Official Blog

  • Cover Story: Getting Your Brakes in the Fleet Business

    Cover Story: Getting Your Brakes in the Fleet Business

    How to do it. How to keep it. How to make it work. Fleet operators are not motivated by price alone.

    Some fleets are large, some fleets are small, and some fleets are not really fleets at all.

    Each demands its own approach, and one of the most difficult for jobbers to get a profitable handle on is the taxi fleet. In many jurisdictions, the term “fleet” as applied to taxis is misleading. While Chicago boasts a fleet of about 5,000 taxis, all owned and operated by a single company, the norm for the Canadian taxi business is distinctly more fragmented.

    For most people, the public perception of a fleet is of a monolithic collection of vehicles with common ownership. Seeing “ABC Taxi” leads them to believe that ABC Taxi owns it. This is usually far from the truth.

    Take Toronto’s Beck Taxi for example: there are hundreds of Beck-named cabs patrolling the streets of Toronto, but Beck does not own any of them.

    “We supply the dispatch services; the operators own the vehicles,” says Beck’s Andrew Whiteley. According to Whiteley, the ownership of the cabs varies from single vehicle owners to owners with two or three dozen. In Toronto, as in many jurisdictions, operating a taxi requires three things: a vehicle, an agreement with a dispatch company or broker, and an operating license. Those licenses are often sublet to the operators and, because the supply is limited, they are a very real profit center for those who hold them. Conversely, they are a substantial expense for the operator. The cost to use someone else’s license–which is perfectly legal in Toronto–runs into six figures.

    All these facts are important to an understanding of the taxi fleet and how the owners maintain the vehicles, and also how important it is that those vehicles remain in good working order.

    Tom Hagerty operates Liberty Taxi, a Beck lessee fleet of 35 vehicles. Speaking on brake products in particular, Hagerty says that there are really only a couple of issues he considers paramount.

    “One is price and the other is the quality of the product. If you can get a good quality product for a good price, then that is what we’ll use.” Hagerty says that price only becomes the most important issue when product quality is at the required level. He may want to buy goods cheap, but he doesn’t want to buy cheap goods. Rotors are an example he offers.

    “We found that it depends on the country of origin. Mexican rotors warp out–their metallurgy just isn’t right–so we don’t buy them. We don’t buy Asian generally either for the same reason.”

    While he is adamant that he watches costs carefully, he bristles at the suggestion that taxi operators such as him are motivated by price alone. Taxis under his care generally put on about 100,000 km a year, get oil changes every three weeks and get their wheels and brakes checked at the same time. Brake pads and shoes, he says, usually need to be changed every four to six weeks, though it varies widely by driver and individual car.

    “You have to buy a quality product. You can’t just buy a cheap product because it just doesn’t last. You can’t survive with a cheap product; it wouldn’t last a week. It may be okay for your grandmother going back and forth to the store, but most taxi fleets have to use a good product, because if you get breakdowns, you get lost shifts.” In addition, the taxi industry is generally well policed, with Toronto requiring inspections three times a year. Plus, taxis can generally not be operated if they are older than seven years, although there are some exceptions for alternative fuel conversions. Hagarty says that the load that constant use puts on the vehicles has taught him what he needs from a jobber.

    “We know what products we want. If you wanted us to buy it from you, it would be based on price and service. If we call you today, how quickly would we get the stuff from you? We need it like yesterday.

    “Now, if you had a new product, you’d really have to show us how it would be better. But it would have to be something pretty special to get us to change.”

    The experience of Calgary-based Auto-motive Village seems to agree with this profile.

    Steve Snowden, assistant manager at the group’s Horizon Auto Value, store says that he services half a dozen customers who do substantial business servicing taxi fleets. They generally go for the higher quality pads, he says.

    “They’ve found that, for their 200,000 km a year, they need that quality. Most of them have gone away from the regular semi-metallic. A lot of the larger taxi companies around tend to be quite demanding in what they want and a lot of them are not open to change.”

    Snowden says that, while it is true that individual owner-operators tend to be very price-motivated, this isn’t usually in the realm of brakes, though sometimes it is.

    “The main thing is a cost comparison and a repair comparison, longevi-ty of pads, rotors, bearings, seals and what you have to go through to be servicing once a month rather than every four or five months,” says Snowden. “The savings can go a long way with anybody. A lot of the newer organizations are open to suggestions of things that will save them money in the long run.

    “When they were using the regular semi-metallic pads, they were changing them every four to six weeks; since they’ve gone to the better product, they seem to be lasting four or five months.”

    Information from Honeywell (formerly AlliedSignal) suggests that fleet product friction can have an expected life of many times that of either budget pads or OE products.

    Colin Philip, manager of technical services, says that some misconceptions continue to exist regarding severe duty pads. “A lot of people remember the 1970s, when severe duty pads tore up rotors. Today’s friction provides superior wear, great performance, no fade and doesn’t wear out rotors.” Pad life, he says, averages one and a half to two times that of OE pads, and three times the life of economy pads. Philip admits, however, that this fact and its impact on overall maintenance costs doesn’t always get through.

    The key to improving profitability in selling to the taxi industry then is understanding the difference between being price-conscious and being solely price motivated. That equation differs by operator, and it differs by type of fleet.

    Andrew Davies, vice-president of Davies Auto Electric Ltd., Mississauga, Ont., says that fleets are similar to installer customers in many ways.

    “The underlying priorities they look for are the obvious: quality, price and service. The issue is how they weight them.” Davies Electric services a variety of fleets, including municipal, courier, and police. “I was in a sales strategy seminar recently and the presenter got to the point where he was saying that price wasn’t an issue. Price is important and will always be important. It’s a point that determines whether you will get the business, but in general, quality is more important to fleets than to the installer. If you had to rank them, the installer would put price at the top.

