With worn steering/suspension components remaining firm MOT failure favourites, Rob Marshall queries component manufacturers about how they are raising standards for both technicians and drivers.
Not helped by more complicated designs, an increase use of weight-saving materials, unsympathetic driving standards and worsening road surfaces, it is unsurprising that faulty suspension, in particular, counts for a large number of MOT Test failures. While some garages are terrified of electric vehicles taking away lucrative servicing work, they should be reassured that the suspension and steering (not forgetting braking) systems will still demand their attention. Being such safety- critical parts, however, and not always the easiest parts to identify and fit, you, your supplier and the manufacturer should strive to keep standards high – but what does this actually mean?
LOOKING AT THE PRODUCT
Product quality is part of the standards remit. Naturally, there are OEM suppliers that supply the car factories directly and develop parts for new vehicles, many of which have huge resources to attain the standards dictated by their clients. KYB of Japan, for example, boasts a 35 million USD testing facility that includes several test tracks, a 15 lines straight run and 22 different road surfaces, plus a handling/comfort assessment road that snakes its way through a Japanese forest. All of this occupies an area the equivalent size of 64 football pitches. The company told AT that, despite being an upholder of the OEM quality standard, its aftermarket products benefit from the same resources as the OE product. They are made on the same production lines and use identical manufacturing and quality standards.
Other suppliers agree, including non-OEM suppliers. First Line told us that it committed to matching the OE specification, because it considers ‘specification as key’. Therefore, when vehicle manufacturers use new technologies, such as hydraulic bushes and hybrid link bars, the First Line branded component will follow suit. For other suppliers, this is not always the case, however, as we shall see later.
To some suppliers, OEM is not the only standard. Optimal UK, for example, insists on TÜV certification for all 8,500 parts in its steering and suspension range. The company argues that TÜV’s independence and strict assessment of product safety, quality and sustainability ensures that technicians can have faith that Optimal replacement parts will keep their end customers safe.
A number of brands are not manufacturers but seek-out manufacturing partners that are rigorous with adapting and maintaining high standards. Both First Line and Comline emphasise their use of ISO accredited third parties, to ensure not only component quality but that environmental and social standards are also maintained. Quality importers ensure that these processes continue post-factory dispatch. On entry in the UK, Comline told us that it checks every delivery to ensure that not only quality of the components (such as finish and dimensional standards) are within tolerance but that even the packaging is in accordance with the company’s standards. Excel Automotive Group (EAG) told AT that, while its main suppliers are based in Turkey, technicians can still have faith that high standards are being maintained, because its products possess both ISO and TÜV certification.
Naturally, a number of companies go beyond the OE standard but, again, unless you have confidence in the brand and your supplier, it is difficult to define precisely what is better than OE and what might be an ill-judged modification. Take the polyurethane bush market; some products are very good, some are of a very low quality but all of them feature modifications that take the ‘beyond OE’ philosophy to a stage where most insurance companies will consider their installation to be a modification.
Some companies are more subtle about improving the original component beyond OE, by discovering specific design/ engineering flaws in a product and engineering them out. These parts are not necessarily modifications but supersessions, i.e. part of a design process that improves the original part. Should you research a specific problem (or wear characteristic/ common ‘faults’) by vehicle application, you may be able to upsell these ‘beyond OE’ steering/suspension parts over and above a ‘standard’ offering, pun excused.
MEYLE states that its growing HD range is designed as technically superior to OE equivalents. This may be achieved through subtle redesign, or using enhanced materials. While it can be argued that there can be compromises made between lifespan/performance/ cost, when modifying an OE-specification part, MEYLE argues that its HD offerings are of a standard that ‘often outperform OE parts’. A recent interesting development is MEYLE HD’s slotted bushes that are pre-compressed within an installation sleeve and fitted with a special tool.
While this fascinating development won the Automechanika Innovation Award in Frankfurt last year, and offers cost, storage and environmental advantages, it is worth remembering ZF’s advice that many aluminium suspension parts are not designed to be overhauled and you risk introducing casting fractures by, for example, removing the old bush. We put this to MEYLE’s technical team, who agrees but advises technicians that, “Greater care has to be taken when replacing bushings in aluminium control arms. The correct pressing tools must be used to prevent cracks, or other damage, from occurring on the surface of the aluminium casting. The dedicated tool also ensures that the least possible force is applied and that the new bush is pressed in a straight angle, preventing the aforementioned damage. This is why the MEYLE slotted bushing kit comprises of the new bushings and the required pressing tools (Part No: 314 754 0000/HD).”
Arnott remanufactures air springs for a number of vehicles and states that it incorporates material improvements that might not have been available when the OE product was made. It cites its rear air spring, for BMW’s 5 Series Wagon/Touring (F11) and GT Crossover (F07), as an example where higher quality rubber and heavier-duty crimping rings are used, compared to the parts used at the factory. Redesigning to aid the technician is evident in its Mercedes-Benz E class W211 air spring, so that less dismantling is needed to replace them. At the other extreme, Arnott offers complete modification kits to coil springs, the characteristics of which are tuned to ensure that as much of the vehicle’s OE suspension characteristics are retained. The kit for the Jaguar XJ (X350 & X358), for example, employs Eibach dampers, which again, is a company that maintains high standards and is ISO accredited.
REMANUFACTURING – TO WHICH STANDARD?
