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See and be Seen Visibility Products

By Brian Cruickshank

Visibility products, such as lighting and windshield wipers, are safety items that must be periodically replaced. But often, they are only purchased as an add-on sale. That means, you need to be familiar with the products, their installation and technology.

Nothing lasts forever and headlamps, bulbs and wipers are no exception.

After 1,000 or more hours of operation, for example, the lamp's tungsten filament eventually burns out, causing the lamp to fail. Vibration is another factor that can shorten the life of any bulb, and headlamps are always vulnerable to stones and debris kicked up from other vehicles. Wipers generally last about six months, and even that can be affected by environmental conditions such as ozone, sunlight and ice.

When a head or tail lamp finally burns out, it's pretty obvious that it needs to be replaced - a police officer may even remind your customer about it. Wipers are a different story. Many motorists wait until their blades are streaking horribly (and unsafely) before it dawns on them that the blades need replacing. For optimum performance and driving visibility, many manufacturers recommend that blades be replaced every six months or 6,000 miles.

The problem has always been getting customers to proactively think about their wipers or lighting. Since most don't, wiper and lighting sales often become an add-on sale, one that puts the sales skills and product knowledge onus squarely on the shoulders of the counter professional. The oil industry, for example, has done a pretty good job educating the motoring public about the benefits of the three month/3,000 mile oil change, so why not try the same thing with these products? Consider tying wiper and lighting sales to a bi-annual event, such as the beginning and end of Daylight Savings Time. That way, there will be a twice-annual event around which your staff can remind customers to check their wipers and lighting.

Additionally, make sure the staff understands the products your store stocks. Often, there is a bewildering array of lighting and wiper products that can confuse customers. Some friendly help around the lighting and wiper displays can really go a long way.

A stroll down the lighting products aisle can be an illuminating experience these days.

More and more new lighting products are competing for limited shelf space as lighting suppliers expand their offerings. The proliferation of new types of lamps and bulbs can be confusing for a customer who may be unsure about which product he or she should buy and why. Should one buy a stock replacement lamp, or upgrade to a higher-output/higher-performance type of lamp? So, in addition to figuring out which bulb fits a particular year, make and model of vehicle, you may also have to provide some guidance on what the various upgrade options are and the benefits they provide.

Several factors are driving lighting technology today. One is the use of brighter, high-performance lighting on a growing number of late-model luxury vehicles. In the late 1990s, two new types of "xenon" headlamps were introduced. One type is the "High Intensity Discharge," or HID lighting system, that uses a special high-voltage bulb that contains no filament.

For those who want the performance of HID headlamps in a vehicle they are currently driving, there are several upgrade options from which to choose. One is to upgrade to "blue" headlamps that have a special blue coating that filters out the yellow rays produced by the filament. The blue lamps actually produce a brilliant white light that improves nighttime visibility, but without the bluish tint of HID lighting that some oncoming drivers may find distracting or annoying. The blue headlamps replace the stock lamps perfectly, require no wiring modifications or other changes, and they are street legal in all 50 states. The main benefits provided by this type of upgrade are improved clarity and reduced glare for all kinds of driving conditions.

Another option to improve lighting performance is an "ultra-white" xenon-filled headlamp. This is a premium-type product that provides up to 80 percent more light. The optics may also be better with some lamps designed to cast a 30 percent wider beam pattern on the road for better peripheral viewing when turning. Some xenon headlamps use a high-powered, 55-watt low-beam filament to make it brighter and more efficient than standard halogen and incandescent headlamps. The light produced by the bulb is also whiter (around 3,800K) but does not use a blue surface coating to filter the light. These are also direct-fit replacement bulbs for stock applications and require no modifications.

For some driving situations, whiter light is not the way to go. For clear weather driving, white light is hard to beat. But when driving in fog or heavy rain, white light tends to scatter and reflect, creating glare that reduces visibility. For these kinds of driving conditions, fog lamps that produce a yellowish light (2,700K) will reduce glare and improve visibility. Aftermarket fog lamp kits are relatively easy to install though some wiring modifications are required. Their main advantage is that they provide an extra measure of visibility and driving safety in severe weather.

The optics of a fog lamp are just as important as the color of the light itself. A good quality fog lamp should produce a low, flat beam pattern to minimize glare and reflections back into the driver's eyes. This is controlled by the design of the reflector, lens and/or the use of shields.

Like lighting, wipers are essential to safe driving. Even if consumers live in a place where it never rains, environmental elements alone are the major reason behind a blade's shortened life. Ozone, airborne contaminants, oil, sunlight and road film all help to weaken the wiper's functionality. Exposure to sunlight and ozone causes the wipers to age, even if the wipers aren't used much.

Thankfully, for much the country, freezing temperatures are behind us, but their affect can still make a wiper's blade hard and brittle, which increases the tendency to crack or tear. Hot weather can warp rubber and prevent the blade from wiping cleanly.

Heavy use is also hard on the blades, too. Dust, abrasives, road grime and even bug guts wear away the cutting edge the blade needs to wipe cleanly. Even road dirt acts like an abrasive to wear away the flat surface necessary for a good squeegee effect. Also, natural rubber deteriorates over time. As the blades age, they lose much of their flexibility and are less able to wipe cleanly. They may develop a permanent set (called "parked" rubber) or curvature which prevents full contact with the windshield.

The next time a customer comes in for an oil filter, spark plugs or other maintenance parts for his vehicle, ask the customer about the last time the blades were replaced. Inform the customer about the dangers of wiper blade neglect while pushing the benefits of regular blade replacement. Not only will you get an extra sale, the DIYer will think you're concerned about his or her safety, as well. After all, 90 percent of all driving decisions are based on a clear, unobstructed view of the road ahead.

Many motorists avoid replacing their wipers because they think the process is too complicated. While that may have been the case in the past, wipers today are much simpler to install. Offer to help customers install them right there in the parking lot.

Lighting and wipers can be a great product category for any parts store, whether that store specializes in retail or wholesale sales. Getting customers to think about them takes product knowledge and sales skills.

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