    “Municipalities, transit, police, and utilities are more interested in quality. They want a guaranteed product that is not going to let them down. They’re concerned about downtime. Delivery fleets and courier companies are in the same boat.”

    Davies says that fleet managers don’t take maintenance lightly and some employ sophisticated record keeping and maintenance scheduling software that allows them to know when parts need replacing before they fail. Likewise, they take a conservative approach to changing which products they buy.

    “One of the tactics that these fleets use is to test products. If a supplier is confident that the product will work, they’ll test some samples. They take a standalone analysis, and how long it is out there determines whether your products are good enough for them.

    “Rest assured, if the product doesn’t perform, you’re not going to get the business.”

    One other type of fleet that Davies has been exposed to is the rental car business. Peculiar among the fleet business is the fact that due to the short time a vehicle is often kept in the fleet, operators are motivated differently and price is the end-all and be-all, says Davies.

    “They want everything
    cheap. They’re not so concerned about quality because they mile out these cars so quickly, so they keep their maintenance costs to a minimum.”

    Overall, says Davies, fleet operators run the gamut from having highly organized maintenance scheduling based on expected part life, all the way to operators who have neither a plan nor a policy for maintenance.

    Large operators tend to the former, smaller tend to the latter, but there is no sure way to tell beyond experience.

    “With some fleets, the cost of replacement versus downtime is factored in. The cost to those guys is figured out and then you can get back to the quality issue,” says Davies. He says too that the sales cycle for this type of fleet customer tends to be long, particularly if they’re intent on testing the product you hope to sell them.

    “It’s not like you have to check on it every week though. You might not get an answer for months, but if they have 400 vehicles, hey, I’m willing to wait.”


    All major brake market players include some degree of severe duty products in their lineup. Here is a list of what some of the more popular brand names have to offer:

    ACDelco offers its line of DuraStop brake products.

    Dana Brake and Chassis has just introduced its Raybestos Super Stop line of rotors to complement its existing Super Stop friction line.

    Federal-Mogul offers its Wagner SevereDuty line of brake products.

    Honeywell (formerly AlliedSignal) has its Bendix MetLok line of severe duty disc pads for fleets and SUVs.

    Satisfied Brake Products recently launched its Metalazer FLT friction offering for fleet and severe duty applications.

  • Cooking the Brakes

    Most guys don’t care to see their accountants more than once a year, but we make an exception for Bookie Bob. An accountant by day, and a mechanical wannabe on the weekends, he creates enough problems to justify keeping the tow truck phone number on speed dial.

    “Morning, Bob,” I said cheerfully. “What’s up today?”

    Bob looked a little sheepish. “I’m trying to fix my brakes, Slim, but things don’t add up.”

    Tooner began to choke on his coffee. He always gets a sadistic thrill out of poor Bobbie’s misfortunes. I glared at him and tossed him a rag to clean up the spill. If there’s anything I hate, it’s my staff making fun of the customers when they’re standing right there.

    “What seems to be the problem?” I asked.

    Bob jerked his thumb towards the parking lot. “The farther I drive, the more power I lose, and the brake pedal gets real hard.”

    I looked out at his six-year-old Isuzu Rodeo. “Sounds like the brakes are sticking and heating up. I’ll just take it for a little test-drive.”

    A quick run around the block didn’t help; everything seemed to be working just fine. So I decided to head out on the highway, and it wasn’t long before things began to turn ugly. I had to keep giving it more fuel to keep up speed, and just like Bob said, the brake pedal felt like a rock. I was lucky to make it back to the shop. All four disc brakes were smoking hot.

    Bob came over, with Tooner in tow. “I’ve checked everything, Slim. There’s lots of brake lining, and I know the hydraulic fluid is okay, because I topped it up two weeks ago.”

    Tooner’s ears perked up. “What did you top it up with?” he asked.

    “Well, that power fluid stuff. You know, for power brakes.”

    Tooner and I looked at each other, the same thought going through our heads.

    “You don’t mean power steering fluid, do you?”

    “It’s all the same, isn’t it?”

    “Is a debit the same as a credit, Bob?” I asked.

    Bob’s face fell. “What are you telling me?” he asked.

    “Let’s take a look,” I suggested, opening the hood. I popped the lid off the brake master cylinder. A swollen black rubber gasket fell out of the lid, almost twice its normal size. “Just as I thought; you’ve mixed hydraulic oil with the brake fluid.” I held up the distorted gasket. “If oil comes in contact with these rubber parts in the brake system, it causes them to swell.”

    Bobby began to look a little green as he mentally calculated all the places that an engineer could hide rubber pieces in a braking system. “Uh, what’s the bottom line here?”

    I crunched the numbers. “At the very least, you’ll need a new master cylinder. Due to this contamination, it’s not releasing the hydraulic brake pressure to the wheels when you take your foot off the brake.”

    “Yep,” chimed in Tooner. “And hopefully you haven’t ruined the brake calipers and wheel cylinders yet.” He rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Not to mention the brake proportioning valve.”

    After changing the master cylinder and flushing the brake system, we sent Bookie Bob on his way, with a warning to keep an eye on things. I felt compelled to give him a nice discount, especially after he agreed to let me claim donuts as a legitimate office expense.

    Besides, I know he’ll be back. The weekend is coming, and he just can’t resist finding something else to fix on his car.

    About The Writer

    Rick Cogbill is a freelance writer living in the Okanagan valley of Southern British Columbia. A licensed technician with over 24 years in the automotive repair industry, including ten years as a shop owner, Cogbill creates his comic scenarios with Slim, Basil, Tooner, and The Bean out of actual case histories from his shop. “What you have just read is true,” drawls Slim Shambles. “Only the names have been changed to protect my hide!”

