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Friday, October 29, 2010

Clearing the air... and the fuel

Providing cabin air and fuel filter maintenance services can improve your customer’s vehicle performance while improving your bottom line

Every successful business continuously tries to increase revenue, while keeping their customers happy. It’s one of the most basic business principles. In the fast lube business, this translates into educating your customers on required routine maintenance on certain components of their vehicle. Two areas that can be very profitable for a fast lube location – and beneficial for your customers – are routine maintenance of a vehicle’s cabin air and fuel filters.

For various reasons, shops do not always offer cabin air and fuel filter service. Both styles of filters may be difficult to access on different makes and models of vehicles, adding to the overall time a vehicle is in the shop. On a busy day, in an effort to keep the line moving, some shops may opt to forego the time it would take to access the cabin air filter, for instance, in order to show the customer a change is needed. In addition, fuel filter service may be avoided due to the hazards in working with the fuel system. However, a complete line of filter changing services is ideal when trying to meet all of your customer’s needs while improving your overall ticket total.

Inside the cabin

Cabin air filters (CAF) are becoming more common today than in the past. According to the Filter Manufacturers Council, it is estimated that 85 percent of all automobiles and light trucks produced in the United States by the year 2006 will be equipped with a CAF. This is much different than just 10 or 20 years ago when they were nearly non-existent. The rise in CAFs may be directly connected with the rise in allergy-sensitive people in the United States, which is currently estimated at over 40 million. The typical consumer today is much more health-conscious than they were in the past and the air they breathe inside their vehicle (sometimes for a large portion of the day) should be clean and pollutant free. Studies show that the roadside air contains significant numbers of contaminants such as pollen, dust, diesel soot, and smog, and the contaminants are two to six times more concentrated inside a car than outside. That’s because the heating, air conditioning and vent system has the vacuum effect of concentrating contaminants inside the passenger cabin when it draws in outside air and the windows are closed.

Typically, CAFs are located in the vehicle’s fresh air intake system and are designed to trap virtually all pollen and dust particles that may cause allergic reactions. Such particles are generally 7 to 100 microns in diameter (for reference, a dot made with a pencil equals 200 microns). To certain customers, “selling” them on a new CAF is relatively easy, while others may take some convincing. When referring to the CAF, associates may consider using alternative terms such as passenger compartment filter, pollen filter or dust filter, in order to draw on the more common phrases and keywords. For other customers, a selling point such as a cleaner dashboard may be more important than inhaling pollens. Another selling tip here would be to ask the customer if they are having a difficult time defogging their windshields since the CAF is involved with that process.

CAFs come in all shapes and sizes, but typically come in three designs:

Particle Filter – the filtration media used is a special type of paper or non-woven material that could be electrostatically charged. This type traps solid particles such as dust, soot, spores and pollen.

Absorption Filter – the filtration media is activated charcoal. Filters out noxious gases and odors.

Combination or Two Stage Filter – this type combines the two filter applications above.

Filtering fuel

The second type of filter that is sometimes ignored during routine maintenance is the fuel filter. As mentioned earlier, extra precautions must be taken in order to offer fuel filter changing service. Since most engines are fuel injected, the fuel filters used on these engines are exposed to higher pressures in excess of 50 psi (345 Kpa), for example. For shops looking to offer fuel filter changes as a regular service, properly trained personnel is key. Once in place, these trained personnel must also know how to “sell” the service.

Fuel filters protect an engine’s fuel system by removing contaminants such as rust, dirt and other foreign materials from the fuel. Recommended fuel filter change intervals range on average from 15,000 to 35,000 miles, so the opportunity to sell this service occurs at least once per year with many customers.

There are two types of fuel filters: In-line and element/cartridge style.

In-line Type – these metal or plastic fuel filters are located in the fuel line between the tank and injectors or carburetors. In-line fuel filters are manufactured in various shapes and sizes with different connectors; quick connectors and threaded. Some require gaskets, clamps or hoses.

Element/Cartridge Type – these fuel filters are installed within some type of housing in the fuel system and usually located in the carburetor itself, but may be located in or on the fuel pump or close to the fuel tank.

Fuel filters should be replaced at least once a year for optimum engine performance. The most noticeable sign that your vehicle is due for a fuel filter change is loss in engine power, hesitation and hard starts. If a customer ever complains of these problems, the fuel filter is the first place to start. Technicians can mention the need for fuel filter change-outs to their customers when discussing "other vehicle filters" such as transmission, engine intake and cabin air filters. 

Many car owners are not even aware there are fuel filters on-board. The days of the fuel filter positioned in-line with the carburetor and in plain view are long gone. There is a tendency for vehicle owners to believe that fuel filters do not need to be changed for the life of the vehicle. Filters cannot last indefinitely yet when they plug or clog, which can strand the vehicle, the filters are often blamed. The reality is the filters did their job of preventing the contaminants from damaging the fuel injection system.

Users and installers need to understand they also need to select a fuel filter of quality design and manufacture to trap the abrasive particles that cause premature fuel injection system wear. Inferior, or under-designed, filters are more leak-prone than fully qualified designs. This is true both internally to the filter element, which allows injection system wear by letting contaminant to pass through, and externally which allows gasoline leakage and is a fire hazard and environmental risk.

It’s important to partner with leading-edge manufacturers and suppliers of automotive equipment since the vehicles on the road today demand only the best parts to keep them running at the optimum level. Backed by a world-renowned product testing laboratory, the Champ brand has been thoroughly tested to meet all of the top industry standards for performance and quality. Champion Laboratories manufactures many filters for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as major automotive, agriculture and diesel engine manufacturers, for both on and off-road applications.

Quality cabin air and fuel filters can certainly boost revenues, but above that, the improved quality of the air inside the cabin and the improved performance of the engine can actually be felt by your customers. “Selling” this service can be tough in some cases, but the customers that choose to keep these filters changed regularly will certainly appreciate the service.

Based in Albion, IL, Champion Laboratories is a quality and technology leader and one of the world's largest manufacturers of filters and filtration products and related services. The company manufactures the Luber-finer® brand of filtration products. Luber-finer® filters are made alongside the world’s leading private label and original equipment manufacturer’s filters, ensuring the most stringent filter construction requirements are met for maximum protection on today’s demanding engines. Champion Laboratories, Inc., has been a trusted name in filters since 1955, providing high-efficiency performance in the most demanding work environments. For more information, visit www.champlabs.com or call our Tech Hotline at (800) 882-0890.