trained for) as it should be.  Of course, you also need the means to educate your customers on every service and maintenance topic in order to effectively sell service related to advancing technology. 

For me – 10 years have passed between my last new vehicle purchases.  My current car is chock full of technologies that weren’t even available 11 years ago – and it will probably still be on the road 20 years from now.  What will tomorrow hold?  One thing we know for sure is that the learning curve will be steep.  Operations that don’t budget for the training necessary to keep up will be left behind.  And only those that are able to reflect the value of the cost of that training in their pricing will survive. 

Lance Boldt is Vice President and Co-Founder of AutoNetTV.  AutoNetTV’s digital signage products deliver entertaining and educational TV programming to the lobbies of automotive service and repair businesses as well as digital menu boards and automotive website video content.