  • Drum brakes, windup windows and other technical heresies

    With Ontario suffering from blackouts, B.C. from fire, and the rest of the country mired in economic stagnation, you’d think there would be better things to talk about than drum brakes. There are, but I’m going to use this space to get something off my chest: I think drum brakes are better than discs. And crank-operated windows are better than electric. Also on my list of good things: throttle-body injection, rear-wheel-drive (preferably with a solid axle) and manual transmissions with cable-operated clutches. Oh yeah, and mechanical gauges, including oil pressure. Before you techs under 30 turn the page, work with me on this, or at least hear me out. Jim’s theory of automotive engineering goes like this: Simple things are better than complex things. If a function can be done with a simple mechanism, it should be. If the guys down at marketing claim they need a new gadget to sell the product, find a new marketing team.

    None of this is new, but when I think of the number of stories I’ve heard of intermittents, phantom problems and customer stupefaction at what it costs to fix a modern vehicle, I wonder why consumers buy into the complexity in the first place. Take drum brakes. They’re great because they combine a huge surface area with simple hydraulics, and do it with one machined surface. And when was the last time that your customer complained of brake fade? It’s the same with electric window lifts. While I don’t recall being upset at turning a crank, how about making side “glass” out of polycarbonate (like Lexan) so they’re light enough to lift up like a kitchen window with one hand? And I liked EGR technology where I could operate the valve with my finger, check the diaphragm by sucking through a tube, and clean it by banging it against my workbench.

    Engine systems are getting cleaner, so they have to be more complex. O.K., I like clean air too. But even the cheapest new cars are relatively loaded compared to machines of twenty years ago, and for no good reason. I don’t understand electric door locks on a two-door subcompact narrow enough to reach across the seats without undoing your belt. And if you have a family, the stripper Biscayne/Laurentian/Fury/Monaco/Ford/Meteor just doesn’t exist anymore. Air bags on a Jeep TJ? Would you take a delete option and replace them with four-point harnesses and a roll cage? I would. And when did it become a brilliant idea to use microprocessors to control defrost airflow over my feet? Pseudo-Luddites like me won one with the apparent retreat of digital dashboards, but I think in the long run it’s a losing battle. Maybe it all works better, and yes, cars do seem to last longer, but there’s something comforting about taking an International Harvester Scout deep into the bush in Northern Ontario and knowing that the spare five-dollar points in the glovebox will get you home no matter what. The techs coming up will never experience setting points with a matchbook cover, or gravity feeding a gas can into a carburetor to limp home with a broken fuel pump. It might be progress, but I sure see a lot of shop owners living on Rolaids these days.

  • A New Standard for Brakes

    A new performance certification procedure, the Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedure (BEEP), has been introduced into the aftermarket.

    Created by the Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC) of the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), the guideline is designed to provide brake and shoe performance that is consistent with OE requirements.

    “BEEP is the culmination of more than 10 years of hard work and collaboration between numerous brake manufacturers and an SEA taskforce which aimed to develop a comprehensive procedure for friction performance to be evaluated in a viable manner,” says Walter Britland, BEEP chairman and director of aftermarket engineering for Federal-Mogul Corp.

    The certification uses the SAE J2430 procedure for testing.

    BEEP-certified products will carry a seal on packaging, literature, and promotional materials.

    Britland says that the BEEP certification provides confidence to the end user that he is receiving high-quality product manufactured by QS9000/ISO9001 certified companies, and provides the technician a guideline to compare brake pad and shoe products.

    Though several companies have been through the certification procedure, Jobber News was unable to determine if any products are currently being marketed with the BEEP certification.

  • Disc Brakes Work Better. So Why Don’t More Trucks Have Them?

    Disc Brakes Work Better. So Why Don’t More Trucks Have Them?

    Shorter stopping distances could lead to an evolution in heavy-duty brakes.

    The brake maintenance habits of truck fleets have been under scrutiny for years, but truck fleets and owner/operators are now faced with a larger decision regarding brake systems.

    Dana Corp.’s Jim Clark is rather blunt in his assessment of disc brakes. “They’re a better animal,” he says, comparing the designs to their S-cam counterparts. Quite simply, trucks equipped with disc brakes need less room to stop.

    Still, proponents of disc designs haven’t had much luck convincing North American fleets to adopt the equipment. About 98% of heavy-duty wheel ends are equipped with the more affordable S-cam components. Bendix, for example, has a mere 60,000 air disc brakes on North American roads, compared to the 7 million that its parent company has installed on European equipment.

    But the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may be ready to offer an important boost to disc designs, openly suggesting that it will ask for a 30% reduction in allowable stopping distances for trucks when it hands down an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making in late May.

    Such distances would require steer axles to be equipped with either larger S-cam components or disc brakes, and a growing interest in the latter choice could lead to the need to stock a wider proliferation of heavy-duty parts.

    “This new rule is going to define stopping distances, and that’s going to define the brakes that we use,” Clark said, during a recent seminar held by the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association.

    Sixty percent of steer axles incorporate 15-inch S-cams, compared to 37% that use 16.5-inch designs, said Paul Johnson, senior director of ArvinMeritor’s North American brake business. And the different sizes translate into differences in stopping power.

    Tractor-trailers with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 52,000 lb. currently need to stop from speeds of 60 mph within a distance of 355 feet — a requirement easily met by either size of brakes. However, problems emerge if the allowable distances are shortened to 248 feet. Trucks equipped with 15 x 4 brakes on steer axles will only meet the requirement by a margin of about four feet, compared to those with 16.5 x 5 designs that will stop within 206 feet.

