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2019 KAWASAKI MULE PRO-MX
MIDSIZE MULE™ MODEL JOINS KAWASAKI MULE™PRO SIDE X SIDE LINE UP
Following multiple accolades for its MULE™ PRO series, Kawasaki continues to grow the MULE PRO family with the addition of the all-new MULE PRO-MX™ side x side to the 2019 lineup. The MULE PRO-MX features increased recreational abilities and rugged,no-nonsense styling that further establishes the mid-size, compact side x side as the customer’s dependable choice for work or play.
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Selling shocks and struts simply comes down to knowledge, and sometimes it’s a little tricky because many of our customers confuse the difference between shocks, springs and struts. So, let’s start by clarifying the difference with information you can pass on the next time you get into the conversation across the counter.
The suspension of a vehicle includes every component that supports the weight of the vehicle and travels up and down in response to the road surface, driving conditions or vehicle load. Springs are the components that support that actual weight of the vehicle, but they’re just one part of the suspension. Shock absorbers are the components that dampen the movement of the springs, but again, they too are just one part of the suspension.
In a traditional upper and lower A-arm front suspension (one of the oldest styles), the shocks and springs mount in separate locations, and the springs are either coil or torsion-bar type. Vehicles with this type of suspension – such as older full-frame vehicles and full-size trucks – typically have solid-axle leaf- or coil-spring rear suspension, in which, of course, the springs and shocks also are separate components.
The term “strut” is a shortened reference to the MacPherson strut design of suspension. A strut suspension differs from a “traditional” suspension in the manner that the spring and shock are assembled together as a unit that mounts to the vehicle body on top, and an axle component on the bottom. The top of the assembled unit includes rubber mounting, and in the case of front suspension, a bearing to allow it to rotate in response to steering (Figure 1).
link hidden, please login to view The assembled coil-spring and shock-absorber unit is referred to as the strut, but from a functional standpoint, you can still think of them as a shock, spring and related mounting components – because that’s all they are.
So, what’s a coil-over? It’s a coil spring mounted over a shock absorber (Figure 2). Sound sort of like a strut? Guess what? It’s basically the same thing. The only difference is that coil-overs typically are smaller with adjustable coil-spring perches, which makes them a very versatile choice for performance suspensions, allowing adjustable ride height and use in a variety of suspension designs. But again, don’t let the fancy name throw you: It’s just a spring and a shock.
link hidden, please login to view In addition to these, there are many different types and variations of suspension; definitely a topic for another article, but for the sake of this discussion, regardless of what they are, there are always springs that support the weight of the vehicle and shocks that dampen the movement. Most new cars and small SUVs have strut front suspension. Some have strut rear suspension, but separate coil-spring/shock-absorber rear suspensions are just as common. Full-size trucks and SUVs typically have upper/lower A-arm suspension in front and leaf-spring suspension in the rear.
For many years, suspension springs in general were never a problem for technicians. They rarely broke, and it took a long time before they sagged or weakened, regardless of the style of suspension. Shocks wore out frequently – a common problem – and we’ve all replaced many shocks over the years. If it was a car that had strut suspension front or rear, you removed the strut assembly, compressed the coil spring, removed the top plate and disassembled the strut.
Parts of a strut included the upper plate/bearing, coil spring, bump stop, dust boot, various washers or spacers and the shock-absorber/strut housing itself (Figure 3). Sometimes, the lower spring perch is a separate piece that slides onto the shock/strut housing, and sometimes it’s part of the strut housing. The shock-absorber/strut housing may be one piece (not serviceable), but often, replacing the shock absorber itself was yet another step that included removing a large nut on the top of the strut housing and sliding it out.
The strut housing was reused, a new shock was installed (or if not serviceable, the housing was replaced), then the original spring was reinstalled along with a new upper mount and hardware. I’ve probably done it a thousand times, until … dun, dun dun …the quick strut!
