Quiet Down

Dec 3, 2009

Today’s economy requires restylers to find additional new customers. To do that, try thinking inside the box, the one your customers are sitting in: their pickup, SUV, minivan or car. Then take advantage of it: Quiet their ride from the inside by installing insulation that reduces noise, vibration and heat.

Noise, vibration and heat are the three things drivers don’t want in their vehicle. In fact, according to Tim Cox, founder and president of Quiet Ride Solutions, Stockton, Calif., a recent national survey found that new-car buyers listed road and engine noise as the major complaints about their new vehicles.

That means virtually every one of your customers’ vehicles can benefit from less noise, vibration and heat (NVH). You can install the NVH insulation that reduces distractions, driver fatigue and passenger discomfort to increase your business.

This article is an overview of noise, vibration and heat insulation materials that restylers can install in today’s vehicles. It’s not an exhaustive “how-to” guide, but it provides restylers information they need to consider when entering the NVH installation market. This article shares ideas about how to find and sell NVH insulation to current or potential customers. It also includes information as to why, where and how NVH insulation is installed. Finally, this article includes in a separate sidebar installation tips and guidance about what to charge for NVH insulation installations.

Serve existing and new customers

The noise, vibration and heat insulation market has evolved beyond the automotive restoration, street rod hobbyist or audiophile to include your current and potential customers. Whether your customer is an outdoorsman with a five-hour drive to his cabin, a soccer mom hearing about her player’s goal or an audiophile searching for better speaker performance, there’s NVH insulation products that can improve their ride.

Your current customer’s vehicles are an add-on revenue source from NVH insulation. If you’ve installed aftermarket wheels and tires, exhaust or intake system or other accessory, chances are, it added to the noise, vibration or heat entering the vehicle. You can reduce it by installing NVH insulation.

NVH products are available for virtually every vehicle, from antique, classic and collectible cars to the latest car, truck, van, CUV or SUV. Target new customers such as commuters who drive smaller cars with less NVH insulation.

NVH sources

After you have identified an NVH insulation customer, research and plan the installation. To know what material to install to reduce NVH, know the sources.

Noise, vibration and heat come from a vehicle itself as it drives down the road, vibrating and generating noise. The energy from the vibration of the suspension and chassis components interacting with the road transfers to the vehicle’s body components. Heat from the engine, exhaust and road radiates through the firewall and floor, as well. People inside feel the vibration, hear it as noise and feel the heat. Insulating the body panels dampens the vibration and noise and reduces heat intrusion.

Today’s vehicles produce a lot of noise in the passenger cabin where it has little or no sound dampening or insulation, particularly in the rear quarter panels and trunk area. This is your opportunity to install NVH insulation that dampens, absorbs and blocks NVH.

What to install where

NVH insulation comes in several sound-deadening materials, including dampeners, absorbers and barriers. Dampeners are the most common NVH material. Installed dampeners reduce body panel resonance and absorb structural vibrations of a vehicle’s metal parts and convert it to low-level heat. The most common dampener is matting that usually consists of a thin layer of aluminum, attached butyl rubber layer and an adhesive with a self-adhesive, peel-off backing. Dampeners are easy to install in most vehicles and require minimal preparation, training and tools.

Dampeners are used throughout a vehicle, including firewall, floor, doors, trunks, quarter panels and roofs to reduce NVH intrusion.

Absorbers literally absorb sound waves as they travel through the absorber, reducing the sound level. Absorbers are typically open- or closed-cell foam mat used on floors and firewalls to reduce road, engine and exhaust noise.

Barriers block or reflect airborne noise from passing through it. They typically comprise a layer of foam and vinyl mat used on floors and firewalls to reduce road, engine and exhaust noise.

Several manufacturers advocate a multi-stage approach by combining a dampener, absorbers and barriers to reduce noise and heat intrusion into a vehicle passenger compartment. This involves applying a layer of dampener or absorber material followed by a barrier layer.

Dampener insulating material is applied in patches covering 25%-50% of an area of a specific body panel to prevent it from resonating, or to an entire area to create a sound barrier and thermal insulator.

NVH insulation material can be applied to virtually any reachable vehicle’s interior surface. Most NVH material manufacturers recommend treating a vehicle in the following order: doors, trunk or hatch area, rear deck, floor, roof, hood and fenders/quarter panels. According to Paul Messett of Cascade Audio Engineering, Bend, Ore., in many vehicles, the floor is the most significant area for improvement.

For vehicle-specific noise, vibration and heat reduction and installation advice, consult the material manufacturers or other shops and individuals who’ve successfully installed NVH insulation in a particular vehicle that you plan to work on.

