The growing need for alignment services
Driving style and road conditions often dictate the frequency of need, most sources recommend an alignment service every 10,000 miles, 1 to 3 years or with each new set of tires, however for most cars, there are no stated requirements from vehicle manufacturers. An article from www.testingautoscom recommends more frequent intervals if wider tires are used or if one drives a sports car. If the car hits something in the road such as a large pothole, the alignment will likely be off and require adjustment. With an estimated 255.8 million passenger vehicles on the road in 2013, (link) and growing each year, It is clear that this translates to a huge potential demand for customers needing alignments.
What is an alignment?
Simply stated, an alignment makes sure the vehicle’s wheels are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. A more detailed review of alignments can be found here
How an alignment is performed
An effective alignment will utilize sensors which are measured by a computer and compared against the specifications recommended for your specific model. A camera unit (sometimes called a "head") is attached to a specially designed clamp which holds on to a wheel. There are usually four camera units in a wheel alignment system (a camera unit for each wheel). The camera units communicate their physical positioning with respect to other camera units to a central computer which calculates and displays the results. Often with alignment equipment, these "heads" can be a large precision reflector. In this case, the alignment systems contains the cameras as well as arrays of LEDs. This system flashes one array of LEDs for each reflector while cameras "look for" an image of the reflectors patterned face. (link) The tire and rim assemblies are thoroughly inspected to make sure that all of the weight is evenly distributed across the tire. In addition to all of the checks on the wheels, the suspension system must be considered which holds everything in place. Once this information is verified, the angles of the wheels are calculated. After this has been established, specialized tools are used to finely tune the alignment to provide long lasting benefits for tire wear and drivability.
Alignments can be done on 2-wheels or 4-wheels. Most mechanics will recommend purchase of a 4 wheel alignment to ensure the best results. This service should be completed by a properly trained professional who has the tools and equipment necessary to properly diagnose and measure the angles (link).
Symptoms of a Misaligned Vehicle
Some of the common complaints from customers driving misaligned cars are “pulling” of the car to one side or the other. Uneven tire wear and needing to replace tires more often than expected is frequently due to misalignment. Tire wear patterns indicative of alignment problems are excessive wear or feathering on the inside or outside edges of one or both of the front tires, and diagonal wear pattern.
What are benefits of Wheel Alignment?
A properly performed alignment can enhance tire performance and service life by evening the tread surface on the road. This will lead to increased fuel efficiency and safer and more comfortable driving. During the alignment process, technicians can inspect the suspension system at the same time and detect worn and broken components. Furthermore, alignments save on tire replacements which are more expensive.
Benefits to your business?
According to www.autoservicecosts.com , the average cost of an alignment across the United States is $115, with a range of prices spanning from $75 on the low end to $159 on the high end. An alignment service begins and ends with a test drive and takes about an hour to complete. Many shops subcontract or refer this work out. Adding this service line to your tire repair business has several benefits: customers and revenues stay with your business. The additional revenues and service expertise increase the value of your business. Adding this service line requires a sizable capital investment. however once the investment is paid off, other than what you pay your mechanic, the rest is high margin revenue. The suspension work you will get on ball joints, etc, as a by-product of alignment inspections is also highly profitable work.
How long to get a Return on Investment (ROI)?
To assemble an alignment rack, a suitable lift is needed, as well as an alignment system. A good alignment system that provides customers with color print outs is available for about $10K ~ $15K. With this initial investment, if a shop did 3 alignment services per day at $100 each for 20 days/month, the business would generate new gross revenues of $6K/month. If one includes overhead, parts and labor, a return on investment can be expected in 4 - 6 months. Offering free screens to customers is a proven approach to building your alignment business. One of the alignment equipment manufacturers, Ravaglioli, has added a new twist to screening with a unique Bluetooth-enable feature that allows technicians to do rapid alignment screening on cars not on the alignment rack- they can be done hundreds of feet away in the parking lot via wireless controller and sensors, which could dramatically increase your identification of vehicles that need alignment services. Providing the customer with a color print out of the misaligned angles before and with a second print out after the service has improved the alignment is a powerful tool to inform and reassure the customer about their purchase.
Comparison of equipment
We have selected three brands of alignment equipment in the same price range of $10K ~ $15K to review for this article.
|The Ravaglioli 8-liner is a non-tower system which uses 8 sensors and features a smart phone or tablet remote control, and as mentioned previously, the ability to quickly scan vehicles with mobile sensors that be taken out of the alignment bay and used in the parking lot. Another advantage of the tower-free 8-liner is that it can be easily moved to different lifts in the shop which provides maximum flexibility.|
|Ranger makes the Target 3Dpro which features a rapid scan system. It uses a tower system which houses the LEDs, similar to the Hunter equipment. A tower based system may be an obstacle and create challenges with space limits in a busy automotive shop.|
|The Hunter ProAlign alignment system is a popular alignment system that also uses a tower configuration. It features a rapid scan system.|
Depending on options, all three brands use very similar technology. Your choice will come down to features you like on a particular machine and as always the price point that suits your budget.
For more information on alignment equipment for light vehicles or heavy duty use contact Jimmy Hill at 832-972-5000 (cell) or 713-956-6665 (office)
- Tire Industry Association. Automotive Tire Service Manual. 2011 ed.
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