But before we get into that fast fix, let’s drive it home with a final word of wisdom: Shocks are not struts, and struts are not shocks, but a shock is part of a strut. The closest you get is when the strut housing isn’t serviceable, and the shock absorber and strut housing are one piece. On a vehicle that has separate suspension springs and shocks, you can replace one or the other. On a vehicle that has strut suspension, you also can replace one or the other. Think about it like this: Regardless of the type of suspension, the same components are there, and they do the same things – they just differ in the way they are put together.
link hidden, please login to view Every time a shock absorber is collapsed or expanded, oil is forced between different chambers, through a small orifice inside. The effort that it takes to force the oil through is what dampens the suspension movement, and you can feel the resistance when you attempt to move the shock rod by hand.
What makes them good or bad? If there’s no resistance in the movement of the shock rod, the shock is bad. It can’t dampen the movement of the suspension, and when you hit a bump, the car will bounce like a pogo stick. On the freeways around here, I see it at least once a day.
Traditional shock absorbers commonly experience aeration, meaning air bubbles mix in the oil. This causes a similar effect as air in brake fluid, and the performance of the shock absorber diminishes. The solution? A gas-charged shock. The pressure keeps the air bubbles from forming, creating consistent performance. Traditional shocks tend to provide a slightly smoother ride; the type of ride we are used to in a big-old car, whereas gas-charged shocks will stiffen up the ride feel slightly but offer better handling performance.
Service Life of Shocks
How long a shock absorber lasts depends on many factors such as age and mileage, but one of the biggest is initial quality. I’ve seen them last anywhere from one to 15 years, and with all the variables, it just comes down to one question: Are they still good? There are two things to look at. One, are they leaking? If they leak oil, they are probably bad, but not always. Some shocks can exhibit minor signs of seepage, yet they still operate correctly. The second – and the ultimate determining factor – is the bounce test.
With the vehicle sitting on the ground, quickly push down on the suspension and release it. Focus on one spot of the vehicle and watch closely. The vehicle should return to its original height and stop dead. No wiggle, no jiggle – a dead stop exactly where it started. A slight hop above, then a return to original height, means the shocks are worn. If they’re completely wasted, it’ll pogo-stick where it sits.
The bounce test is the only way you can accurately assess performance, and a visual inspection for leaks or worn mount bushings, coupled with age and mileage, can help you determine if it’s time to replace the shocks, or if it’s time to plan for it in the near future. Recognizing the fine line between good and bad shocks can take some experience, and there’s a point where they can begin to adversely affect tire wear and braking distance before any noticeable handling or ride-related symptoms appear, so tire and brake wear should also be considerations when assessing shock condition.
At this point shocks may seem cut-and-dry, but there are some additional topics that may come up when selling them, and it’s good to be prepared with an answer.
When the shock rod travels in, it’s considered the compression stage of operation; when the rod travels back out, it’s considered the rebound stage. The percentage of compression and rebound stage can differ depending on the application of the shock, but normal shock operation is about 25% compression stage and 75% rebound. This allows the suspension spring to react quicker to the road surface for the
One of the most common examples of different compression/rebound rates is on the front shocks of a drag car. A 90/10 shock absorber is the most common application here, meaning 90% of the effort to move the shock rod occurs during compression, and it only takes 10% of the force to allow the shock to rebound. On a drag car, under heavy acceleration, this allows the front end to come up easily – shifting the weight to the rear wheels for traction – then slowly allows the suspension to settle to prevent bouncing in the front.
You’ll also see 60/40 or 50/50 percentages depending on the type of racing, performance or ride intended by a manufacturer, and maybe even something different than what I’ve listed here. Generally, you’ll be selling shocks by application, so you won’t have to be concerned about the numbers. But, you never know when someone might ask, so it’s always good to know.
