“In these difficult times, we have to make a dime whenever we can.”
not a quote by a famous person because I made it up just a minute ago.
But I think it’s an appropriate lead for an article about selling items
like belts and hoses. As we know, modern vehicles have become more
reliable and require less maintenance. More vehicles are extending
routine service intervals like oil changes and inspections and even
more are extending their original equipment warranties to boot. The net
result is that routine replacement parts like automotive belts and
hoses seem as if they have become a declining market.
this apparent trend indicate that modern vehicles no longer need
routine belt and hose replacements? Not really. Although belts, hoses,
and other rubber parts last much longer than in the past, they do wear
out and they do need replacement. But in contrast to the “good old
days,” belts and hoses can’t be replaced along the roadside or in a
convenience store parking lot. Instead, replacing belts and hoses on
most modern vehicles requires a vehicle lift to gain under-car access
and the occasional special tool to remove an obstinate hose clamp or
release pulley tension.
illustrate that point, I replaced the belts on my SUV at 60,000 miles,
not because they were worn out, but because a belt failure could become
incredibly expensive on one of those lonely stretches of Interstate 70
between Colorado and Los Angeles. In some places, a vehicle might have
to be transported more than 100 miles to reach a qualified repair
facility. With that said, let’s take a look at how we can make “a dime”
selling belts and hoses.
sales practice includes learning how to interact with your customer.
One such method might be to ask a few casual questions like, “What is
the approximate mileage on your vehicle?” Such a question at the parts
counter fits in nicely with, “What are the make, model and year of
manufacture of your vehicle?” And it fits nicely with, “What is the
Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of your vehicle?”
why ask about the mileage? Well, it all goes back to making that extra
dime. If we remember the mileage on the vehicle, we’ll begin to
establish a failure pattern for the part. We’ll learn that most 2003
Brand Ys will begin to need a new serpentine belt at, let’s say, 80,000
miles. We’ll also learn that Brand Zs are pretty good at blowing upper
radiator hoses at 100,000 miles. So, the next time a call comes in for
Brand Y that needs spark plugs (80,000 miles) or a Brand Z that needs a
timing belt (100,000 miles), you’ll know that your technician or retail
customer should check the serpentine belt (Brand Y) or the upper
radiator hose (Brand Z).
jobbers participating in the retail market are learning to assist their
retail customers in determining if a part needs replacement. While a
worn and cracked serpentine belt is rather obvious when it’s tossed on
the counter, it might not be so obvious when it’s installed in the
vehicle. Once the hood’s open, the trick is to twist the belt one
quarter-turn so the underside becomes visible. If the underside shows
cracks, the belt’s ready to be replaced. Although auto manufacturers do
provide a standard for counting cracks in a serpentine belt, suffice it
to say that a cracked belt isn’t going to last long under hot, highway
driving conditions. As for V-belts, inspect the sides for cracking,
glazing or peeling. If the underside of the belt looks shiny, it’s
glazed. If it’s oily or greasy, it’s beginning to deteriorate. If it’s
shedding material, it’s ready to break. Remember, too, that
over-tightening a worn or glazed V-belt to keep it from slipping will
not only cause the belt to fail, it will shorten the bearing life of
driven accessories like water pumps and alternators.
worn coolant hoses are difficult to detect because they wear from the
inside out on modern engines, a simple visual inspection for swelling
or bulging will usually detect a hose that is about to fail. If the
hose seems to show excessive swelling at the engine connection, the
hose is beginning to deteriorate.
“pinch test” is another method of determining if the hose is beginning
to deteriorate. When the engine is cold and pressure released from the
cooling system, the hose should feel firm when the sides of the hose
are pinched together. If the hose feels soft or mushy, or it feels
“thin,” it’s beginning to wear from the inside out. Needless to say, if
the hose exhibits external cracks or appears weathered, it should also
they’re part of the engine’s cooling system and part of the heating,
ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, belts and hoses always
make a good related parts sale. Any radiator, heater core, thermostat,
intake gasket, or cylinder head replacement creates the opportunity to
sell new cooling system hoses. Since these hoses are usually hidden
between the engine and firewall or under an intake manifold, the
optimum time for replacement
is when the hose becomes accessible during a repair. In most cases, the
replacement can be made just for the cost of the part, so the savings to the customer are real.
radiator replacement should, for example, be accompanied by new upper
and lower molded radiator hoses. Similarly, a heater core replacement
should require new molded or bulk roll heater hose replacements.
Because many intake manifolds have water-heated throttle bodies, the
throttle body heater hoses should be replaced
when the intake manifold is removed for service. A thermostat
replacement usually requires removal of the upper radiator hose and the
water pump bypass hose. If these hoses are worn, they should be
replaced. Water pump bypass hoses should also be replaced when the
water pump is replaced.
should be inspected whenever an accessory drive component like an
alternator or water pump is replaced. If the timing belt is being
replaced, don’t forget to add balance shaft and accessory drive belts
as required. In addition, don’t forget that radiators and radiator
hoses must often be removed to gain access to a timing belt or water
pump replacement. So the opportunity is there to sell new radiator
hoses if you keep it on your list of related parts.
The greatest opportunity to pursue related belt and hose sales is when an entire engine is being replaced.
all of the belts and hoses have been removed, you have a great selling
point because, again, the only cost to the customer will be the part
itself. The most important selling point for new belts and hoses on a
new engine is that no engine rebuilder or remanufacturer will warranty
an engine if it overheats due to loss of coolant. Since most rebuilders
install overheat indicators on several locations on the cylinder block
and cylinder heads, the warranty will be void if the engine overheats
due to loss of coolant. Recommending a complete coolant hose
replacement is a good customer relations policy as well as good common
DOING THE MATH
outlined above, ample opportunity exists to sell “declining market”
parts like belts and hoses by doing your homework. It’s easy, for
example, to nearly double the invoice price of a new water pump by
adding some new belts and hoses. Similarly, it’s easy to sell new belts
and hoses on service jobs like a timing belt replacement that requires
all of these parts to be removed for access. By doing the math, it’s
easy to see that any belt or hose add-on sale will increase the invoice
price of any water pump or timing belt replacement by double-digit percentages. Remember, too, that belts and hoses can increase the
narrow profit margins on big-ticket items like remanufactured engines.
At the end of the day, those “dime-item” sales add up to big dollars.
So don’t miss the related sale, keep selling those belts and hoses!
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).