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Steering your skills

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Steering and suspension repairs are profitable bread- and-butter tasks, which is why Rob Marshall discovers that updating your knowledge is never wasted time.

There are times when even the most long-served aftermarket technician will analyse a new problem beneath the vehicle and ask rhetorically, “Why has the car manufacturer done things like that?” The question seems to have become more prolific in recent years, as the rate of technological change has accelerated, explained mainly by car manufacturers striving to shed as much cost and weight from their vehicles as possible. Understandably, as technology changes, replacement procedures must also evolve and it is very easy for the aftermarket to lag behind. Fortunately, the OE quality parts suppliers are helping us all, not only by supplying decent components but also by explaining how they can be installed and why.

On the job support…

Understanding that technicians can need extra help immediately, when faced with a particular vehicle, OE quality suppliers step in to provide the resource. Even so, AIC Germany Automotive Components reminds technicians to observe the OE manufacturer’s repair instructions but also adds that its parts range supplements this data with extra information, where necessary.

MEYLE highlights its instruction leaflets and installation tips that are supplied in the box to the instructional videos on the Meyle TV YouTube channel. In addition to this, the Meyle service team is always available to provide on-demand advice and assistance when needed. febi, part of the bilstein group, also strives to provide as much information and support as possible with its extensive Steering and Suspension parts range. While these include bilstein group infos and Protips (more about which is covered in our clutch editorial), use the Product Highlights to expand your knowledge, because they focus on a specific part in the febi steering and suspension parts range, including the product functions and the most common failures. More in-depth technical articles look at how a specific component works, or details a real-life case diagnostic case study, including how the issue was resolved. The bilstein group also offers “How To” videos that also impart best practice tips.

DRiV’s MOOG brand has brought together pertinent installation tips, all of which can be studied at leisure on https://eu.monroe.com/en-gb/support/installation-tips. html. The company also has a selection of more detailed technical advice and we hope the company will continue to update this section, especially as it contains vehicle-specific information: https://www.moogparts.co.uk/support/light-vehicles/technical-tips.html.

ZF Aftermarket’s brands, which include Lemförder (for steering components), Sachs (shock absorbers and associated parts) and TRW (steering & suspension) are covered by ZF [pro] Tech, the company’s training and knowledge-based initiative that is aimed to help garages futureproof their businesses. ZF Aftermarket told us that, “A one-off affordable fee gives garages access to ZF [pro]Tech start: a personalised technical support & information hub. Membership includes access to ZF’s technical knowledge, discounted training courses and free access to OEM service campaign information across all systems, not just ZF. This operates via an online portal and technical helpline.”

KYB offers free support for its springs and dampers to make fitting easier and impart best practice techniques. Like many other suppliers, information is provided in the product boxes but technical bulletins are also added, where needed.

Additionally, KYB Europe’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/KYBEUROPE) features over 130 vehicle specific step-by-step fitting videos, covering over 132 million vehicles in Europe that are known to be especially challenging, when it comes to fitting suspension components. An interesting update is KYB’s Suspension Solutions app, which was updated last year. Technicians can access the relevant information (including videos and illustrated step-by-step guides) more quickly, by inputting either the vehicle registration, or VIN number. The app also facilitates technicians to take before and after shots of the replacement, if desired, to show the customer. In addition, KYB offers QR codes on its product boxes; on scanning with a mobile device, the user will be directed to a web page containing relevant tips, instructions and videos.

What do we do wrong?

Everybody makes mistakes; some of us even get stuck in our ways without realising. Training does not exist to criticise technicians but enhances skills, including fitment techniques, and updating them, where necessary. We are especially grateful to AIC Germany Automotive Components, Delphi Technologies Aftermarket, DRiV (MOOG), KYB and ZF Aftermarket for sharing their following findings with us. Clearly, the following situations are only examples and training will provide far more comprehensive explanations.

The most common complaint, shared by most of our contacts, relates to bushes. When preferring to replace the bush, rather than the complete suspension arm, some mechanics are not noting the correct orientation, which might be indicated by an embossed arrow on the replacement part. The problem with pressing the bush into place, regardless of its rotational position, is that the suspension arm is being prevented from moving correctly. We have also heard instances of bush ‘upgrades’, especially on older vehicles, where the rubber is too hard and this introduces flex into the metal arm, which ultimately fatigues and fails.

Further issues include tightening suspension bushes with the wheel dangling and so, when the suspension supports the vehicle’s weight, the bushes become twisted at the normal ride height. The importance of consulting advice on this point is as relevant as obtaining and heeding the correct torque values, which is another issue that some technicians tend not to follow. Torque figures vary between vehicles, too.

As an example, the tightening torque for assembling the suspension strut is 35 Nm for various Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf VI models. Yet, the figure is 70 Nm for a Vauxhall Insignia Sport Tourer.

Ball joints are still having their lives reduced from water ingress and corrosion, due to damaged boots. While stocking replacement gaiters is also a good idea, inspecting the part post-repair will help, as will using a superior tool than a fork-type joint separator. Otherwise, misusing tools is another issue. Gripping the polished shock absorber piston rod with mole grips damages the surface, which is likely to tear the internal rubber seal and cause oil leaks. Again, with dampers, using an impact wrench on the top securing nut can spin the piston rod, which damages the thin metal valves within the damper unit. This situation affects the damper’s effectiveness, as does not purging oil-filled shock absorbers of air before fitting.

A further issue relates to fixings. Never use stretch bolts twice; they might not shear off in the workshop but they could do so as your customer is driving. Should a good quality supplier include new fixings in the box with the main parts, they should be used.

Understandably, vehicles with unconventional suspension can be at most risk of errors. Prior to being lifted from the ground, vehicles with air, or hydropneumatic, springs should be raised to their ‘jacking’ setting, which tends to raise the car to its highest setting, before you release the car’s weight from its wheels. It also ensures that the suspension does not lower fully, when the wheels contact the ground again. We have heard instances of Citroen C5 (and C6) models splitting their plastic LDS fluid reservoirs, due to the excess fluid being forced into them, via the return circuit. Furthermore, technicians can forget to select the normal height setting on such vehicles with adjustable height settings prior to conducting suspension geometry checks.

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