Article > Business Operations

Stop Leaving Money on the Table

By Gary Goms

Sales of related engine parts over a year could add up to a tidy sum of cash.
When we miss a related sale in the automotive service sector, we call it “leaving money on the table.” Leaving money on the table is a major reason why many shops linger on the edge of profitability and, to back that up, it’s a well-documented fact that the automotive service industry in general loses millions of dollars in missed sales opportunities each year.

Worse still, jobber parts stores that sell remanufactured assemblies are leaving a lot of money on the table because they don’t promote the related parts needed to make an engine replacement a more reliable and warranty-free repair.

To put the issue of selling related engine parts into perspective, let’s keep in mind that all mechanical parts have a service life that’s based on the frequency and severity of use. Because we also drive our vehicles in a sunlight, oxygen, and water-based environment, we often forget that ozone and other atmospheric chemicals deteriorate soft parts like radiator hoses and engine mounts.  

Most worn-out engines are now being replaced at 100,000- to 200,000-mile intervals. These relatively high vehicle longevities bode well for related cooling system sales because most cooling system parts like water pumps need replacing each 100,000 miles. Water pumps are unique since their service lives are very predictable on many nameplates. Some applications need replacing every 60,000-80,000 miles while others might last 150,000 miles.

In any case, when a water pump is removed from the old engine and the worn inner shaft seal is exposed to dry air, the seal may leak shortly after the water pump is put back into service. Radiator, heater, and water distribution hoses often follow the same failure pattern when they’re re-used because the old rubber has lost its elasticity and seldom forms a reliable seal when re-clamped to a water outlet.

Conventional brass radiators and heater cores present problems of their own because the anti-corrosive package in the coolant dissipates with age and use and erodes the solder joints that fasten the cores to the header tanks. Modern radiators, which usually consist of aluminum cores clamped to plastic tanks and sealed with rubber gaskets, also tend to deteriorate with age. The water inlets and outlets might also wear from abrasive particles being suspended in the coolant. Last, if the rubber gasket is exposed to oil leaking internally from a bad automatic transmission oil cooler, the rubber swells and forces the plastic and aluminum joint apart, causing the radiator to literally split apart at the seams.

Keep in mind that most engine remanufacturers clearly state that the engine warranty will not apply if the engine failure has been caused by overheating due to lack of coolant. In fact, most remanufacturers attach small overheat indicator tabs to the cylinder heads that indicate if the engine has been overheated. It’s my belief that the average jobber leaves at least $500 in related cooling system parts money on the table each time a new engine goes out his door. Not only is he leaving money on the table, he’s exposing himself to a warranty situation that could easily be prevented by selling a extra few feet of heater hose or the often-ignored replacement water pump.

Most mechanics say that the oil pump is the heart of the engine because it pumps life-saving lubricant to vital operating parts. For that reason, most engine remanufacturers include a new oil pump with their newly remanufactured engines.
What may not be included is the oil pump inlet tube and screen that attaches to the oil pump. Unfortunately, the old oil pump screen is full of large metallic and abrasive particles that would have otherwise damaged the oil pump. These hard particles are extremely difficult to flush from the screen and may shorten the life of the new engine if they later vibrate from the screen and lodge in the engine’s new bearings. Because new oil pump screens are so critical to engine life and so relatively inexpensive, selling a new screen to go with the new pump should be considered a vital necessity when replacing the engine.

Many working in the service and parts sectors also forget than many modern engines are equipped with oil coolers. Like the oil pump screen, the cooler accumulates metallic debris that may damage new bearings and refinished crankshafts. Because most oil coolers can’t be successfully cleaned or flushed, they should be replaced to prevent damaging the new engine.

If the engine has a remotely located oil filter or oil cooler, it’s also best to replace the oil hoses connecting the filter to the engine’s lubricating system. Although these hoses might visually appear to be in good condition, the very act of bending them during removal can cause the hardened interior rubber coating of the hose to crack and leak.  Although lubrication system sales aren’t generally big-ticket sales, they are a necessary part of preventing expensive warranty comebacks.

