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See or Be Seen: Put automotive lighting maintenance at the top of the list

Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 07:00
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Should automotive lighting maintenance be a top priority? That issue was put to Idaho state trooper Captain Fritz Zweigart, who observed that he has seen no change in the number of violations of burnt out headlamps or rear bulbs. By no means is Captain Zweigart taking a backseat on vision safety where motorists regularly speed at 80 miles-per-hour on this state's highways. Despite well-meaning seasonal car care reminders, industry leaders and the police are justified in saying that more should be done to make awareness stick.

Last June, Aftermarket Business World interviewed Ann-Marie Hines, senior manager responsible for Philips Automotive marketing strategies who boldly called out the Car Care Council for excluding lighting from their top ten vehicle repairs. From a common sense prevention angle, maintaining a vehicle's most active safety system is arguably an easy task. So is the abundance of collecting statistics about the negative impacts when an automobilist neglects to replace a bulb. Given how accessible it was to obtain the data from a handful of state highway patrols for this column, it is concerning that neither the CCC nor the American Automobile Association have previously related these same facts to lighting maintenance, especially when they regularly promote their annual autumn and spring safety campaigns.

Back in Idaho where many unlit roads are replete with wildlife and unpredictable weather, forestalling auto accidents is paramount to Zweigart and his peers. A fellow trooper reported that a car passing through a small town struck a pedestrian who had pulled out in front. “I determined the crash was partially due to the inoperable lights and failing to yield,” he wrote, and “I determined that the crash may not have occurred if the passenger headlight was working.”

In 2017 and 2016, a combined 10,000 citations were issued by the Alabama Highway Patrol. During that same period, New York State Police ticketed 76,000 motorists. Kentucky attributed 131 collisions to defective lighting. Ponder the awareness benefit were the auto care industry players were to collect and creatively act on that data from all 50 state agencies.

Between two unlikely allies who have never met, Joe Verbanic of Sylvania Automotive Lighting agrees with Captain Zweigart. Verbanic, a veteran sales and marketing director for the aftermarket’s largest supplier of exterior and interior bulbs, was tickled about the trooper’s vigilance. “Motorists are at a disadvantage, and at a risk when the beams gradually begin to dim and turn signals aren’t working,” noted Verbanic. Onlookers will be first to notice the difference. Compounding the risk observed Zweigart, more people behind the wheel are distracted with texting on their handheld mobile devices. All too often forewarned Verbanic, people forget about the financial consequences when a delivery truck full of goods is detained. “For businesses on the receiving end, that delay may result in lost sales revenue all because of a $40 headlamp.”

Verbanic applauded Ann-Marie Hines’ stance that the CCC should rank lighting systems, and for her undertaking the initiative to train the professional repair shops. Inside the repair bay where Philips wants to become a positive influence, Verbanic expressed his pleasure to learn that his competitor is continually educating technicians on the fundamentals in product performance, and communicating the technology to their customers.

Imagine the inconvenience of being stopped by the police on the way to work. Alluding to his fellow colleagues, Verbanic chuckled saying that it happens more often than those who wish to confess. Embarrassment aside for such an obvious oversight, Verbanic prefers to reinforce the benefits in preventative car care no matter how worn his message seems. All said in the digital age where adaptive beams are becoming normalized, Sylvania continues to release informative installation videos to simplify the ease of replacing an exterior or interior lamp. For Sylvania, trumpeting the voice of the do-it-yourselfer is a result of content rich shopper insights bound together from multiple data mines. Their auto parts store and e-commerce sales partners are better positioned to sell the 12 most popular items that covers 80 percent of the vehicle population. ”I hope that the state troopers continue to be attuned to safety and be part of the solution,” Verbanic said.

Herein lays another constraint with a hidden opportunity. Compared to New Hampshire where Verbanic works, most western states like Idaho do not mandate annual inspections of timing belts, brakes, and tires. Consequently, Zweigart and his team have double duty when they see an automobile that poses a danger to their passengers and its immediate surroundings. Depending on the situation, Zweigart may give the operator a Fix-it Ticket, in which the pending fine can be erased on the condition that the violation is quickly fixed and verified by an authorized official. While generous on the police’s side, it is also a temporary solution to the real one of building a safety checklist.

Parts stores that endorse stories told by the likes of Captain Zweigart can play a lead role by curtailing unnecessary road risks. That conversation begins with the simple question of asking when was the last time you remember having your lighting replaced or inspected.  Repair shops could fill the gap, armed with the best sales and service support from their parts store and supplier. This checkup should include applications for stop lights, turn signals, back up, taillights, position lights, emergency flashers, trunk bulbs, glove box lamps and interior floor dimmers.

Top ten or not, the imperative of replacing lamps before they fail will never be new, which makes humanizing this cautionary narrative ever more critical. Repair shops stand best to empower their customers. Whether these coordinated actions involve the CCC, AAA, or a lighting supplier; a gain that stresses safety with real stories and facts is within hands reach, especially in those states where inspections are voluntary. And as a financial bonus, those pushing the bulb won’t be thinking about price, but about well-being.

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