Quickly Educating Customers About GDI Issues

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Gasoline direct injection engines were first developed in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until about 20 years ago that auto manufacturers began introducing this technology into commercial vehicles. With a GDI engine, gasoline is sprayed directly where the combustion chamber is the hottest, and this allows for a more thorough and even burn of fuel. For drivers, GDI means increased fuel efficiency along with high power output and more accurately controlled emissions levels.

The downside, however, is carbon buildup can occur on the intake valves, and this, in turn, can hurt fuel economy and result in sluggish acceleration. Many drivers might not realize the cause for their vehicle’s performance issues, but the right cleaning products can make a world of difference.

“A lot of people don’t realize all gasoline will leave deposits,” said Rusty Waples, global group brand manager for Gumout Performance Additives. “Other factors will also play a role too, and this includes the type of environment where the car is driven and even the type of driving they do.”

In other words, no two engines will be the same; buildup is due to many factors. However, as more manufacturers introduce GDI engines into their cars to meet upcoming Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards, there will be pros and cons. One con is carbon buildup, which at its worst, could require a complete engine tear down to clean properly. However, educating the customer during routine maintenance can save them the headaches related to performance issues and time and money when an engine tear down is avoided.

“It really comes down to explaining the differences in the engines and getting to the details, so the customer can understand these key points,” Waples said. “It is necessary to educate drivers about the fact that this type of system has carbon deposits that can build up specifically on the intake valves. Also, while there is a lot of talk about valves being a major issue, you can’t ignore the direct injectors either.”

Since the injectors in a GDI engine are located in the combustion chamber, they are subjected to extreme heat, in excess of 500 degrees, and a great deal of pressure — facts many customers are not aware of — and this is where carbon buildup can occur. Customers might not understand what it takes to clean carbon deposits from their GDI engines.

“A typical fuel injector cleaner won’t have the type of detergent or the amount of detergent necessary to remove the build up,” Waples said.

Explaining these facts to the customer requires a knowledgeable staff, but also the proper information to make it clear for those with little to no knowledge of the workings of a typical gasoline combustion engine.

“The staff needs to comprehend these facts, especially the ones who are engaging with the customers,” Waples said. “The key here is to have information that can be easily understood, such as a diagram that can show the internals of a port injected engine vs. a GDI system. The other part of this is to make sure the customer is made aware they have a GDI engine.”

This may not always be easy, given that many shops do their best to ensure customers are serviced quickly and sent back down the road. As a result, the efficiency the quick lube industry was built around actually serves to undermine the ability to provide proper education. Waples suggested this information can be provided without making the customer wait or feel as if they are engaging in an engines 101 class.

“If the computer system doesn’t call out that the car has a GDI engine, techs can still ask the customer what they know about their vehicle’s engine [and how it’s been performing] and use the brief [interaction] time as way to educate the customer if they’re uncertain,” Waples said.

Some points to address include asking customers if they are experiencing slower acceleration, rough idle or not getting their expected gas mileage. Casting a spotlight on any potential problems is a way to engage customers, who want to protect their expensive investments and who will usually do what it takes to ensure their vehicles are serviced properly.

“Customers want the car to run like when they bought it, and while each engine design and [each person’s] driving habits are different, the right maintenance can make the difference,” Waples said. “One thing customers may not understand is that carbon buildup can occur soon after you drive the car off the lot and recommended service will help keep it clean.”

Another benefit for shops that have the space is a full-service complete fuel system cleaner, a great service that can be an additional profit center. Since the GDI service is an underhood service that doesn't require access to under the vehicle, the GDI service can be performed in other areas in or around the shop.

The fastest and most economical cleaning process involves introducing an aerosol-based fuel system cleaner via the air intake/throttle body. A more robust cleaning method involves introducing a liquid intake cleaner through a vacuum line. The vacuum line induction method requires application equipment to ensure vapor lock doesn’t occur during the process — but this is still much cheaper than tearing down the engine to clean the valves.

GDI service doesn't need to be complicated or require scientific analysis to explain to the customer. It is the old analogy, “you want to know the time or how to build a watch?” Simple questions will help you determine if the service can benefit your customer: how long has it been? do you still get the fuel mileage you once had? does the vehicle accelerate like it once did? does the vehicle perform like it used to?

Many customers are planning their summer driving vacation and want their vehicle to be achieving its top performance. Your customer comes to you because they want you to take care of their whole vehicle. You can take care of the fuel system by offering a complete fuel system cleaner and cleaning the deposits from their GDI engine.

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