In this age of digital inspections of vehicle electronics, let’s go back under the car to analyse the purely mechanical parts that still deserve our technicians’ full attention.
We’re talking here about steering and suspension components and the braking system, where expertise takes over from high technology. We spoke to experts in the field who gave us an overview of strategies for correctly diagnosing these components and explaining to consumers the importance of their proper functioning.
However, the inspection of parts of these systems located under the car is all too often overlooked, due to a lack of preparation or time.
Inspections to be planned
James Shield, Training Director at Carquest, sets the scene quite simply. “Make sure you plan into the workshop schedule the time needed to carry out a proper inspection of the systems underneath the car. Ideally, a test drive by an experienced technician will tell you a lot about the general condition of the vehicle.”
Shield mentions the existence of applications (including NVH Diagnostic) that can determine, for example, the cause and location of a vibration in the car.
“Often, the wear and tear of parts underneath the car is not perceptible to the consumer,” he continues. For example, an abnormally depressed brake pedal may indicate the need to check the brake fluid, or a bouncing car may betray a suspension at the end of its life.”
On the subject of suspension, Shield is not relying on the number of kilometres driven, but rather on usage. He also points out that for electric vehicles, which are heavier, this fatigue of suspension parts can occur earlier.
“Take advantage of the fact that the car is elevated to check for leaks or abnormal play in the suspension or steering parts. A look at the condition of the tires can also indicate a problem with alignment, if they are not worn evenly. Nowadays, with all the advanced driver assistance systems, it’s very important to recommend an alignment if it’s necessary.”
Sometimes, a good inspection protocol will reveal work needs that do not necessarily require the replacement of parts. M. Shield cite par exemple les freins. Simple tools are available to measure pad wear. But even if they don’t need changing, the workshop can offer the customer preventive maintenance, consisting of cleaning and lubricating moving parts.
The final point this expert insists on is not to decide for the customer on the quality of the replacement parts used to get their vehicle back on the road.
“I can understand that for a vehicle soon to be returned from a lease you might opt for the cheapest parts possible, but when you know how the vehicle will be used, the lowest quality solution is far from advisable.”
Accompanied by his technician and up-and-coming representative Anthony Bérubé, Garage Owner Éric Lessard from the Centre de l’auto Sillery was kind enough to share his company’s strategy for mechanical systems under the car.
“It all comes down to two factors,” says Lessard, “what the customer perceives and what our technicians discover. If the customer tells us about a problem or a suspicious noise, we’ll ask as many questions as possible at the counter to give our technician all the leads he needs to find the source of the problem. On the other hand, we follow a rigorous inspection protocol, on a tablet, focusing first on the safety of the motorist and then on recommended and preventive maintenance”.
The impact of technology and habits
Under the NAPA AUTOPRO banner, this workshop combines know-how with modern tools to carry out a vehicle health check. As Lessard explains, when it comes to wear and tear on the parts under the car, you can’t rely solely on the number of kilometres driven. “It’s primarily a question of use,” he explains. “There are also factors that change the situation. For example, the popularity of low-profile tires has an impact on suspension and steering wear. These tires are much less effective at absorbing impacts. As a result, we are now replacing a lot of steering racks, which was rarely the case in the past.”
Anthony Béburé adds that consumer habits have also changed, which affects the frequency of certain maintenance operations. “The classic case is the brakes,” he explains. “The pads may be in perfect condition, but the discs are rusty because they haven’t been used enough. Telecommuting means we have to inspect in a different way.”
A big advantage of working with a tablet is that the customer can be notified of work to be done or planned quickly, without being disturbed by a call, and by supporting the request for authorisation of the work with photos.
These two players understand that it is not easy for consumers to understand that certain parts should be replaced, even if they do not detect any problems while driving.
“This is the case with suspension deterioration,” explains Bérubé. “The road tests we carry out will tell us whether the roll, bounce or sagging of the front of the vehicle under braking are signs of a tired suspension. We can also measure this gradual wear on the ramp by comparing it with the vehicle’s normal height.”
Customers may be reluctant to invest in this type of relatively expensive work. Even the need for alignment can sometimes make them hesitate.
In response, Lessard says: “In these two examples, not taking action could have consequences for the safety of drivers and passengers. What’s more, delaying this work doesn’t save money, because it can lead to premature wear of other parts. This is often the case with front brakes, which wear out quickly because the suspension lets all the weight slide towards the front of the vehicle when braking.”
In short, a detailed mechanical inspection will enable the customer to make decisions that will help him keep his car for a long time.