Posted by Armin H. Ausejo
If there’s anything that’s grown to bug me over the almost 4 years I’ve been working in the aftermarket industry, it’s how everyone seems to be an expert. I’m not referring to people who actually have years of experience modifying multiple cars and platforms or people who actually are experts in their given fields (read: accomplished and successful race car drivers and engineers). I’m talking about people who read something on a forum or a friend tells them something, and rather than actually doing their own research to verify its truthfulness or falsehood, simply take it as gospel. I’m also talking about people who have only modified one single car in their entire lifetime, but try to apply their own personal, completely anecdotal evidence to any and all applications and experiences.
So where is this coming from and why did I decide on this topic for my very first blog entry? Well, just lately in some of the work I’ve been doing for a couple companies, I’ve been faced with questions from potential customers that simply boggle my mind as to not only where they received their so-called “expert knowledge,” but also why they seem to be so argumentative over details that in reality won’t ever matter to them. To start things off, one of the companies I do work for is a manufacturer that sells its own brand of turbos and built motors. We get a lot of different questions for the products that we sell, but whenever I start to read a sentence that begins with “I heard on the forums that” or “I know for a fact that,” I start to cringe and begin my facepalm motion.
For example, one of these potential customers asked about the inlet size of one of our turbos, and after answering the question, they replied back with “But isn’t that too small? I’m worried that I’m not going to make X amount of horsepower with an inlet that small. Company XYZ uses a bigger one.” They ask this despite the fact that we have dyno charts, videos, and won races with this particular sized turbo that easily handles the power requirements of this potential customer. Given this proof, one would think that our research and development is sound, but perhaps this just isn’t the case. Why? I have no idea.
Another example from this same company tends to arise with the built motors. Potential customers often say something along the lines of “I know my car’s motor will blow up when I reach Z amount of horsepower, so I’d like to spend the least amount of money possible for me to reach Z horsepower safely.” First off, a car’s motor doesn’t have a Logan’s Run-like life limit, yet because people on forums have shared bad experiences at a certain amount of horsepower, people tend to believe it’s the truth before actually asking an expert their opinion.
However, as annoying as some of these questions to this company can be, they are in no way as bad as some of the questions I receive at the other company I mentioned. This other company is a suspension manufacturer, with its roots in developing suspensions for race cars and OEM applications alike. Our engineers are some of the best in the world that have proven themselves time and time again with their decades of experience in suspension manufacturing, tuning, and R&D. Nevertheless, despite all this actual real-world expertise, customers often question the products of this company simply because they do not release certain types of proprietary information.
A perfect example of this is with spring rates. I’m no suspension engineer myself, but I know for a fact that spring rates are by no means the one and only determining factor of how a car will ride and handle, nor are they even a good indication to begin with. You have to know if the springs are linear or progressive, where the progressive switch-over points are (if applicable), how the bump stops affect the ride and handling, how much the springs change the ride height, how much the suspension travels, and you need to know how the springs affect the overall suspension geometry; all of this needs to be known before even determining if the springs match the struts that they’ll be paired with. This all seems to go over people’s heads though, with comments often made such as “I’ll never buy or recommend a set of springs without knowing the spring rate. A company that won’t reveal spring rates is just trying to mislead and fool people by not providing all the facts.” Oh really? What happens if the springs are progressive, with 4 switch-over points and replacement bump stops? Will even providing a spring rate range help one determine if these springs will be bouncy, harsh, or perfect? Besides, how can one honestly recommend a set of springs (or any other product for that matter) to someone without their own personal experience with them to begin with? The fact is, the vast majority of these types of people, and by that I mean easily 90%, only have experience with their own car and haven’t ever tried out the parts they’re recommending or not recommending to people. Yet, because they have a loud voice or post a lot on the forums, they’re considered “experts” and people have a tendency to just believe them outright.
Unfortunately, in my opinion the biggest problems with this type of information overload come from manufacturers who use a bunch of numbers, charts, and their “expert opinions” to establish alleged facts. One potential customer recently asked us to convince him that our product was properly designed because another company posted up a bunch of numbers showing that the OEM struts were already “maxed out,” and thus it’s impossible for us to offer a set of springs that won’t blow them out. First off, to say a strut, any strut, is “maxed out” doesn’t even make any logical sense, but especially when it comes to an OEM strut. If the OEM struts were already at their absolute limit from the factory, then logically carrying a lot of passengers and cargo in the vehicle would essentially blow out the OEM struts in no time. I certainly can’t think of any modern car where this would happen, especially a car that’s catered to enthusiasts that will push the car to its limits in stock, unmodified form. Going along those same lines, is that to say that you can help bring the struts away from being “maxed out” by switching to a softer set of springs? This makes no sense either, since that’s simply not how automotive suspension works. As logical as this might sound here, since this other company has put the proverbial foot down on this subject, it absolutely must be the truth, correct? Of course, the best part of this supposed truth is that when the company is actually challenged to prove their claims, they refuse to produce the data for public scrutiny because all of the numbers would potentially mislead people.
So, when one company does not provide all of the (proprietary) data, it’s seen as being being misleading and devious, as if they’re trying to fool people into buying their product. However, when another company refuses to back up their claims and alleged facts with data because the data itself would potentially mislead people, that’s perfectly fine. Am I missing something here? Double standard, much?
These are just a few examples of how having too much information can actually cause you headaches when modifying your car. Thus, this is the best advice I can give to anyone modifying their car:
- Do your own research by listening to qualified opinions on the products you are considering.
- Don’t listen to people who try to give you advice on products with which they have zero personal experience.
- Don’t take a manufacturer’s opinions as truth. If they proclaim it as truth, then challenge them to back it up with data. Otherwise, it’s all marketing.
- Numbers aren’t everything. Unless you have an actual, detailed understanding of what all of the numbers and related factors mean, then you really shouldn’t need to worry about the numbers that much.
- And finally, try to get as many opinions as you can on a product, but definitely take them with a grain of salt. People are different after all.