Customers send their damaged vehicles to your body shop for repair. They’re trusting you to do whatever necessary to make it look and drive like new again – as soon as possible.
After spending hours straightening the frame or unibody, replacing parts and giving the vehicle a nice new coat of paint, it’s time to hand it off to another shop for alignment.
Why the second shop? Because you don’t have wheel alignment equipment. So, you send the vehicle off – giving up repair control and potential revenue – hoping the techs at the other shop perform an accurate alignment and get the vehicle back to you quickly so you can return it to the customer when you promised.
Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to.
Wheel service is a vital part of auto body repair and the repair process will likely require a wheel alignment. Someone needs to perform (and get paid for) that alignment – why not you?
Many collision shops don’t have the equipment needed to perform alignments or balance a tire. As a result, they typically outsource these services to specialty shops. Not only does this stretch out the cycle time, it also sends potential revenue out the door with the vehicle.
Having the capability to perform wheel alignments in-house also allows you to control the quality of the repairs to make sure they are done correctly. Your shop is liable and accountable to the customer. So, if you send the vehicle out for alignment and something wasn’t done right when the vehicle goes home with the customer, you’ll take the heat for it. And that could have long-lasting consequences.
Shops don’t have the luxury to increase cycle time while the vehicle is transported to multiple shops for repairs. Adding wheel service to your shop’s list of services positions you as a full-service provider.
Using pulling and measuring equipment alone to complete structural, suspension and steering work doesn’t ensure that the suspension and steering components can be put back to OEM specifications. The most critical consideration when doing collision wheel alignments is to first confirm that the structure is straight. If the structure isn’t returned to OEM specifications, the wheel alignment may not be correct, and would need to be redone after the structure issues are addressed.
Having the capability to do all the work needed without taking the vehicle off the rack improves efficiency, saves time and improves the accuracy of the repairs. Because you didn’t ship the vehicle off to another shop for a wheel alignment, you were able to maintain control of the repair process and ensure that it’s done right - and on time.
Impact of ADAS
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are being designed into increasing numbers of modern vehicles. These systems provide active safety systems for vehicle occupants and are powered by an electronic communication network that requires pinpoint accuracy.
Repair procedures for ADAS-equipped vehicles are OEM-specific and differ vehicle to vehicle. Because each OEM has its own set of calibration procedures, which can constantly change, technicians should look up the steps when repairing each vehicle. Some OEMs require the ADAS to be calibrated with a wheel alignment being part of that process.
Vehicles equipped with ADAS, especially lane keeping assist and front collision avoidance braking, need to be properly aligned with how the vehicle is traveling down the road. To accomplish this, cameras and sensors use different inputs from the vehicle, such as inputs from the steering angle sensor.
If the steering angle sensor is adjusted during a wheel alignment, the forward-facing camera, which controls the lane departure warning, may think the steering wheel is turned. This can signal the vehicle to correct the steering to stay on the road, even though the vehicle is traveling between the lines.
ADAS sensors rely on correct rear thrust angles. That means that accurate four-wheel alignments are now an even more important factor in road safety, as even the slightest misalignment can result in ADAS errors that could compromise safety.
It’s critical that body shops not make any assumptions or leave important calibration work to technicians at a wheel alignment shop. It’s important work that you, the experts, should be responsible for.
“But I don’t have enough space in my shop to dedicate a whole bay to wheel alignments.”
When looking for wheel alignment equipment, seek out a system that doesn’t require large camera towers. Some mobile wheel alignment systems allow technicians to perform alignments virtually anywhere in the shop that has an existing frame rack or 2-post lift.
Not only will these aligners save space, but they also help decrease cycle times because you can perform collision wheel alignments in-house. You won’t waste manpower by sending two techs – one to transport the vehicle and another to drive him back – to drop off the vehicle for an alignment. That means more work gets done at your shop and customers get their vehicles back sooner.
Adding an affordable tire changer and wheel balancer lets you further expand your wheel service offerings and make more money. And if you chose wheel alignment equipment that doesn’t require huge camera towers, you kept your bays open for new business.
This article originally appeared the January 2019 edition of ABRN.