Many performance shocks are built with adjustable valving, allowing you to change the compression and rebound rates to suit your needs. The adjustments can generally be made by an accessible knob on the side or top of the shock. Some shocks offer adjustment for only one aspect, some offer it for both. This also is the basic idea behind many modern suspensions that offer adjustable dampening, such as luxury or sport mode options. Instead of a manual adjustment to change compression and rebound rates, the adjustment is performed by a built-in electronic actuator that receives its signals from the vehicle control unit.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to measure the required length of a shock absorber for a vehicle that’s been raised or lowered, changing the suspension travel. This is especially common for lifted trucks. If the question comes your way, it’s not hard to do. The specs you will need are compressed and extended height, but there are three measurements to take to get them.
Park the vehicle on level ground, then first measure the static height, which is simply the distance between the upper and lower shock mounting points. For this to be an accurate measurement, you’ll have to remove the shock. Next, with the vehicle still on level ground, measure the distance between suspension bump stop and the contact point for the bump stop. Subtract this from the static height and you have your compressed height.
To get extended height, jack up the vehicle so the wheel is off the ground, support it with a jack stand (for safety), then measure again between the upper and lower shock mounting points.
Many traditional shock absorbers are designed to assist the suspension when towing or hauling heavy loads. These are available as both air- and spring-assisted types. They are not designed to increase the load-carrying ability of a vehicle, but rather to help maintain the proper ride height and prevent bottoming out with a heavy load. Spring-assisted shocks offer a consistent load assist without affecting ride quality, and air shocks are adjustable to handle a wider range of varying loads but are designed to have the additional pressure released when the load is removed so the ride height returns to normal.
When a customer comes in and wants to buy struts, the first thing that should come to your mind is what do they really need? Do they need a complete strut assembly? Or do they just need a strut housing? Maybe they only need shocks and just have their terminology wrong. Once you determine they indeed need struts, most likely you will direct them to a quick strut.
As I mentioned earlier, we always used to rebuild struts. It never seemed like a problem to me, but then again, I was used to it, and broken coil springs were never much of a problem. Then, all of a sudden, coil springs started breaking frequently, and some cars were known for it. When it came to a repair, it was common to find the shock leaking, and since you had everything apart, it didn’t make sense to replace the spring with an old shock. Then you found that the strut mounts were worn, so you ordered those too.
No matter how you looked at it, you had a lot of parts and a lot of labor involved. Then came the quick-strut: a fully assembled strut with new spring, shock, strut mounts and everything, ready to bolt in. On vehicles that needed everything, this proved to be an efficient solution.
Do I use them all the time? No. They’re not available for all vehicles, and in some cases on certain performance vehicles, the OE equipment is the best and only option for quality and customer satisfaction. You may have to do it the old-fashioned way.
But for many applications – especially on older high-mileage vehicles – if the shock is completely worn out, you can bet the rest of the components are too, and it just makes sense. Sure, a lot of technicians like them because it makes the job much quicker and you don’t have to fight with a coil spring, but it more importantly gives you a big advantage in selling to DIYers, because most likely they don’t have the tools to compress the spring.
Some final extras are sway-bar links, which often attach to a bracket on the strut housing. They’re often hard to remove and it’s probably a good time to replace them too. Shock absorbers should come with all needed hardware, and some shocks and struts are bushing-mounted at the bottom. As with any suspension bushings, these should be tightened with the vehicle at ride height to prevent premature wear of the bushing.
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My favorite billboard sign of all time was one that once stood over Woodward Avenue during the Woodward Dream Cruise. It had a picture of a 1970 Chevelle and a caption that said, “The only carbs we cared about were under the hood.”
It harkened to a different time – a time of automotive passion that saw high horsepower out of low technology. It was the time of high compression and high octane. It also was the time of the distributor. Maybe that’s why I love them. They were simple, basic, maybe even crude by today’s standards – but they worked. And the ability to tune a car – to really make it run well – was left only to those who took the time to understand them.
It’s been many years since distributors have been used on new vehicles, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of thousands still on the road – and there are. Selling distributor components, from small parts to complete units, can mean big profit, and the key to it is understanding the distributor or, more importantly, helping your customer understand them.