Are you looking for an extra $1,000 or more in add-on sales? If you are, don’t forget that most turbochargers and superchargers wear right along with the engine. In addition, oil leaking from a worn turbocharger or supercharger seal can cause oil consumption and exhaust oil smoke issues that result in a false warranty claim on the new engine.
Similarly, worn flywheels, flywheel starter ring gears, clutches and hydraulic clutch linkage should be inspected for wear and replaced as required. Here again, because the parts must be removed and replaced as part of the engine replacement procedure, there’s no extra labor charge for installing new parts. Even at retail price, a clutch and flywheel replacement is cheap insurance against future failures.

Alternators, starters, power steering pumps and air injection pumps should be inspected for bearing wear and other malfunctions affecting these parts. The battery should also be tested to ensure that it’s up to the task of cranking the newly installed engine. These extra items can add up to enough profit on an annual basis to enough to pay for that badly needed vacation!

One look under the hood of a modern vehicle always elicits the question, “Where are the spark plugs?” Because the recommended spark plug replacement interval for most modern engines is at least 100,000 miles, engineers don’t go out of their way to make spark plug and ignition systems easily accessible. So, unless the parts are nearly new, the cost-effective time to replace ignition parts is before the new engine is installed in the chassis, not after.

Engines with distributor ignitions should have the distributor rotor and cap and the spark plugs and spark plug wires replaced. Distributorless ignitions should have the wires and spark plugs replaced. Coil-on-plug systems should have new coil boots installed along with the new spark plugs. Here again, ignition parts aren’t generally as expensive as radiators, turbochargers, and clutches, but they do add precious dollars to a jobber’s bottom line.

Like all rubber products, conventional rubber engine mounts and struts deteriorate due to exposure from heat, oil and atmospheric pollution. Replacing deteriorated engine mounts and torque control struts is important because they insulate the chassis from engine and drive train vibration and hold the engine in its correct relationship with the chassis. This relationship is important on vehicles with mechanical clutch linkage because the engine and transmission mounts maintain the correct geometry between the clutch linkage and the engine. If the clutch linkage needs constant adjustment, the engine might actually be shifting in the chassis as the clutch is depressed.

Last, always remember that new engine mounts are like icing on the cake because they provide that “like new” feel to a new engine. A quiet, smooth and responsive engine is what the customer paid for and, at the end of the day, is what he or she should get.

Gary Goms is a former educator and shop owner who remains active in the aftermarket service industry.  Gary is an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician (CMAT) and has earned the L1 advanced engine performance certification. He is also a graduate of Colorado State University and belongs to the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

  Previous Comments
avatar   CHUCK   star   11/13/2009   3:40 PM

THE "GSR" is a b18c1

avatar   WILL   star   11/12/2009   2:25 PM

Wolfe, I never stopped my education. GSR swaps are common and I know people to call if I think it's questionable. I know the difference in a GSR Integra versus a plain old Teg'. I deal with a variety of vehicles like you. Ever watch the "Powerblock" on TV. Our O'reilly store gets a lot of their business. We still do the research and ASK questions when we are stumped. A d16z6 is a 1.6l/1590cc/92-95. The GSR's 1.8l/1797cc started production in 1992. Look it up if it bugs you.I know where the cast # is located to verify Honda engines.

avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   11/11/2009   12:59 PM

Hey, I don't wear my cap backwards, my legs are too white for "board shorts" and I haven't seen my teens since the seventies. But you know what I drive? I drive a 2004 Honda Civic si. Yeah it has a Skunk 2 racing cat back stainless exhaust system amd a cold air intake with a ractive cone on it. Why? because I like it that's why. By the way, I'm only 51 years old, and this is the first "hot rod" I've had since my '68 Camaro. so Ive been there, done that.

