Tips for dealing with Diesel Vehicles (and their Owners) on the Service Drive

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Ted Ings

Executive Director, CPI


By Ted Ings, Executive Director

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Sales of diesel vehicles are increasing along with the desire for greater fuel economy

Oil burners are around 25% more efficient than their gasoline counterparts, which means you’ll be seeing more and more of them on the service drive. Don’t shy away from these vehicles – get to know them now, so you’re ready next time one comes in.

How to take proper care of diesel vehicles and their owners

Diesel vehicles – and their owners – have unique needs. The following tips will help you increase satisfaction within this distinct customer base.

Have a basic understanding of modern diesel technology

Gasoline and diesel engines both use internal combustion technology, which means they rely on a series of explosions to create power. Although the underlying concept is the same, the two designs are very different:

• Gasoline engines: Require a precise air/fuel mixture and a correctly timed spark. A spark plug is used to ignite the air/fuel mixture. This process is called spark ignition.

• Diesel engines: Diesels, on the other hand, need the right amount of air and a correctly-timed injection of fuel. High pressure (and subsequent heat) is used to ignite the air/fuel mixture. This is referred to as compression ignition.

Generally, diesel engines are classified according to their method of fuel injection. Most late model designs fit into one of the following categories:

• Common rail: As the name implies, pressurized fuel is delivered to the injectors on a common rail. The injectors are then opened and closed electronically. An example is the 6.6L GM Duramax.

• Hydraulic unit injection (HEUI): Uses pressurized engine oil to operate the fuel injectors. An example is the 6.0L Ford Powerstroke.

• Electronic unit injector (EUI): Uses the engine camshaft to operate the fuel injectors. An example is the Volkswagen 1.9L TDI.

Diesels used to be considered primitive mechanical beasts – but not anymore. Modern units feature computer-controls and gobs of emissions equipment. Almost all of the temperamental technology found on gasoline-powered machines is also found on diesels. Keep that in mind next time you have one of these vehicles in for service drive.

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Remember – diesels aren’t completely different from traditional vehicles

Diesel vehicles aren’t completely different. They still have most of the same maintenance items found on gas-powered cars. There are a few things to keep in mind while performing your inspection on the service drive:

• Diesel engine oil is almost always black – even right after being changed. Looking at the customer's history, or the service stickers on the window is the best way to determine if maintenance is due.

• Intake air volume is critical to diesel engine performance. Most air cleaners found on diesel engines have a built-in restriction indicator, which can help you determine if it’s time to replace the air filter. But keep in mind the indicator isn’t always accurate – sometimes it doesn’t get reset after service.

• You can also check the 12-volt battery (although there may be two of them). Like conventional cars and trucks, these items must be serviced on a regular basis.

• Pay attention to any lights on the dash, such as regeneration, and low exhaust fluid level messages. Water in fuel warnings lights are also crucial, as they’re indicative of a potentially serious (and costly) problem.

Promote diesel service with the manufacturer maintenance schedule


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Diesels offer some unique service opportunities. For example, many have exhaust fluid that must be replenished and a fuel filter/water separator that requires service. Look up the maintenance schedule for every diesel vehicle that comes in to ensure you’re not missing anything.

Ask diesel owners about their vehicle and driving habits

Diesel vehicles – especially trucks – get rode hard and put away wet. Ask owners about their driving habits to provide better service. For example, if you have a customer who tows a massive trailer, it’s a good idea to recommend service more frequently than usual. The same holds true for commercial trucks and those driven in dust and dirt.

Finally, don’t forget to ask each customer about their vehicle. Has it been having any performance problems? Have any warning lights been popping on? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you’ll want to ask them if the vehicle is modified. Many diesel trucks are heavily customized which can cause all kinds of unusual problems. It’s helpful to give your service team a heads up before the vehicle rolls into the shop.

Be open-minded

Don’t be intimidated by diesels just because they’re different. Welcome these vehicles and their owners with enthusiasm. You never know – you might learn something new while also earning a loyal patron.