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Selling coolant servicing

October 11, 2010
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The need to provide proper coolant servicing at a lube shop may seem obvious; an engine without a reliable coolant and proper maintenance may consistently overheat, leading to costly radiator, heater core or pump replacements.

In fact, many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) agree that the single, biggest cause of automotive repairs is poor cooling system maintenance.

Therefore, offering coolant servicing at a lube shop shows that you care about the customer’s car and not just the bottom line.

Gain knowledge, become indispensable
The key to effective coolant servicing begins by developing an expertise and knowledge of the subject. Owners can then educate and empower customers to make purchasing decisions.

This also puts the lube owner or operator in a position of indispensability. He or she will be regarded as a knowledgeable resource and customers will return to the shop time and time again for accurate, reliable service.

Start this process by addressing a seemingly basic but important question: which type of coolant should lube shops offer customers?

No single type of coolant can effectively meet all the unique requirements of all the different automotive engine and cooling systems.

The basic three
The first step is to educate customers about the basic types and functions of various coolants on the market:

  • Conventional green;
  • Organic Additive Technology (OAT); and
  • Hybrid products.

These coolant formulations are based upon factors such as corrosion protection, service life and chemical compatibility.

But the diversity of coolants, particularly the OAT coolants, means that retailers and consumers must sift through a confusing array of products to select the right coolant for a vehicle’s engine, make and model year.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that some coolants of the same color — yellow, orange, gold, red, blue or even pink — may have very different compositions and functions.

Conversely, some coolants with the same compositions may be different in color, and there is no universal coolant or color that has emerged as the industry standard or that can meet all the various OEM specifications.

Although some fast lube operators and sales professionals feel that a single, universal coolant is the ideal solution for any make and model year vehicle, the reality is that the marketplace demands multiple coolant products.

OEMs recommend different coolants

The simple and most important reason why multiple coolant products are needed is that both domestic and foreign OEMs continue to create requirements to address specific engine needs.

This means that some OEMs require silicate-free coolants, while other OEMs have approved hybrid coolants that contain silicates and organic additive technology.

While this market reality may cause confusion amongst retailers and consumers, the fact remains that different manufacturers continue to recommend different coolants. Therefore, fast lube customers deserve to have a choice about the right coolant for their vehicle’s engine, make and model year.

Three coolants, three uses
1. Conventional green coolants — Suitable for older vehicles, and can be found in formulas designed for use in both automotive engines and heavy-duty diesel engines, particularly those containing aluminum alloys.

Supplemental coolant additives are required for heavy-duty applications.

2. Hybrid coolants — Available for newer Ford automobiles (2003 and beyond), Ford trucks (2002 and beyond) and Daimler-Chrysler vehicles (2001 and beyond).

Hybrid coolants can be formulated with low-silicate, phosphate-free technology, and also meet many European automobile manufacturers’ specifications.

Advanced hybrid formulas make dramatic long-life possible (five-year/100,000 mile protection) and provide excellent protection against corrosion and rust for all cooling system metals.

3. OAT-based coolants — Many work with nearly all GM automobile and light truck cooling systems, and provide improved component durability and extended service intervals up to five years or 150,000 miles.

Organic additive technology-based coolants also meet many European auto manufacturers’ phosphate-free requirement and Japanese auto manufacturers’ silicate-free requirement.

The right recommendations
Once the consumer has been educated about the types of coolants that can be used for different makes and model year vehicles, start making recommendations for maintaining and improving the health of the customer’s cooling system.

To make cooling system recommendations the lube shop workers should:

  • Check the health of the cooling system — Does it show any signs of rust, scale or debris? Although not visually apparent at the radiator cap or overflow bottle, the coolant may still require maintenance.

    If conventional green in color, the coolant is not extended life and likely uses silicate and phosphate corrosion inhibitors.

    Over time, these inhibitors can be depleted and need to be refreshed or changed at regular intervals. This should be done every two to three years according to the OEMs.

    Most motorists think if the coolant still looks green and at level, it must be fine. However, failure to change the coolant on a regular schedule could result in system corrosion and water pump leaks.

  • Check the coolant’s color — Whether the color is green, orange, yellow, blue or gold, if it’s not clear and bright, there is a good chance the corrosion protection chemistry has been diluted with excessive water or other coolant technologies.

    When this happens, a loss of freeze protection or cooling properties may result, and the lube employee should use a refractometer to make sure the coolant’s freezing point has not changed.

  • Recommend a flush and fill — While mixing different types of coolant will not result in adverse chemical reactions or cause a catastrophic failure, it is usually a good idea to recommend a flush and fill with the correct coolant.

    This is the best way to restore and maintain an optimal level of cooling system protection.

Clear and concise
When recommending coolant options, first check to see what the OEM recommends and explain the benefits of following the OEM recommendations.

This strategy empowers the customer to consider the value of the suggestion before thinking only about the price.

Remember to keep explanations clear and concise. It’s not necessary to demonstrate everything known about a coolant each time a recommendation is made. In fact, too much information may create more confusion.

Regardless of what a customer decides to do during a particular visit, be sure to maintain a positive, friendly and helpful attitude from the moment the customer is engaged to the moment they leave the shop.

Another suggestion to improve the quality of a shop’s coolant service sales is to stay up-to-date on industry trends, OEM coolant recommendations and other OEM requirements for customer vehicles.

In addition to strengthening a shop’s credibility, staying current with such information will enable a lube shop to keep its customers informed of changing specifications that may affect them.

As a credible expert, customers will find it easier to understand and accept an informed shop’s coolant service recommendations and will be more likely to purchase the services.

Bill Dusing is the coolants market development specialist with ChevronTexaco Products Company. Bill can be reached at