The source of the noise and the vehicle owner’s desired results may affect the areas and order of installation as well. For example, a vehicle owner with an aftermarket exhaust may want his floor insulated first before the doors. An audiophile customer may want his doors and trunk treated to improve car audio system performance.

Tim McCarthy, owner of HushMat, Lenexa, Kan., also recommends installing his company’s 1/8″ Silencer Megabond foam to the back of A, B, C pillar trim and also to the back of any trim panel that is loose or is squeaking as a result of rubbing against metal or other plastic. “A” refers to the pillars that support the roof and windshield; “B” refers to pillars behind the front passenger seat (not all vehicles have these-such as hardtops and convertibles); and “C” refers to pillars behind the rear passenger seat that support the roof and rear window.

Application kits and bulk packs

Most manufacturers offer NVH materials kits for door, trunk, firewall/dash, floor, roof, hood and speaker applications as well as “bulk packs.” More than one manufacturer sells NVH material in both silver and black foil backing that doesn’t reflect light in areas where the material is visible after installation.

Bulk packs of material are available in various numbers of sheets of material to cover a specific square footage of area. Several companies also offer vehicle specific kits. For example, Dynamat Xtreme is available as “Dynamat Custom Cut” packages that are CNC pre-cut for a limited number of popular vehicles. Quiet Ride Solutions offers its AcoustiShield kits that are year, make and model specific for more 750 vehicles and Firewall Insulator panels for 600 specific vehicles from 1926 through 2010.

For more information

All of the noise, vibration and heat materials manufacturers have websites complete with product descriptions, specifications, installation instructions, sample kits, customer installations and forums. Many include step-by-step illustrated installation instructions.

HushMat’s website includes application guides for different vehicle segments, such as compact to large cars, small and large trucks, SUVs, crossover vehicles and minivans, and even a 1930s coupe and 1940s sedan. Each guide lists sample vehicles in the segment and includes the recommended square-footage for application areas; floor, firewall, doors, trunk, roof and hood, and the total square-footage of material needed to treat the complete vehicle. Typical square-footages range from about 75 sq. ft. for a subcompact car or truck, 110 sq. ft. for a full size pickup, small SUV or crossover, up to 180 sq. f. for a large SUV. Measure the actual vehicle installation area prior to purchasing the insulation.

Dynamat’s website features vehicle-solution lab-test sheets that include recommendations for installations in eight fairly typical vehicles that are restylers’ customers. The vehicles include three full-size pickups, an SUV, a minivan, a sports car and a street rod. Each includes a summary of the noise eliminated (measured in dB), increase in audio bass, material cost and installation time for expert, average or novice installer and of the installed material. These vehicle specific solutions can help you determine how much to charge for various installations.

Dynamat offers its DCU, or Dynamic Control University, an online course of product knowledge. In addition, HushMat offers an installation DVD that includes step-by-step installation. More than one supplier offers installation instructions in Spanish. The manufacturers answer installation and technical questions via phone and e-mail, as well.

How much quieter?

Although the effectiveness of a noise/vibration/heat installation is obvious during the first mile of driving, it can be measured, too. According to Dynamat, applying its product to doors can reduce road noise from 3dB-6dB. Complete coverage of an average vehicle can reduce road noise 9dB, 12dBor even 18dB.

“We have reduced the level of noise by 12 to 15 dB with our pre-cut AcoustiShield auto insulation kits,” says Cox, of Quiet Ride Solutions. “Typically, our products stop at least 50% of the noise within the passenger cabin and reduce the effect of radiant heat by 25-30 degrees.”

Promote your services

Once you’ve identified your customers, their applications and the noise, vibration and heat material needed for an installation, market to your targeted customers. Use available promotional materials and sales aids for marketing NVH insulation, including product literature, and countertop demonstration mock-ups. Use sample installation photos and customer testimonials. Consider creating a demonstration vehicle, as well.

When marketing your NVH installation services, consider using a modular approach to build repeat customers. “If the customer is already convinced after the floor is insulated, they can come back to have the doors done to maximize their audio system’s performance,” explains Cascade Audio’s Messett.

What to charge

According to Dynamat, installation charges are typically between 25% and 30% of the cost of the NVH material or whatever your normal shop rate for disassembly and reassembly of the interior panels covering the area insulated.

Messett agrees with sticking to your hourly rate –  and no more –  when calculating installation charges. “Be realistic how long the project is going to take,” recommends Messett. “Decide whether there will be one or two people working on the project. With two people, you can cut install time.”

The next time someone challenges you to think outside the box, remember empty boxes make the most noise and reducing that noise means additional revenue and customers.