Underhood’s three ‘B’s — battery, belts, and basics — drive service and parts sales

Fairfield, Calif.—When it comes to finding service opportunities, underhood has been undervalued since the advent of the 100,000-mile spark plug, Vaca Valley Auto Parts Vice President Trevor Martin said, adding that batteries, belts, and even some of the basics are being overlooked.


Outside Sales Manager Traci Taylor said, “I was making sales calls with our Dayco rep and it was interesting to find out how many techs are unaware of the material used in modern belts. With the new EPDM, rubber belts don’t crack, so you have to use a belt gauge to check for wear and stretch. Techs should be checking belts as a matter of habit as in the past, but using a gauge, not their eyes.”


Batteries are also often overlooked, Martin said, “We spent time in the field doing electrical-system checks and found two of 10 were close to failure.” he said. By testing the battery every time the hood is up, it creates a great opportunity to keep the customer informed about their vehicle and may prevent them from being stranded because of a bad battery.  


In today’s busy shop environment it is easy to miss some underhood preventive maintenance sales opportunities, such as belts, batteries, and cabin air filters, Martin said.


Outside the vehicle, shops need to be aware of the increased service opportunity for TPMS sensor replacement, he said, because TPMS sensors feature a small battery designed for approximately a five- year life span. They are now beginning to fail, requiring replacement of the sensor.  Martin said Standard Motor Products (SMP) offers a unique cloning tool that minimizes investment and still provides 90 percent vehicle coverage. Vaca Valley also stocks OE TPMS sensors through ACDelco and Motorcraft.


“Standard offers TPMS training online and lunch-and-learns. Every car since 2007 is equipped with TPMS, so the numbers requiring service will continue to grow,” Martin said.


Vaca Valley offers many training opportunities, including brakes, emissions, charging systems, and shop management, and classes are also available through a variety of its suppliers, Taylor said. “ACDelco is absolutely one of the best. There is a cost associated, but it is well worth the commitment.”


Training is held in a classroom or shop, and available online, live, and archived. Lunch-and-learns and live Webinar classes are also popular, she added. “The live Webinar classes allow for questions and interaction, adding the benefit of clarification of point or detail. Archived classes can be called up for review or shared with co-workers.”


“Family” is a common theme throughout Vaca Valley. “It’s who we are,” Martin said. “We are a local family business operating under the Federated Auto Parts flag. My dad started this business in 1974 and our employees are the reason we are still here. Our ethics are the same as when we opened: to supply quality parts, outstanding service, and fast delivery to our customers.”


The business, in the same location since 1961, was originally a National Auto Parts store, President and CEO Jack Martin said. “Myself, my wife Evelyn and two others purchased the business in 1974 and I became sole owner the following year in 1975,” he said. “We have always implemented the latest technology; it has been one of the keys to our success.”


New school and old school collide when it comes to the Vaca Valley delivery vehicles and their drivers. “Our Prius C hybrids have saved us 25 percent in fuel and maintenance costs,” Martin said. “We went from a truck that got 18 MPG to the Priuses that are averaging 55.1 MPG. Our drivers are some of our oldest employees. Our top dog, Ed Plaschak, is 80 years young, and still outworks the youngest. Ed has been with us for more than 18 years and is a customer favorite”.


Vaca Valley’s fleet of delivery vehicles make more than 375 deliveries a day, Martin said, and it carries a host of Federated premium offerings as well as Motorcraft and ACDelco. Top-selling brands include Raybestos, East Penn, Dayco, Standard Motor Products, USA Industry, Denso, Federal Mogul, and KYB. Vaca Valley utilizes their fleet to pick up parts out of their local area to ensure their customers’ needs are met. “By scouring the surrounding area, such as Sacramento, it allows us to offer same-day service for much more than what is on our shelf.  We’re old school in that we still try to be everything to everybody,” he said.


Taylor said the company’s move to embrace technology more than 10 years ago had been an advantage. “Trevor pushed us to use all of the technology offered through Federated and Mind-Quest for Internet parts ordering and marketing, which gave us a jump as others came up to speed,” she said, adding that 80 percent of their sales is wholesale, of which 35 percent comes from the Internet.


The Federated Car Care program provides independent installers with the business and marketing tools they need to succeed, Taylor said.  Some of the benefits include free roadside assistance, access to a nationwide warranty, nationwide Car Care locator, business listing, a variety of training resources, and shop management software.


Vaca Valley also has an in-house machine shop, Mike’s Machine Works, Martin said. “Mike’s been very good for us. He does great work and he takes pride in what he does, and it shows. Press work, machine work, such as flywheels and heads, are something he does every day. Cylinder heads are his speciality. With our coverage of Solano, Napa, and Yolo counties, we are able to pick up and deliver machine work along with our parts.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.

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