    “Manufacturers want a 10% margin,” Clark said, suggesting that smaller designs may no longer be offered as a vehicle option once the shorter distances become a reality.

    But the bigger S-cam brakes will come at a cost in the form of additional weight — a 12% increase in lining volume translates into an additional 74 lb. — and that could eliminate one of the traditional arguments against disc brakes, which tend to be 50 to 100 lb. heavier than 15 x 4 drum designs when they’re attached to steer axles.

    Disc designs are seen as the brakes of the future. ArvinMeritor has promoted their use since the 1980s. Bendix has announced that it will also produce them domestically by the end of 2004, after spending about $3 million U.S. to retool a plant in Frankfort, Ky., that will be capable of building 120,000 units per year.

    “We view this product as the future of braking in North America,” Bendix air disc brake product line director Tom Wladyka said during the announcement. “Manufacturing air disc brakes here allows us to meet anticipated demand.”

    While Bendix’s plans to build domestic designs were made well before NHTSA began to talk about shorter stopping distances, such an announcement could pique interest in the disc-based technology, Wladyka says.

    Those who buy motor homes and fire trucks have already shown a willingness to pay a premium for the parts because of their better performance characteristics. Disc designs can maintain stopping power as brakes heat up, while drum brakes can face a problem known as brake fade, when hot drums expand beyond the reach of friction material. Meanwhile, a steer axle equipped with disc brakes will shed almost 10 feet from the minimum stopping distances enjoyed by those equipped with 16.5 x 5 S-cam designs, says Clark.

    Buyers wary of problems with earlier designs may also be encouraged to look at the latest generation of products. Ventilated rotors are more robust and will run cooler than their predecessors, says Bendix principal engineer Rob Plantan. “And the pads are much better, too.”

    Manufacturers, meanwhile, should be comforted by the fact that the anticipated stopping distances can be met with technology that’s already available on the market. In comparison, the introduction of in-cab warning lights for trailer ABS systems forced them to design multiplexing systems that could carry signals along existing power lines, rather than requiring an all-new connection between tractors and trailers. And the U.S. had to abandon plans to mandate anti-lock brakes in the 1970s, when unproven technology wasn’t able to meet the requirements.

    Jobbers would simply face pressure to stock a growing proliferation of the related parts, suggests Dale Holman of Truck Watch Services, a Georgetown, Ont. company that specializes in truck brakes.

    Disc designs may incorporate fewer components than their S-cam counterparts, but they’re still evolving, Holman says. Early models have already been updated several times, and he expects further revisions once the trucking industry embraces them, and introduces the equipment to a wider range of operating environments.

    “[Sourcing] the common stuff usually isn’t a problem, but there are already some exotic parts out there,” he says. “They were putting in one design and then changing it up. Some stuff was only on the market for a year.”

    A shift to disc designs could also require changes to components other than brakes. The mounting of air chambers that feed disc brakes can interfere with steering arms and tie rod ends on some North American suspension designs, Clark notes.

    Some fleet managers also remain wary about brake-related maintenance needs that they’ve never had to face. Disc brake pads may simply drop into place when they need to be changed, for example, but most disc designs require hubs to be removed before rotors can be replaced. Multi-piece rotor assemblies, which can be pulled out without removing hubs, can be costly.

    Regardless, the larger S-cam designs or disc brake packages appear to be the most obvious options to meet the shorter stopping distances. Different slack adjuster lengths can increase stopping force, but they would lead to adjustment problems and a number of performance issues, Johnson says. Larger brake chambers would require more space on wheel ends, and wider shoes that can extend brake life don’t add to available torque.

    Manufacturers will still have an opportunity to test an array of new designs or approaches before the proposed rules become law. The NHTSA announcement will be just the beginning of a process to solicit industry comments, even though it’s a key step in developing the U.S. regulations that are usually mirrored in Canada. “There are going to be a lot of questions,” admits administration spokesman Jim Britell, calling on the industry to explain why it likes or hates any aspect of the proposed rules.

    Mac Bradley, a Volvo Trucks engineer, suggests that it’s also going to be important to investigate maintenance and inspection programs — and NHTSA has indicated that it also plans to do just that. Some 18% of brakes were ruled out of service during the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Operation Air Brake inspection blitz in 2003; 13% were out of service because of adjustment problems.

    “Can better maintenance and inspection programs be equally and more important?” Bradley asks. Perhaps more important: “Are we focusing on the right issues?”

  • Drum Brakes and Dumb Mistakes

    Drum Brakes and Dumb Mistakes

    In a shop environment, this situation would have been a profit killer for sure, which is another reason why I'm so impressed with techs that can turn the so-called easy jobs like brakes, suspension and alignment fast enough to make real money. Sometimes, even the easy stuff, isn't.