As a counter professional, your job – like that of a technician – often comes down to education. You are the teacher, and that’s what your customers expect. It’s very likely, at some point, that a customer will ask you if a distributor is better than modern ignition systems or even try to argue that they were.
The answer, of course, is no. (I said I love them, not that they were better.) If you have to explain it, in a nutshell, there are too many wearing parts; too many opportunities for higher-than-normal resistance; continuous maintenance; and lack of precision spark control. Many people consider old technology better due to its simplicity, and it would be fair to agree on that point, but functionally it doesn’t hold a candle to anything new.
So, let’s take a brief look at distributor technology. The first point-style ignition distributor was developed around 1910 to improve on the difficulties experienced with magneto-type ignition systems for automotive use. This point-style ignition was such a success that it was ultimately used in production cars until the mid-1970s.
The primary service components were the points, condenser, cap and rotor, and the ignition coil was separate from the distributor. The distributor was driven by a gear on the camshaft or, in some cases, an intermediate shaft. When rotating, the ignition points opened and closed off a cam located on the distributor shaft.
How did it all work together? It starts with understanding how an ignition coil works. The ignition coil has primary and secondary windings. When current flows through the primary winding, a magnetic field is created that surrounds the secondary windings. When the current flow is interrupted, the magnetic field collapses and induces high voltage in the secondary windings. The voltage and current from the secondary windings are directed to the spark plugs through the plug wires, distributor cap and rotor.
Inside the distributor, the points are the switch that controls the flow of current through the primary windings of the coil. When the points are closed, the current flows and the coil becomes saturated. When they open, current flow ceases, the magnetic field collapses and high voltage travels to ground through the spark plugs. The reason that the secondary voltage is boosted to such a high level is that the primary winding of a coil contains approximately 200 turns of wire. The secondary windings may contain 20,000 or 30,000. This is why 12 volts supplied to a coil can be transformed into voltages of 20,000, to as high as 50,000.
link hidden, please login to view By understanding these fundamentals and the fact that ignition coils can differ in the number of windings and ultimately their output, you can see how the amount of and how long the current that flows through the primary side of the coil will affect coil output. Since the amount of time that the points are closed controls how long the current flows through the coil, the critical nature of point adjustment (dwell) becomes apparent.
Now that we know where the spark comes from and how it gets to the plugs, there’s one component left to explain: the condenser. As the points open, current will attempt to continue to flow across them by arcing. The condenser quickly absorbs and dissipates this electrical energy and does the following two things: It eliminates arcing between the points, which would burn them up quickly; and it also puts an abrupt stop to the current flow through the coil, making the magnetic field collapse quickly for more accurate spark control.
So, what is electronic ignition? After all, the points and condenser work off basic electronic principles, right? When electronic ignition first came out in the early 1970s, it (sometimes called transistorized ignition) was still a distributor with a cap, rotor and plug wires and, in many cases, a separate coil. It actually didn’t look different at all until GM released its High Energy Ignition (HEI) distributor, which housed the coil in the distributor cap and was visually much different.
What was different was the points and condenser were gone! No more regular adjustments or regular maintenance; the points were replaced by electronic pickups made with solid-state components. The most common was a Hall-effect unit, which passed a rotating magnetic field in front of a Hall-effect pickup that would detect the magnetic field. Solid state meant the electronic components themselves had no moving parts; their operation is based on fundamental electronic theory.
Electronic-ignition distributors were much superior to their point-and-condenser counterparts. One of the biggest drawbacks to points was that the rubbing block that contacted the cam on the distributor shaft wears constantly during use. Even though a set of points may ultimately last 10,000 miles, for example, since the rubbing block continuously wears, the dwell continuously changes, which causes the timing to change and the output of the coil as well.
