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Struts: The ‘Loaded’ Question

What can you do in 17 minutes? You could make money on those 17 minutes of billed labor installing traditional struts – or you can give up those 17 minutes to sell a more profitable part that has the potential to lower the chances of a comeback and give the customer more value.

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What can you do in 17 minutes? You could make money on those 17 minutes of billed labor installing traditional struts – or you can give up those 17 minutes to sell a more profitable part that has the potential to lower the chances of a comeback and give the customer more value.

What I am talking about are “loaded” or “complete” struts that include the spring, upper mount and all associated hardware. This growing product category has the potential to give your customers a better repair and provide you with a more profitable product to sell.

Most labor guides give a technician .3 hours of labor, (or 17 minutes) to compress the spring, disassemble the old strut and assemble the new one. If a shop has a labor rate of $80 an hour, this equates to $24 per strut on the repair order. Depending on how efficient and profitable a shop can be in that .3 of an hour, it can be a lucrative job.

Loaded struts are typically twice the price of a strut and upper mount. Before you say to yourself that there is no way you could sell something that expensive or be competitive locally, put yourself in the shoes of your customer. If you can offer them an option that will return their vehicle to like-new condition, wouldn’t you take it even if the price was higher?

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On the business side, it does not take an MBA to realize that if you are able to sell a more expensive part, chances are you will have more money in the bank. Also, by not having to do the strut compressor waltz, you will get the vehicle out of the bay faster so you can move on to the next job.

The Disadvantages of Loaded Struts

The greatest disadvantages of loaded struts are their availability and coverage. Most of the coverage focuses on problem applications where there is spring breakage or ride-height problems. Also, ride control manufacturers focus on high-volume applications like the Taurus, Camry and Impala, but new applications are being introduced regularly from an increasing number of manufacturers.

Some professional parts suppliers have been reluctant to carry some of the lines because they fear it might duplicate their existing inventories of struts, springs and mounts.

Since the introduction of loaded struts almost five years ago, the availability has been increasing since technicians and consumers have realized the value built into the part.

Loaded History

The loaded strut was first conceived as a DIY product shade-tree mechanics could install at home without the risk of bodily harm from flying springs. It was intended to be a “bolt-on” product that did not require special tools. The original product offering centered around older applications that were prone to spring failure.

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But, many shops and technicians saw the potential of the product as a way to boost productivity and profits.

Considerations for Using Loaded Struts

Installing a loaded strut can eliminate problems down the line with a customer’s ride control system. For example, when a new strut is reassembled with the old and tired spring and strut plate, the results can be less than desirable.

Upper strut mounts and bearings can be hammered to death. The upper strut mount essentially supports the vehicle weight and counters both braking and acceleration torque. Most mounts are sandwiches of rubber, metal and bearings. Over time, the rubber can lose its ability to isolate the suspension from the body. Bearings can also seize and bind, causing the vehicle to exhibit steering problems.

Tire wear, steering and handling can also be affected by ride height and the health of the spring. If the chassis is sagging on one side or in the front or back, weak springs are the likely cause. Weak springs can affect both camber and caster, which may result in a steering pull, a change in steering effort or return and/or uneven tire wear.

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Look up the ride height specifications and measure ride height front and rear, as well as on both sides of the vehicle. If ride height is less than the specifications call for, the problem is most likely one or more weak springs that should be replaced. Springs can be shimmed, but the best fix is a new spring. Springs should usually be replaced in pairs to maintain the same ride height side to side.

Weak springs are also more likely to fail. The springs on many late-model vehicles are thinner to reduce vehicle weight and have an outer plastic coating to protect the metal from corrosion. If this outer coating is cracked or damaged, corrosion can form a hot spot that eats into the spring, weakens it and eventually causes the spring to break.

Selling Loaded Struts

If you have a vehicle in your bays that is a candidate for loaded struts, you may be thinking to yourself: “How can I sell a job that may be twice as expensive.”

You might even think that your customer will walk out the door. But, like I said before, put yourself in the shoes of the customer. When selling ride control components, an effective sales tactic is to start with premium products first rather than with the economy option. This can give you a little room to provide your customers with options that meet their budget and vehicle life expectancy.

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Chances are your customers want the best. Starting the estimate with the least expensive alternative can lower your profits. While quoting the lowest price might get some customers in the door, it may leave some customers driving away in a vehicle that is not fully repaired to their expectations.

Take the time to learn and experience the benefits of loaded struts. Never shy away from writing an estimate for the customer. Even if the customer does not buy today, the inspection style of sales approach and pitch will likely stick with them longer than the generic “recommend new shocks and struts” message listed on the estimate.

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