    In the thirty years that I’ve been messing around with cars and light trucks, I’ve accumulated what I like to think is a good working knowledge of light vehicle repair. Some came honestly, like learning about the importance of bolt torque by blowing the engine in my mother’s Datsun 1200, some by the back door, like combining three Austin Mini’s (the original, small one) to make one vehicle that could be registered three different ways. This week, however, I had a head scratcher that drove me crazy enough to want to describe it here. See if you can relate. My winter beater and general parts/cottage supply/lawn tractor hauler is a clean 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan, 3.3L V-6, A-604 Ultradrive, etc. etc. It’s ugly as sin, but it works, and it’s simple enough that I generally do the little things myself, just to stay sharp. This week, it was rear brakes. Regular readers know that I like drum brakes and firmly believe that for the average driver, they’re all you really need are simple to service and are cheap. The rears on the Dodge in question are the classic Bendix ‘Duo-Servo”, which means that you can do the job in your sleep, with a hangover. And because I like to do brakes about once every ten years, I elected to replace everything from the backing plate out. I assembled everything, backed in the adjuster, repacked the wheel bearings, tapped in a new grease seal, offered up the drum and … it wouldn’t fit. Recheck the adjuster screw. Yes, it’s all the way in. Try again. No way. This time I check to see if I’ve inverted the primary and secondary shoes. No problem. I then check the drum I.D., which is within spec, and the thickness of the shoe linings, which were also fine. The parking brake was fully off and not seized. Still the drum won’t go. What do you do? Perplexed, I tore the entire system down and started again, assuming some kind of assembly error. This time I’m slow and careful, checking the manual as a precaution. Still the drum won’t fit. Anger/frustration and bewilderment set in. I’ve done this hundreds of times before, on everything from Imperials to M.G. Midgets, so how can I be stumped on a Chrysler minivan? The next step was to check the part numbers on the name-brand replacement parts. Drum, shoes and hardware kit are the right numbers. Comparison with the old parts show them to be the same. The situation can’t be happening, but it is. A couple of sips of one of Molson’s better products and I attack the problem anew. This time, armed with more light and with a better attitude, I notice that the shoes aren’t both touching the upper anchor pivot at the same time, even with the adjuster backed off completely. Closer inspection shows that the parking brake strut is holding the shoes apart slightly. It’s in the right way around and it’s forked into the shoe webs correctly, but still the shoes are jacked outward. Digging into the garbage can, I retrieve the small, flat coil spring that keeps the strut from rattling. The replacement part uses spring wire that’s at least twice the thickness of the original, so the coils bind when the shoes are compressed inward. Not by much, but the combination of new shoes and a new drum left not enough clearance to put the lot together. No, I wasn’t going nuts, but I was let down by a name-brand aftermarket part that was well-made, but just didn’t fit correctly. I’m not going to name the company, because I can’t tell if this is a one-time or systemic problem, but it did teach me a lesson or two about doing the simple jobs. One is that you can’t get complacent, no matter how easy the job looks. The other is to trust your instincts. I should have assumed that I put it together correctly in the first place, rather than rebuild the brake again, wasting time. In a shop environment, this situation would have been a profit killer for sure, which is another reason why I’m so impressed with techs that can turn the so-called easy jobs like brakes, suspension and alignment fast enough to make real money. Sometimes, even the easy stuff, isn’t.

  • Audi Explores Carbon-Composite Brakes

    Audi Explores Carbon-Composite Brakes

    German carbon-graphite composites manufacturer SGL Carbon AG and Audi have signed a cooperation agreement on carbon-ceramic brake discs (CCB). According to SGL Carbon, the firm will receive a low doub...

    German carbon-graphite composites manufacturer SGL Carbon AG and Audi have signed a cooperation agreement on carbon-ceramic brake discs (CCB). According to SGL Carbon, the firm will receive a low double-digit million Euro amount for technological and manufacturing developments as well as for the planning of automated mass production. Both parties have the option to expand production through a joint venture at a later date. The technology was developed by SGL Carbon in the ’90’s and was developed for mass production with Porsche. Carbon-ceramic discs last much longer than metal discs, and may last the life of the vehicle in some applications. In the interim, Audi will introduce carbon-ceramic discs to the market within the scope of a long-term supply agreement. The discs will be supplied by the existing SGL Carbon production facilities in Meitingen, Germany. Audi has introduced its new Audi A8 W12 Quattro with CCB technology, shipping the flagship sedan with the new brake discs from autumn 2005 onwards at customer request.

  • Ceramic brakes move to mainstream aftermarket acceptance

    Ceramic brakes move to mainstream aftermarket acceptance

    Consistent braking, OE formulations and complete kits make ceramic-based brakes a natural fit for technicians

    Brake repair and maintenance is the bread-and-butter of every independent service shop in Canada. And over time, the needs of Canadian drivers has slowly begun to change the nature of what kinds of aftermarket brake material and technologies are being asked for when they roll their vehicles into the bays for a brake fix.

    Today’s car owners are looking for aftermarket brakes that are as good as or better than the original OE brakes that came with their vehicle the first time it rolled off the lot. That means the replacement brakes must provide a consistent braking force, and most importantly, not be noisy when the vehicles rolls out of the bay at the end of a brake replacement job.

    That is why ceramic brakes are becoming such a hot item amongst independent service providers and makers of aftermarket brake pads and parts. Since the early 1990s, vehicle manufacturers, first with higher-end vehicles but soon in an ever growing number and range of passenger vehicles, began to replace conventional semi-metallic brake pads with ceramic-based pads and discs in order to address issues of noise, dust and wear. The aftermarket soon followed, rolling out aftermarket ceramic brake products to meet that growing demand.

    Kenneth Selinger, director of marketing and product development for the aftermarket and OES division of Akebono Brake Corp., North America in Elizabethtown, Ky. said the move to ceramic brakes was also driven in North America by the growing use of ceramic brakes on Asian vehicles, something that was quickly noticed by North America’s Big Three auto makers.

    “The Big Three benchmarked all the Japanese car manufacturers and they saw those Japanese manufacturers using ceramic pads on all their vehicles and the high level of customer satisfaction with Japanese braking systems. And when (the Big Three) dove in deeper, looking at what delivered that customer satisfaction, they saw a preponderance of ceramic friction materials being used not only on the luxury and high-end vehicles, but also on their mainstream vehicles.”