It’s easy to think, “If the rubbing block wears, the points will be closed longer. Won’t this allow more time for the coil to saturate, resulting in a higher voltage output?” This is not the case. The correct dwell setting ensures that the coil will be completely saturated. It’s true if the points aren’t closed long enough the coil won’t have enough time to saturate. But if they’re closed too long, that also means they’re not open long enough. If they are not open long enough, the field in the coil will not have sufficient time to collapse and produce the necessary voltage for proper spark before current begins to flow back into the primary side of the coil again.
link hidden, please login to view So, electronic ignition eliminated the wear and maintenance problems associated with points and condenser, but all electronic ignition distributors were not created equal. Enter GM’s HEI. Another drawback to points was they don’t last long under a constant 12 volts, so voltage through the coil and to the points was limited by either a ballast resistor or a resistance wire, depending on vehicle make. During cranking, the resistance was bypassed so full battery voltage would be supplied to the coil for starting, but then when the key was released to the “Run” position, voltage was limited.
The lower voltage limited coil output and even after switching over to electronic ignition, some systems retained use of the ballast resistor, limiting ignition-coil output. GM’s HEI utilized full battery voltage all the time, and the result was an ignition system with a much higher output.
Another aspect of ignition is that the higher the rpm, the greater the spark requirement. As engine rpm increases on a point-style ignition – even with the dwell set properly – the amount of actual time the points remain closed is less, resulting in a less time for the coil to saturate and less spark when the engine needs it the most.
GM’s HEI was designed so that the dwell increases as engine rpm increases, providing high rpm performance as well as high output and dependability – whereas some systems retained fixed dwell. If you’ve been around old cars, you’re probably familiar with all of the different variations and names of electronic ignition systems throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. The only one that stayed the same was GM’s HEI. Everyone else followed their lead.
Before we get into selling components, which will be a walk in the park for you now, we’ll touch quickly on distributor advance. Two types of timing advance can be found in distributors: vacuum and mechanical. Sometimes they have only one type, sometimes both. Timing advance is required because once ignited, the air/fuel mixture in a cylinder does not burn instantly. It takes a certain amount of time to burn. The higher the engine rpm, the earlier the mixture must be ignited to reach the full burn, or maximum pressure at the precise time to force the piston down.
This gets deep into engine theory and design, but the fact is that having the correct amount of advance at precisely the correct time has a monumental effect on engine performance. Mechanical advance uses weights that move outward from centrifugal force. As they move outward, they rotate the base plate of the distributor that supports either the points or electronic trigger mechanism. The higher the rpm, the more mechanical advance is applied until its mechanical limit is reached. Mechanical advance can be “tuned” using different weights or springs.
Vacuum advance also rotates the same base plate of a distributor, but in response to engine-ported vacuum. The more vacuum applied, the greater the advance. This is utilized for low-rpm advance before the mechanical advance spins fast enough to come into play.
Selling Distributor Components
What can you capitalize on when selling distributor components? Cap, rotor, plugs and plug wires might be the easier topics, and they’re what a lot of people just ask for. The cap, rotor and wire condition generally can be determined through visual inspection, but if it’s time for a tuneup, a vehicle has a misfire or the customer can’t remember when they were done last, the door is open and it’s a perfect time to sell.
Never guarantee that a cap, rotor and wires will solve a misfire or running problem. But, they can degrade from use and age, and they’re true maintenance items, so don’t forget to point that out.
Spark plugs are a maintenance item that you almost can’t do too often. Some late-model vehicles that still have distributors have efficient fuel-injection systems and engine controls, and the plugs will last for a long time. It doesn’t make sense to unnecessarily replace a good expensive set of plugs on a fuel-injected vehicle, but I shy away from the really high replacement intervals like 100,000 miles. If someone hits 90,000 and says, “It doesn’t call for them until 100,000,” it’s time for plugs in my opinion (they’re getting worn regardless).
For older vehicles with less efficient fuel and ignition systems, the plugs need to be replaced more often. OE-style plugs are the best to recommend with any system, and if it’s a classic that isn’t driven as much, don’t be afraid to recommend a fresh set.
