Some brake components may not move as fast as pads and rotors, but they give the specialist a chance to meet a need and earn future business.
By Steve Relyea
Brake pads and rotors are the biggest portion of the brakes aftermarket, and perhaps one of the biggest in the entire aftermarket. Those parts are meant to wear, and they do, and they need to be replaced.
Other brake system components are more rarely used, but can be critical when it comes to getting the customer’s vehicle back on the road. Did a brake hose get broken while the vehicle was being worked on? Or a wheel stud? If so, the customer needs that part, now.
We asked our panel of import parts specialists about the brake parts that are not pads or rotors, including calipers, master cylinders, hoses, and brake fluid We asked about the options that are available, the ones these specialists have chosen to stock, and why.
“The brake pad business is good and always will be, but the add on sale of other parts isn’t there anymore,” said Dick Moore, Foreign Car Parts, Dallas, Texas. “Our economy has a large part in what our consumers are doing!
“Brake hoses are a critical item to have.
I’m not promising anybody that they are
going to get dynamic inventory turns on it,
but when one is needed, it’s an image
— Jerry Spradlin
“The late-model hydraulics, we don’t sell that many, for some reason. Whether they are building it better on these cars or whether people are taking better care of their cars, I’m not really sure, but we don’t sell what we used to sell in the past.
“Now, we still sell a lot of the older-style hydraulics. You know, here in Texas, a 20-year-old car is nothing. It’s not like being in the Northeast where they have the salt and chemicals that cause damage. One of our locations just sold front and rear shocks for a 280Z last week.
“Most people don’t want to build calipers anymore. We used to sell a lot of kits, but times have changed. Calipers are very reasonably priced. Why take the chance of tearing it apart, putting it back together, and having it leak and you have to buy a caliper anyhow?
“We do really well with calipers. We go semi-loaded. We’ve tried everything. We had the bare, then we went loaded, and then we went to the semi-loaded. We are always changing to what our customers need.
“The issue now is, in a lot of cases, with the economy the way it is, people will only put on one side. That is pretty common today. It’s just the retail people and the smaller shops that are out to make a sale any way they can. If it’s just one caliper that is bad, they will only replace the bad one.
“Brake hoses, we used to sell a lot. There are certain cars we sell brake hoses for, but we don’t sell hoses like we used to. We continue to offer a large inventory with any kind of brake hose you can imagine.
“One of the other factors out there, too, when you’re doing these brakes, is you have to carry wheel studs and nuts. Guys jump out there with these impact wrenches and they mess things up. They don’t torque the wheel studs like they should. A lot of these cars today, you have to be so very careful when you are putting stuff back on. So we end up selling a lot of wheel studs and nuts.”
“We offer loaded or semi-loaded calipers, depending upon the vehicle,” said Mike Farling, M&C Foreign Car Parts, Mechanicsburg, Pa. “The older the vehicle, the more likely the customer is to do a semi-loaded caliper. The newer the vehicle, the more likely they are to do a loaded one.
“A lot of customers buy only one caliper. If they can buy a loaded caliper, they don’t have to buy pads for the other side. I think it’s more likely that we sell one caliper than we do two — it’s that much.
“I think that’s because of the economy being the way it is. Obviously, most of the shops will recommend that their customers replace both of the calipers, but lots of times the customers don’t. The customers will ask, ‘Well, how much is it to do one?’ Then, when they find out how much it is, they only do one.
“I don’t stock a lot of master cylinders. We sell a few, but it’s few and far between. There’s not a lot being sold, because of the quality of the original equipment. We just don’t get a lot of calls for them. Very seldom do we sell a brake master cylinder for a vehicle that is less than 10 years old.
“I stock new only, no rebuilts. I know that there’s rebuilt master cylinders available, but by the time they get the core in there, you’re paying more money for the product than you would for a new one. That’s why we stock new only.
“We are selling more and more brake hoses. We didn’t used to stock a lot, but now that we are stocking more, we are selling more. We saw some lost sales and I thought, ‘Well, let’s bring in some more just as an experiment.’ Now we are adding more and more numbers. Not a lot; we may add four or six numbers a month, but that adds up.
“There’s not a lot of dollars in brake hoses, but it’s an add-on and we do okay with them. It’s not expensive, either. Generally speaking, it’s not expensive to bring in 50 numbers or somewhere in that area. So, we do okay with them.
“Brake fluid is becoming ‘semi-specific.’ Some customers use a generic brake fluid. Others will say, ‘I’m working on a BMW, and I want the exact fluid that is supposed to be in there.’ We are seeing more and more of that on fluids — not just brake fluid, but all fluids — and I think it’s smart. They are eliminating a possible problem, and whenever you can do that, it’s smart business.