    The main difference between ceramic-based brakes and semi-metallic is that ceramic brakes contain no steel fibers. While steel provides a great deal of strength and is an excellent conductor of heat away from the rotor, it also made the pads quite noisy. Over time, that steel also caused the brake rotors to wear quickly. Ceramic materials and formulations allow the brake to produce less wear on the rotor and can handle brake temperatures and eliminate a great deal of noise.

    According to a Frost & Sullivan report on ceramic and other friction products, ceramic friction is expected to grow significantly by 2011, with a 60 per cent increase in revenues from 2005 where ceramics held a 38.2 per cent market share in the U.S.

    “Last year, 2006, was the first year that ceramic replacement pads, as a category in North America, surpassed semi-metallic pads. Semi-metallic pads, since the early 80s have been the dominate material of choice,” added Selinger

    OE formulation key to making successful aftermarket brakes

    “Carbon Ceramic brakes today offer longer rotor life and less noise and than those of non-steel and semi-metallic friction, without the harshness of depleting the rotor life prematurely and causing excessive dust on wheels,” said Charles Pariano, manager of North American aftermarket sales with AISIN World Corp. of America in Torrance, Calif. “Noise and dust are important issues, but safety is key to replacing like for like materials on today’s vehicles. People expect safe and quiet braking systems and don’t like to get their upgraded wheels dusty either.”

    Eric Dussault, vice-president of Alco Brakes in Loretteville, Que. added a key selling point for ceramic-based brakes are the consistent braking over the life of brake. Ceramic brakes will perform well from the first time the brake is applied to the 500th time that brake is applied, he added, which is something consumers are looking for when they put on new brakes. They don’t want to come back to a shop saying that the brakes are not working as well as they did the first time the brakes worked to stop the car.

    Another key selling point which technicians should emphasize to potential brake customers is that today’s aftermarket ceramic replacement pads are equal to OE ceramic brakes, featuring identical formulations and designs. This can put a customer’s mind at ease knowing the product going into their vehicle is not in any way inferior to their original brakes. And today’s aftermarket manufacturers have a wide-range of vehicle-specific formulations as well.

    For example, AISIN’s aftermarket ADVICS line of premium brakes are made to meet OE specifications and to provide a consistent braking performance, as well as low noise and low dust. AISIN’s Pariano added that some higher-end vehicles roll off the assembly line with ADVICS brakes on them now.

    “Replacing friction when needed with matched friction is important.” Pariano continued. “ADVICS ceramic pads are available for a variety of Asian import models.”

    Akebono Brake Corp.’s popular ProAct and Euro ceramic brake are optimized to better control for noise, vibration and wear. The pads are also post-cured and heat-scorched to ensure a better braking effectiveness right out of the package and chamfered and slotted for better fit and control.

    “The thing that is unique about our products is that we take our OEM technology, in its purest form, and we apply that to our aftermarket products. So our ProAct pads and Euro pads, which are 100 per cent ceramic, have our validated OEM technology, undiluted. We have over 26 unique ceramic friction materials in our aftermarket program, and we are adding to that.”

    Don’t forget the hardware

    One of the biggest reasons that independent service providers have for comebacks is the use of old hardware when installing the new brakes. All of the major aftermarket brake manufacturers include with their brake pads kits that will have the necessary replacement hardware or parts needed for a brake service, and make the maintenance and replacement of brakes easier and more efficient.

    For example, Akebono’s ProAct brakes comes with precision-fit bracking plates to help reduce noise and a high-temperature resistant moly lube, and such things as wear-sensors and drop-in kits.

    “We provide every single component so that (a technician) can simply take the product out of the box, bolt it onto the car and hand the keys back to the customer,” added Selinger.

    Not a tough sell

    Sometimes the biggest issue car owners will have ceramics is cost. Many will look at the price and balk, often asking why the technician is recommending such pricey technology in the first place. Why not go with other brakes they may ask, ones that are cheaper?

    “When an installer approaches a customer, I would recommend they try to understand what the customer’s primary concern is,” Selinger said. “If the vehicle is one that they are getting rid of soon and just doing due diligence on maintenance, then maybe a ceramic pad is not for them. But if the customer is maintaining the vehicle over the long term, surely they want to have trouble-free braking performance. So if the installer can focus in on the key features and benefits of ceramics pads then the sale should be easier.”

    Pariano added that while ceramics certainly have a slightly higher cost, the “inconvenience of noise, squeal and dust are significant reasons to replace their brakes with carbon ceramic pads for safety and peace of mind.”

    Brake Installation tips

    Know what the customer wants to sell brakes properly

    There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ brake solution on the market. Independent service shops should ask what the biggest concern a customer has. If it is noise and dust, ceramic is a good choice. If the vehicle, however, is being used for such things as heavy towing or deliveries of heavy objects, a semi-metallic
    pad is likely preferable.

    Use good torque

    Disc pads should be tight in the caliper and the caliper should be torqued to the housing.

    Flush the brake fluid

    Brake fluid should be flushed when replacing hydraulic brake components. ABS units should be bled separately.

    Pressure sensors

    Tire pressure sensors may need to be reset or recalibrated after a brake job.

  • Better Brakes

    Better Brakes

    Premium components can lead to happier customers and higher profits.

    Eric Dussault continues to be astounded by consumers who squawk at the price of premium brake components. “A lot of people will pay $100 to $150 for a hood deflector, but they still want to pay $25 to $30 for their brakes,” bemoans the vice-president of Alco Brakes in Loretteville, Que. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

    Indeed there is — and most of it involves the need to educate customers (and some shop personnel) about the differences that exist.

    Premium brake components are undeniably more effective than their value-priced alternatives. When Oshawa, Ont.-based ACDelco tested seven different types of friction material on the front brakes of a Chevy 2500 traveling at 45 km/h, stopping distances varied by as much as 90 feet. Cheaper hardware will invariably lead to noise-related complaints, while inferior rotors can lead to an array of heat-related damage.