Most vehicle owners will know if they have points and condenser. When old cars were driven daily, points and condenser were replaced at least once a year, just because of mileage. It’s not necessary to do this now, since most cars with these systems don’t see a whole lot of miles. But, like before, if someone opens the door and can’t remember when they were done last, sell them the parts.
It’s always a good idea to clean up the points and adjust dwell, however. If you stock any basic tools, a nice upsell is a point file, a dwell meter, a spark plug gauge and a timing light. This will cover the standard maintenance requirements of a point-type ignition and if they have electronic ignition, just the spark plug gauge and timing light will do.
When someone is doing an ignition tuneup, be sure to ask them about the condition of their distributor-advance components. Vacuum-advance diaphragms go bad from time to time, so they should be checked and replaced, if necessary. Mechanical weights should be taken off and their pivot points cleaned and lubricated. In many cases, the mechanical-advance weights pivot on bushings that commonly wear out, and the weights themselves can have grooves worn in them if they haven’t been lubricated on a regular basis. It’s all a great opportunity for an upsell.
Additional distributor components include seals and bushings and also the electrical connectors that plug into them (pigtails). If someone is removing their distributor for service, a new seal makes sense, but bushings are a harder sell since most people will generally buy a new distributor if the bushings are worn. But, the sale could be yours if you’re the one who helps them understand their distributor. Worn bushings are common on higher-mileage distributors and easy to spot on an oscilloscope, but since nobody really has one of those sitting around in their garage, they’re easy to check by grabbing the distributor shaft and attempting to rock it back and forth.
Any noticeable play means the bushings are worn. Since the trigger wheel or points are driven directly off of the distributor shaft, just imagine what will happen to dwell and timing if this shaft is rocking back and forth in worn bushings.
Dielectric grease is another great upsell. Forget about the silly little packets that give you just enough to get your finger or an application brush greasy – sell them a tube. No, you don’t need to, nor should you use an excessive amount of it, but it’s frustrating to deal with such a small amount. Plus, you can remind your customer of all the additional electronic uses for dielectric grease (don’t let the name throw you off).
Dielectric grease does not conduct electricity at all. What it does do is seal electric components from moisture, which is why you can find it in a lot of electrical connectors and in bulb sockets. This was the original intention of it: to prevent moisture and corrosion from occurring. An added benefit is that when used on plug-wire boots, it keeps moisture out but also keeps the boot from sticking onto a spark plug or distributor cap, making removal much easier.
An oddball – but one you will run across – is heat-transfer compound. You also may hear this referred to as thermal grease, thermal compound or even heat-sink compound. Have you ever removed an ignition module or other electronic module from either inside a distributor or another location and found that it had grease underneath? This is a compound that is specially formulated so that it transfers heat from the module to the mounting location. It is a true heat sink and very important. Modules that originally were installed with this will overheat if the proper compound is not reused.
A Few More Add-Ons
Just a few final things can finish off the perfect ignition-tuneup shopping cart. When someone is working on a vehicle that is from the early ‘70s, don’t forget to see if their car has a ballast resistor. (You’ll get used to these applications pretty quickly.) They commonly go bad and cause a no-start. It’s never bad to have an extra one in your glovebox.
For the old point-style distributors, there is a specific grease for the distributor cam to lubricate the ignition-point rubbing block. Some points may come with a small packet. If not, be sure to recommend it. Anti-seize also is a good upsell, but it’s not necessary all the time. Make sure you recommend the proper use.
If the plugs are located in a deep well – like a lot of double overhead-cam engines – advise your customer to check for the presence of oil. They may need a valve-cover gasket. And, last but not least, a light lubricating or penetrating oil is nice to have on hand. Many distributors have metal clips that hold the cap in place. These clips commonly get rusty where they attach to the distributor, and it’s nice to work some lubricant in and free them up. It makes it much easier to reinstall the cap.
This might be a lot, but when you have the knowledge, your customer will keep coming back.
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