Counterman magazine talked recently to Neil Hogan, SKF Product Manager, Vehicle Service Market. Neil is an ASE Certified Master Technician with more than 30 years in the automotive industry.
In light of the economic situation, it’s a safe bet that consumers will try and save money on car maintenance. This will likely mean greater willingness to opt for off-brand and value-grade components including hub units. Why is this a bad idea?
A few reasons come to mind. First is safety. No matter how bad the economy gets, you just can’t put a price on your safety and the safety of your family. Can you imagine if a loved one was seriously injured because you wanted to save a few dollars?
The other has to do with time and money. While a value grade hub may seem like a bargain at first, there’s a good chance that in the long run, it will cost you more. This is because it won’t last as long and because, generally speaking, premium hub units last up to 100,000-plus miles while value grade hub units last up to about 25,000 to 35,000 miles. So if you have to replace the hub three times as often, you’re paying more, not saving more.
Why is safety an issue with value grade hubs?
For a number of reasons. Premium components are manufactured to OE specs, using high quality materials throughout, from the steel to the seals and lubrication to the sensors. This robust construction creates a more reliable foundation for the entire wheel end system and, so, helps prevent early and unexpected wheel end failure. A hub that fails prematurely can put people at risks, whether it’s loss of vehicle control or breaking down unexpectedly.
Another risk factor has to do with braking and traction. Many of these poorly made hubs use inferior sensors and, often, poorly insulated sensors. Sensors are critical to the proper functioning of things like ABS and traction control systems. If the sensor fails, these systems can too, resulting in less control or even loss of control of the vehicle. And of course this can be very dangerous for the driver and passengers.
It seems safety is an important part of SKF premium hub assemblies, what other features are important for SKF?
We are also always moving forward with new advances in designs to bring the customer the best product in the industry. SKF’s new X-Tracker hub is an example of this advancement. This unitized assembly brings patented designs to our hubs. Just a few of the new features of the X-Tracker hub are increased sealing capabilities to keep out water ingression, stronger flange design to provide increased durability, and superior retention design that helps increase the number of rolling elements for a smoother, safer ride.
It’s difficult for many people, even seasoned technicians, to tell the difference between value grade and premium grade hubs at first glance. Are there things they should look for?
Yes, it can be difficult to see the difference, because in many cases the inferior aspects have to do with things that can’t be seen with the naked eye. This includes the quality and heat treating of the steel. And, of course, the bearing and seal are hidden within the unit. Lubricants look the same but vary tremendously in their ability to protect the moving parts.