The topic of remanufacturing can be the basis of another article in itself, simply because there is no legal definition overall about what differentiates the term as being any different from ‘overhauled’, ‘reconditioned’, ‘reengineered’, ‘repaired’, ‘rebuilt’, or ‘refurbished’. Some industries have a formal definition; the engine rebuilding industry has BS AU 257: 2002 but even this defines ‘Reconditioned’ and ‘Remanufactured’ as being the same thing.
Like Arnott, Shaftec is one such company that is passionate about remanufacturing but it focusses its attention on braking and steering parts, plus CV joints and driveshafts. It told AT that it believes ‘reconditioning’ as a term is not fit for purpose and it is working to dispel the belief that ‘remanufacturing’ and ‘reconditioning’ are the same thing. Yet, given the BS AU 257: 2002’s stance, this might not be easy! Even so, the APRA (Automotive Parts Remanufacturing Association), based in North America, however, states that a remanufactured automotive part is the functional equivalent of a new part and the two are virtually indistinguishable. Clearly, there is more work to do on this campaign. Like Arnott, Shaftec states that it remanufactures components using superior-quality parts over those used originally. Its Company Director, Tom Curtis, told AT that remanufacturing maintains a high standard, because:
“It is not a poorer substitute for new. The process results in components that are as good as new, tested as new and perform in that way for the lifetime of the part.” We will look more closely at the remanufacturing process and how various industries are working to establish remanufacturing standards in a future issue.
HELPING TECHNICIANS RAISE THEIR GAME
Naturally, standards mean more than the engineering that has gone into the product. It should assist the technician ensure a speedier, better quality and easier repair, which might have the kick-back of improved productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.
As an example, some aluminium suspension components require ‘torque-to-yield’ (stretch) bolts and the technician should be made aware if replacements are needed, and informed whether, or not, they are included in the box with the new component. Comline confirms that technicians can rely on it to supply such replacement parts. First Line also follows this philosophy but, to be absolutely sure, it advises that technicians look for the ‘Includes Fittings’ logo that is present on not only the product packaging but also on the relevant online cataloguing system, such as MAM AutoCat, as well as First Line’s WebCat.
STANDARDS IN COMMUNICATION
Where considered necessary, installation notes should be provided with the product, or online. Arnott comments that it offers detailed instructions and, in more complex cases of coil conversion kits, videos are available online at www.arnottmanuals.com. KYB, meanwhile, continues to refine its free smartphone Suspension Solutions app, which it launched in 2017 that aids technicians to communicate with the non-tech minded motorist to explain clearly what any suspension issues mean and why parts need replacing. This works alongside the ‘spanner’ QR code that, on being scanned, provides vehicle- specific fitting information. KYB claims that these facilities raise standards, by bringing main-dealer levels of technology to the independent sector.
MEYLE emphasises its diverse training opportunities as further ways that workshops can raise standards. These vary from topic-related seminars, such as chassis and steering technology theory, through to more specific product-related training courses, including more detail about the company’s HD range. This works alongside fitting instructions but the company also utilises social media as means of allowing technicians to progress their knowledge using its MEYLETV channel on YouTube, and through Facebook and Instagram. See our NTDA report to find out why this strategy is important for younger generations of technicians, in particular.
Not every technician appreciates that keeping-up with the increasing sophistication of modern cars has provided parts suppliers with a number of challenges. As examples, some VAG, BMW and Mercedes vehicles can have up to 40 different chassis-related parts on the front axle alone, so maintaining an increasing number of new parts lines cannot be easy. Aware of how tricky it can be for technicians to identify parts within a new, complex and unfamiliar suspension system, MEYLE has developed graphics for selected BMW and Mercedes-Benz models. By clicking on the corresponding part in the graphic, further information is shown and the part (albeit only MEYLE items) can be ordered directly via the TecDoc shopping basket.
Including its TÜV-certified steering & suspension products, Optimal UK told us that its entire product range on AUTOCAT covers 1.3 million applications and this changes daily. To maintain an accurate database, Automate Online has also been added to the Optimal UK process, so that users can gain access to the most up-to-date products.
Winner of Tecdoc ‘A Rating’ for 44 consecutive quarters, Comline states that it takes pride in the high standards of its data, accessible on MAM AUTOCAT and, of course, Tecdoc. Since the business was taken over by Sancorp, EAG told AT that updating and enhancing the choice and availability has resulted in 2,000 new references being added to AUTOCAT recently.
DELIVERY & AFTERCARE
Whether parts are delivered to garages directly, or via factors, manufacturers and/or importers, places great emphasis on high standards of delivery. KYB agrees that excellent availability is essential to meet the needs of the fast turnaround of vehicles in modern workshops. EAG states that its UK base offers the company several advantages; it can offer a same-day regional delivery service, which is up to a 50-mile radius from its main site in Leeds, and next- morning delivery for other UK customers. Its MD, Adrian Lamb, told AT that, “We have found that this quick and reliable delivery service is helpful for our customers who may not have the storage space available but still need products regularly.”
EAG agrees with Comline that easy access to UK-based customer support staff is an important way of raising standards and building trust between technicians and parts manufacturers/suppliers. Comline additionally has added an online warranty dashboard, which can be accessed through www.comline.uk.com, but both companies told AT that their warranty claims remain extremely low. It is worth noting also that warranty lengths vary between parts suppliers. For example, EAG offers a two-years-long, no quibble warranty. For Comline, this is limited to three years/36,000 miles and the upgraded MEYLE-HD range boasts a 4-year guarantee.