“I have a few customers that will only use specific brake fluids because of color. Some of the fluid is not clear, it is a specific color. You have to watch that with a lot of the European cars.
“I have other customers that will ask for clear brake fluid, because if it is not clear, they can’t tell if it is dirty or not. So, they will be specific as far as saying they want clear brake fluid for such and such a vehicle.
“We stopped stocking a particular brand because it was not clear. There was nothing wrong with it, but some of our customers wanted clear brake fluid. You gotta do what the customer wants, right? They’re the boss.”
“It appears that most WDs are conforming to semi-loaded calipers, leaving the choice of friction to the end user,” said Jerry Spradlin, Import Parts Solutions, Cincinnati, Ohio. “Some of that may be dictated by the volume brake people, the national chains who really sell brake calipers. They will frequently opt to use their own friction because of the warranties and what have you that they offer.
“Brake hoses are a critical item to have. I’m not promising anybody that they are going to get dynamic inventory turns on it, but when one is needed, it’s an image enhancement opportunity.
“In my experience, it has always been that the guy has sold a brake job and, in the process of taking the calipers off, the brake hose doesn’t survive. Then you are in a 4:30 Friday afternoon thing of, ‘I gotta have a brake hose!’
“When somebody called me at 4:30 and wanted to buy a brake hose, I would ask them who they bought their calipers from. If they said somebody else, I’d say, ‘I have it. Tell your primary supplier to come over and pick it up for you. Oh, by the way, I did have everything else you put on that car too, but I also have the brake hose.’
“I do feel brake hoses are a critical thing to stock if you are endeavoring to be a full-line Import WD or Global WD.
“Rein is now suggesting strongly to replace brake hoses in pairs. Manufacturers are saying that brake hoses don’t necessarily leak externally, but they can clog up internally, and that results in a lot of brake maladies. Just like my arteries did.
“Another thing that is worthy of mentioning is the DOT 4 Low Viscosity, or DOT 4 LV, brake fluid. Everybody is aware of DOT 4, but relatively few are aware of DOT 4 LV. You can use the DOT 4 LV to replace the DOT 4, but you can’t use the DOT 4 to replace the DOT 4 LV. DOT 4 LV has been used in Volkswagen and BMW vehicles sold in North America for the last eight years or so. If you are going to replace the fluid, or top up the fluid, that is what you need.
“There’s not that many choices in brake fluid, but fluids in general are evolving to the point where you are going to need a VIN number and look it up in a catalog. That’s true whether it be engine coolant, or engine oil, or gear oil, or double clutch fluid, or DOT 4 LV.”
“For the most part, we are going back to the semi-loaded calipers, which are the unloaded with the brackets,” said Nick Bauer, FCP Euro, Milford, Conn. “My customers seem to be brand-sensitive about the pads. Whether it be they want an OE pad, or a dustless pad, or a ceramic pad, we give them the option as to which one they want to pick, rather than let the caliper company select the pad for us.
“Supply issues on the late-model calipers have been tough. There’s not enough cores flying around, so it’s been tougher to get the OE ’09-and-up calipers.
“We do a few new OE-type calipers, but they are way too expensive. We do the European applications, mainly, when they are readily available and it’s a decent price or when the remans just aren’t there yet.
“I have stayed away from the aftermarket, Chinese, new calipers. I couldn’t validate the quality and I didn’t want to put any customer’s life at risk, because the caliper is an essential part for the car.
“There’s not as much demand for master cylinders anymore, but when you do get the demand, it seems to be a pretty good sale. Stuff that is just out of warranty is what we are getting the most calls on, and that’s where we are sourcing an OE-type option from ATE or FTE for the European cars.
“We don’t get a lot of calls for brake hoses, but we do try to sell a lot of them. We package them together with our brake kits, and we sell a lot of brake kits. Someone told me a while ago that the hoses only last a certain number of years and then they close up and don’t let enough brake fluid go through. The hoses are inexpensive enough that when the customer is already in there, they can just unscrew them and put new ones back on. There are some good quality manufacturers that have a fairly complete hose offering at a good price.
“There’s still just a couple of choices of brake fluid. The new ones seem to supersede all the other fluids. Some people are requesting racing fluid, which boils at a higher temperature. You know, I don’t think their regular fluid is going to boil, so to me that doesn’t make any sense, but we’re here to serve the customer, so we give them those options as well.”