avatar   Chuck   star   10/30/2009   4:38 PM

well, ed, the d15b, came with vtec :D

avatar   Ed   star   10/29/2009   3:39 PM

To run with what Chuck said, and for many to understand. When the customer tells you his engine is VTEC and your response is, "Is that a 1.5 or a 1.6L?", is just like a Ford guy walking up to your counter and telling you he has a 302 and your reply is, "Is that a 5.0L or a 5.8L?" or he says he has a 351 Modified and you ask, "Is that a Windsor or a Cleveland?" How well do you think they will take to you pushing a product on them? And then they question your suggestion and you get offended.

avatar   ross   star   10/27/2009   8:09 PM

you guys are funny-why not just call each other

avatar   chuck   star   10/25/2009   1:32 PM

I, being one of these "youngster/civic driving kids" that you speak of, find ed's statements to be extremely valid. i drive a 06 rsx-s and if i were to, hypothetically, walk into a parts store in which that the counter person understood my wants and needs, i would be far more willing to spend the extra money on something because i feel as though, if he knows my car, he knows whats good for it. where as if i go in, and am asked if my car has a sohc or dohc, im probably just going to get what i came for.

avatar   Ed   star   10/20/2009   6:01 PM

When we assume our customer is more knowledgeable than us, is when we become parts monkeys. I am sure if someone approached Wolfe or Will and said they had Ford 460 heads on a Chevy small block, you would question it. So if this "teenager" told you they had an Integra GSR motor in their Civic, but the block was clearly stamped D16Z6, would you question it? Probably not, because you ASSUMED they knew more than you did. Countermen today seem to have stopped their self education, put blinders on and isolate themselves to one field of knowledge. I very well may be the exception to that rule, when I find something I don't know or don't understand, it bugs the hell out of me until I do understand it. Domestic, import, rock crawling Jeeps, dubs, wires and especially the oddballs of automotive history, this is what a couterman should be.

avatar   WILL   star   10/20/2009   9:59 AM

I have to agree with Wolfe on this. A lot of the younger guys/girls know their cars inside/out more than we the parts guys do. They know their Civics and Integra's require more attention and parts cost more. Sure they probably drag race and turbocharge and spray the engine with NOS, but the majority of them have carefully researched the requirements to do it safely and make the engine last a while. We can't stereotype them becuse the have a 5" muffler, V-Tec controller, AEM intakes, and are bareley old enough to shave. They still buy parts that we can order if we research it.

avatar   Ed   star   10/19/2009   6:48 PM

Profiling has such a negative stigmata attached to it. I am not saying profile your customer, I am saying, be observant of your customer. Someone who has an engine failure is not going to walk into a parts store they have never shopped in before. So you are going to know this customer, their preferences, their driving habits, what level of quality that they expect out of not only their parts, but of you as well. That is.. if you are observant. That $400 Griffin aluminum radiator will serve this "teenager's" needs much more than a $20 hose. For people like that, this is also a great time for them to build the motor they always wanted. Again, you would know this, ONLY, if you are observant.

avatar   Wolfe   star   10/17/2009   8:12 AM

Ed, just because he wears a backwards cap and board shorts does not mean he is an irresponsible driver. I know plenty of "car guys" and mechanics that drive their car worse than that. I've also seen plenty of these "teenagers" you stereotype, that take better care than most of the garages whom I visit daily to deliver parts to. Profiling is not a good way to adjust your sales. You want to pick up that "counter-money?" Tell the customer that replacing that $20 hose or $10 seal/gasket can save them a big headache and relieve a lot of wallet pressure as well.

avatar   Ed   star   10/12/2009   7:38 PM

We not only leave money on the table, we also don't ask the hard questions and why did the engine fail in the first place. The hard question is asking the customer to be honest how he or she drives. If you got some young kid in a backwards cap and board shorts driving a neon green Civic, no amount of new hoses, belts and motor mounts are going to prevent him from getting in the same situation again. We have to be observant and proactive, if we don't, then we truly earn the title that most of our customers give us, parts monkeys.

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