Buy or Bend? – UnderhoodService

Buy or Bend?

What is your strategy for exhaust service?

e are very critical in your exhaust business plan. It takes training and special equipment to diagnosis and replace catalytic converters and oxygen sensors. Also, it takes skilled and experienced techs to custom bend an exhaust system.

When exhaust system service becomes a large part of a shop’s revenue, the question arises whether an exhaust pipe bender and fabricator would increase profits on exhaust service. ROI on a pipe bender depends largely upon a shop’s employee turnover rate and subsequent learning curve, local labor rates and level of market saturation.

Bending exhaust pipes to fit custom installations is obviously an acquired skill. Therefore, if a shop experiences high employee turnover, training costs will increase. The learning curve for an individual shop may vary according to the number of employees cross-trained in the skill. Poorly trained or untrained employees can create expensive comebacks in the form of exhaust leaks, rattles and suspension interference.

A good yardstick with which to measure profitability of a bender would be to compare the retail cost of bending a system versus the retail cost of simply replacing the exhaust with a manufactured system. When considering a bender, a shop owner must also factor in the cost of storing bulk pipe, mufflers, gaskets and hardware. In a small shop, such space may not be available. In addition, exhaust work is best performed on a drive-on lift, which allows the technician to check for suspension interference.

Since this is the age of specialization, it’s important to make sure that your customers know you’re selling exhaust services. Too often, consumers may assume that they must go to an exhaust specialty shop in order to get their exhaust system replaced. Since most advertising usually implies that only the specialty shop is capable of professional exhaust services, it’s especially important to get the message out to your customers that your shop does, indeed, offer complete exhaust system service.

On a further note, you might want to consider adding ASE’s X1 certification to your technician’s Suspension and Steering (A4) and Brakes certifications (A5). Since the X1 certification test is specifically designed to cover a number issues in exhaust system service, it can be an effective marketing tool that will help your shop create an exhaust “specialist” image.

Exhaust systems are easy to sell, especially if a technician takes a few extra minutes to test the system while it’s in his bay for other services. If the vehicle is being serviced in a “flat’ bay without a lift, always listen for excessive noise, leaks and rattles. If a muffler has severe internal deterioration, the exhaust will be unusually loud. Also, test the exhaust system for leakage by starting the engine and momentarily blocking the exhaust with a shop rag. Leaks usually will create a loud hissing noise when exhaust pressure builds up.

When the vehicle is being serviced on a lift, always inspect for sooty carbon marks on the outside of pipes and mufflers that indicate exhaust leakage. Also, tapping the exhaust pipe with a ball-peen hammer will detect worn-out pipes. If the pipe rings, the pipe is in good condition. If the pipe sounds “dead” or the hammer dents the pipe, the pipe is ready for replacement. Similarly, softly rapping the catalytic converter with a rubber hammer will reveal loose catalysts.

Lastly, always inspect the exhaust system to make sure it isn’t rubbing on the body, frame or suspension. As a rule of thumb, exhaust components should be located at least one inch away from the chassis to allow for heat expansion and engine vibration.

Unfortunately, sales ads rarely represent the true cost of replacing a muffler. In most cases, the discounted price covers only a cheap muffler that’s installed with a minimal amount of labor. And, in many applications, a muffler-only replacement isn’t realistic because the upstream and downstream exhaust pipes usually are rusted out and the mounting hardware is worn. Trying to save worn exhaust pipes is futile because, after being reinstalled, most of these pipes will fail within a very short time. In most cases, it’s much more cost effective for both the shop and the customer if the technician simply estimates a “cat-back’ system from the start, rather than spend the extra time trying to upsell a doubting customer on the benefits of a complete exhaust system replacement.

It’s equally important to remember that the exhaust system is also part of the engine emissions system. As such, it’s important to repair leaking exhaust manifolds and manifold gaskets to ensure that the oxygen sensors located downstream in the exhaust pipe accurately measure the air/fuel ratio. If air is drawn through a cracked exhaust manifold or air injection tube, the oxygen sensors will generate a “lean” fuel mixture signal to the engine computer. In response, the computer drives the fuel mixture richer than normal, which creates excessive exhaust emissions. Consequently, the exhaust manifolds may need to be resurfaced or replaced. Air injection tubing used on older imports may also need to be replaced since it may be solidly rusted into place or will crack when removed.

Selling catalytic converters has become much more complex since the introduction of OBD II engine management systems in 1995. In years past, OBD I converters could easily be diagnosed by testing with an emissions analyzer, testing for excess back pressure, or by testing to see if the outlet temperature exceeded inlet temperature at high idle speed.

In contrast to OBD I systems, OBD II systems with faulty catalytic converters will normally store a diagnostic trouble code (DTC) when the converter begins to fail. The OBD II converters use an upstream and downstream oxygen sensor to measure the differences in oxygen content between the inlet and outlet gases. In virtually every case, the OBD II system will detect a converter failure long before it can be detected using shop equipment.

Consequently, before replacing an OBD II converter, always check the diagnostic memory for converter-related DTCs, such as a P0420. Also, make sure that the vehicle has exceeded its emissions warranty. If not, the vehicle must be referred to the closest dealership for warranty services.

Although it’s important to sell an efficient, durable exhaust system, it’s also important to keep the vehicle in compliance with local emissions and safety regulations. If the vehicle doesn’t comply, it may suffer severely in resale value.

Selling the complete exhaust service means selling safety and security. And that’s what today’s drivers really want from the professional exhaust system installer in today’s exhaust system market.

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