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It’s time to help our customers prepare for the cold

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 07:00
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Just as the heat of summer brings us unique service opportunities, so does the approach of Old Man Winter – especially if you live in the Snow Belt! Even if you live in a part of the country where the difference between summer and winter is hardly noticeable, you can still use this time of year to market important maintenance services to your customer. And while I think that these system inspections are something we should all be doing year-round, they tend to lend themselves to special attention in the minds of our customers when the mercury in the thermometer begins to dip.

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Cooling system check – Belts and hoses

The cooling system is one that seems to be more on the mind of consumers in the winter than the summer. Easy to understand why – the first time the cabin won’t warm up is almost as bad as the first time it won’t cool down when it’s hot outside! Interesting how our customers are so keen on cabin comfort, even when we recommend much needed work on their vehicle’s safety systems, isn’t it?

The “PK” number (circled) is a standard metric designation for belts that can help you select the correct replacement when you’re stuck. The first number (6) is the number of ribs, “PK” means metric, and the last number (1256) is the “effective” length (not the actual outside circumference).

Begin by performing an overall inspection of the cooling system components. Inspect the level of coolant in the recovery bottle and note its condition. If the level is low, inspect for signs of leakage. Even small leaks can lead to air in the system and that can lead to premature depletion of the coolant’s additives and system component damage. Keep in mind, too, that the leak may be internal so no signs on the outside doesn’t mean a leak doesn’t exist!

Let’s inspect the accessory drive belt next, since in many cases it drives the all-important water pump. Since nearly every belt today is made with EPDM and can be worn out well before you see any visual indications, you’ll need a belt wear gauge to perform this check.

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The tools vary depending on who makes them, but the objective is the same. As an EPDM belt wears, the ribs become narrower and the grooves wider. This wear pattern allows the belt to fit more closely to the pulley and that’s not a good thing. As the belt moves in, the gap between the belt and the pulley that allows a path for water to escape decreases to the point that the belt can actually hydroplane when operated in wet weather. Additionally, the wider spacing in the grooves reduces the interference friction that keeps the belt from slipping. A slipping belt may not make noise but will operate hotter than normal. This extra heat is passed on to the components that the belt drives, leading to accelerated wear and premature failure in their own pulley bearings.

If you don’t already have one of these wear gauges in your toolbox, check with your parts suppliers and if that fails you can always reach out directly to any of the major belt manufacturers for one. For more tips on checking and servicing belt issues, check out our Trainer video on the subject at

To accurately measure the mixture ratio of the coolant, use a refractometer. Test strips are also available to help you gauge the coolant ratio.

On to the hoses. The biggest cause of cooling system hose wear is electrochemical degradation, or ECG, and it’s not easy to detect. ECD attacks the rubber from within and is caused by the acids developed in coolant over time. Check the hoses by squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger. The hoses should feel soft and pliable. If they feel tight or crunchy, they may require replacement. Take a close look at the hose connections, looking for signs of softness, bulging (especially when the system is under pressure), or cracks that could be signs of damage caused by ECD or age.

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