    The differences are leading a growing number of installers to introduce customers to premium products, suggests Rick McCoy of Aisin World Corporation of American in Woodstock, Ont. “The pendulum is swinging back toward quality. Mechanics have had enough of re-doing the job.”

    But just how do you identify a premium component? Warranties aren’t necessarily a guarantee of quality, he says as an example. “Some of the least-expensive [suppliers] are saying, ‘We have a lifetime warranty’ and hoping you lose the receipt.”

    The choice often comes down to sticking with trusted brands, and finding options that are designed for specific vehicle applications.

    Several factors will set premium products apart from their counterparts, notes Brian Fleming, director of marketing for Affinia Canada Corp. in Mississauga, Ont., which markets Raybestos brakes. Premium designs, for example, are more likely to match or improve upon the fit, form, function and performance characteristics of Original Equipment components. “Premium products — especially today — represent more than a part and box. It comes with marketing support and coverage to ensure you don’t have a lost sale,” he adds.

    The offerings can also lead to higher profits. All too often, shops focus on profit margins in terms of a percentage, but fail to consider the higher dollar figures associated with premium components.

    “Do the math,” Fleming says. “How many dollars are you taking to the bank?”


    Every brake component can be selected to meet a specific customer need.

    Consider lines of value-priced brake pads, which may incorporate three different chemical formulas. In comparison, premium lines can include more than a dozen formulas that offer different characteristics relating to wear, fade, performance and weight, Fleming says.

    The proper choice simply involves asking a few questions.

    “It’s the counterman’s job, or the garage’s job, to ask people what they are doing with the vehicle,” Dussault says, noting that the aggressive action of a Carbon Metallic offering may be needed to effectively stop a pick-up truck that’s pulling a boat.

    An entry-level brake package may be able to stop that same vehicle, but the related temperatures can run as much as 200F hotter, adds Don Ninni, a technical product support and training specialist with ACDelco.

    Morse Automotive Corp. in Chicago Ill. recently released the Morse Elite disc brake pad that use a Vulcanized Silencing System (VSS) and an OE-style shim design that are made to provide better durability and noise dampening, and includes the Comprehensive Unimold attachment system that is made to prevent delamination of the friction material from the backing plate.

    Yet the heaviest payloads in many of today’s pick-up trucks come in the form of a car stereo and an extra-large double-double from Tim Hortons. In these cases, customers who buy expensive rims may opt for ceramic offerings, because of the lighter dust and quieter braking action that’s traditionally associated with the material.

    “They want a truck that’s going to stop and feel like a car, and have the same sort of pedal feel,” Fleming says.

    But Jack McGrail, Robert Bosch’s director of product management – brake products in Mississauga, Ont., warns against any thought that one material will solve every issue.

    “There’s no one perfect material,” he says. “It really depends on the person’s driving style. What’s important to them? What kind of vehicle do they have? Things like that. A lot of companies are going out and saying ceramics are the cure-all. That’s not entirely true.”

    The choice of premium components is also particularly important when working on vehicles equipped with advanced stability and traction systems, Ninni adds. “ABS and traction control or suspension reaction are mapped for specific braking decelerations.”


    The focus on premium products shouldn’t end with the friction material, either. Brake pads with stainless steel shims will tend to run quieter, for a longer period of time, because they resist corrosion. By way of example, McGrail suggested that a rubberized shim will begin to rust in two to three years.

    Many comebacks can be traced to friction material that was installed using old hardware, Fleming adds. Premium friction providers are helping address this issue by including hardware in every box. Affinia, for example, includes everything from abutment clips to bushings. Akebono Corp. in Framington Hills, Mich. adds hardware including wear sensors and drop-in kits.

    There’s simply no need to re-use old material.

    Another hardware-related improvement can involve pre-assembled components.

    Friction-ready calipers come complete with sliders and pins, include the proper lubricant, and have been assembled to meet exacting tolerances, says Ninni, suggesting that the use of these calipers can shave hours off the time needed to complete a brake job.

    “Most folks wouldn’t try to sell a caliper [as part of a traditional brake job] because, by the time you do the other stuff, the costs outweigh what they see as the benefit,” he says. Yet skipping that step can lead to excessive noise, which is one of the top reasons for comebacks associated with brake-related service.

    “There’s nothing worse than spending $1,000 on brakes and having a squeal.”


    Premium rotors remain one of the most overlooked options in today’s brake jobs, largely because of a ready supply of cheap offshore alternatives that began to emerge about 15 years ago. A value-priced offering may cost as little as $10, compared to $70 for its premium counterpart.

    Independent research conducted for Bosch recently found that about 36 per cent of North American brake pad sales could be considered premium. In contrast, only 27 per cent of rotors fell into the same category.

    Offshore designs have improved, McGrail says, noting how the suppliers of many brand names are offering their own entry-level products made in China.

    Indeed, an entry-level rotor may meet the needs that relate to fit and function, but the associated venting can make a difference in the component’s ability to displace heat. The metallurgy of some rotor designs has also been chosen to match specific friction materials, so the wrong choice can lead to excessive noise.

    “The rotor is going to take mechanical energy and convert it to heat and hopefully expel it,” Ninni says. If the related heat isn’t transferred from parts attached to the hub bearing, you’re going to see other damage, such as rubber boots on the suspension end that turn brittle and crack.

    “The real guy making the decision 90 per cent of the time is the installer,” Fleming says, referring to where the process needs to begin. “The consumer doesn’t get into the brands or the technology.”

    “There’s always going to be a place or need for a value-line product, [but installers] have got to stop thinking that the price is the way they’re going to get more business.”

  • Can You and Your Brakes Take the Heat?

    There is little doubt that brakes represent one of the most active markets in the industry. Given the stiff competition in the segment, there also should be little surprise that much of what is being sold in your store today is manufactured outside of fortress North America. Given the sensitive issue of safety surrounding these parts, though, what are the implications for jobbers faced with constant price wars, quality questions and the need to guard against sub-par or dangerous parts?

    First the good news

    The continuing growth in Canadian vehicle populations is sustaining the demand for replacement brake system parts in this country. The demand for brake pads, rotors, and calipers is particularly strong, since all new vehicles are equipped with at least two, and possibly four, disc brakes.

    As the majority of automobile manufacturers employ disc-braking systems, demand for premium and ceramic brakes is also expected to remain on the rise in Canada. Satisfied Brake Corporation vice-president Ian Braunstein says he is encouraged by the use of more ceramic pads, but also notes the problems associated with the boom in the business. “There is sometimes a misconception, when it comes to ceramics, that any ceramic pad will always be better than an organic or a metallic,” he says. “Today, there are a lot of economy ceramic pads that are selling at a lower price, so at best you’re going to compromise performance. Of course, the worst-case scenario is that an economy ceramic is inadequate for the job, causing excessive dust, unacceptable noise and vibration, or even compromised safety.” In this case, Braunstein suggests jobbers stick to their OE specifications. “What jobbers need to keep in mind is that they still have to be OE-specific. If the OE is a semi-metallic, then it can absolutely be replaced by a quality grade semi-metallic; and if you want to upsell them to an aftermarket ceramic pad, you must be certain that it will surpass the OE part in quality and performance.”

    Now the Not-So-Good News

    Rising raw material costs and increased competition from overseas suppliers has served to make the production of brake components more difficult for North American manufacturers. While the increase in oil prices, steel, and other components has added to production costs, manufacturers are hesitant to raise their prices, as it would make them less competitive against foreign competitors, who are at an advantage due to their lower overseas labour costs. “To counter these costs, companies are moving their production sites to Asia and Latin America to take advantage of lower labour expenses,” explains Frost and Sullivan research analyst Stephen Spivey.

    Satisfied Brake Corporation, for example, has begun working with and even establishing its own facilities in China, which Braunstein says is a business reality in today’s global market, but he notes that it needs to be done cautiously. “To do it properly, you have to control the process across all of your product lines, to ensure overall quality control,” he says. Honeywell, manufacturer of the Bendix line of brakes, has a similar global reach when it comes to its modern manufacturing process. “Bendix manufactures parts in the USA, China, Brazil, Germany, France, Australia and Thailand,” says Jay Buckley, technical training manager for Honeywell Consumer Products Group. What’s more, Buckley says, all of those plants are Honeywell-owned and QS9001-certified, which helps to monitor and ensure quality.

    One issue noted by Canadian representatives is the sheer number of new competitors that appear to be little more than marketing and sales agencies. “All of a sudden we’ve seen many of these so-called brake companies bringing their product in and simply marketing it for an overseas manufacturer,” says Braunstein. “It’s opened a real grey area in technology, because a lot of these new manufacturers have only been in the brake distrobution business for a few years.” It’s undoubtedly a safety concern; Braunstein insists that very high quality parts can be built in Chinese facilities, but it requires significant investment by the parent company, both in training and infrastructure.

    Unfortunately, not all North American distributors play on the same contentious level, and as a result it has, in some automotive sectors, caused some of the same corporate disasters that have been suffered recently by massive multinationals like Colgate and Mattel. A highly germane case out of the United States pointedly illustrates the dangers of poor product research. A company out of New Jersey, Foreign Tire Sales, was involved in importing Chinese-made tires and then rebranding them for domestic sale. It has since been forced to recall some 450,000 tires after they began experiencing tread separation problems. According to preliminary reports, it appears that the manufacturing company in China unilaterally decided to cut back on, and in some cases stop using the appropriate gum strips, which are critical in holding the tread in place. As a result of the ordered recall, execs with the importer have indicated that they will have no choice but to declare bankruptcy, as they simply can’t afford the mandatory recall.

    While many jobbers feel they are not significantly affected by the recent spate of recalls, what many don’t appreciate is that, like it or not, you are intimately associated with the products you sell, and in some instances, can be severely affected both personally and financially if there is a catastrophic flaw in a part you have sold.

    One important measure to ensure overall quality and avoid such unpleasantness is to make sure you fully investigate the testing methodologies used by manufacturers with whom you are considering doing business. Ensuring that the products you sell are adequately tested should go a long way in ensuring that quality, reliable parts are being sold to your customers. “We test aftermarket parts to the same SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standards as we use for Original Equipment friction testing, and our aftermarket products meet all DOT and SAE standards for performance, wear, and durability,” says Buckley. At Satisfied, Braunstein says the firm’s testing will most accurately reflect real-life conditions. “We’ve embraced relevant testing standards,” he says. “The D3EA (Dual Dynamometer Differential Effectiveness Analysis) testing method simulates real driving conditions, and it is very vehicle-specific.”

    In the end jobbers simply have to start doing some of their own research into their suppliers’ practices, as a precautionary measure. Making sure you’re selling the best and safest product possible does not have to be a difficult or threatening venture; but it requires some homework. As Buckley advises, “With the proliferation of parts coming in from low-cost regions, it is extremely important for jobbers to deal with known brand names that they can trust.

    “The first question that should be asked when selecting a supplier is how it protects the buyer in a liability case. It’s important to have an idea of how a supplier intends to stand behind its products.”

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