Not only is it critical to safety but wheel alignment adjustment is also a highly profitable up-sell, prompting Rob Marshall to look at some of the current equipment offerings for garages seeking to take full advantage of the opportunity.
With pothole damage alone costing the average British driver £109 (and totalling over £1.2bn) every year, potholes have become the main source of anxiety for the modern motorist. The RAC and TyreSafe, for example, recommend that motorists request that their garage conducts suspension alignment checks, should they suspect pothole damage. Yet, many car owners are unaware that alignment can drift gradually from its optimum settings through regular daily use. In most cases, unless premature tyre wear is noticed at home, it is down to the garage to recommend periodic alignment checks, especially after suspension components and tyres are replaced.
THE LOSS LEADER
Absolute Alignment recommends that, to maximise profit, garages should perform a free suspension alignment check on every car, because its research has found that 80% of them will require subsequent chargeable adjustment. The company insists that training is necessary not only for the technicians but also receptionists, so they are equipped to explain the results of an alignment report to the customer and why an adjustment is in their best interests. Pro-Align concurs that a printout is the best tool you have to help upsell alignment, as well as the importance of training customer-facing staff.
If you plan to check every vehicle that arrives on your premises for free, Pro-Align highlights its QuickCheck system as being ideal for the task. It can be placed at the entrance of the workshop, where a preliminary wheel alignment check can be undertaken within 60 seconds. Vehicles requiring adjustment are identified swiftly, without the need to set-up every car on a dedicated alignment system, which would be impractical for most garages. While adjustment services can be upsold as a result, print-outs that confirm no extra work is needed has positive customer care aftereffects.
Pro-Align highlights that workshops equipped with the HunterNet cloud-based application can also email the alignment results, or send notifications directly to a customer’s smartphone, as a high-tech alternative to a sheet of A4. It can also provide printouts that contain more detailed technical information, for use by either technicians, or for the interest of more technically-interested customers.
MAKING THE INVESTMENT
If the upselling opportunities are grasped, the payback period should be prompt. ECP’s Workshop Solutions advises on a variety of aftermarket issues, including providing a full-suite of inspection, installation and maintenance services for new equipment. It recommends that repairers consider the value proposition because, dependent on circumstances, it can be worth paying more for equipment that will increase efficiency and deliver better safety and usability.
In terms of technology, Supertracker advises that there are two main differences. Despite the big price differential, however, neither system is more accurate than the other one. Computer aligners measure all four wheels together and display the manufacturer’s specifications against the figures recorded. Laser aligners are more time and labour intensive to prepare and require the operator to mount the laser heads to the road wheels and record/remember the results. Supertracker advises that the alignment specifications need to be sourced from books, or charts, from the main dealers, in many of these cases.
Tecalemit says that you should consider three main factors when deciding to purchase alignment equipment. Consider the time it takes to set a car up; cheaper aligners may be as accurate but can eat into your profit margin because of the extra time needed. As an example, Absolute Alignment’s Bluetooth 3D aligner is 30 seconds faster per job than the best-selling, but less expensive, Bluetooth Pro; this time adds-up, if you were performing adjustments virtually on a continuous basis. In addition, Hunter’s RX45 integrates different features to reduce adjustment time further, such as including an automatic tyre inflation facility and automated locking/ unlocking of the turn/slip plates. Supertracker’s very high-end four wheel touchless aligners possess neither moving parts, nor equipment to fit to the wheels and can produce wheel alignment readings within five seconds. Therefore, you need to balance the money invested against the labour time saved.
Secondly, consider that more sophisticated aligners produce a lot of data; is it all necessary? Will technicians require extra skills training to interpret the information into additional repairs? Finally, consider that some aligners might require extra equipment, such as additional diagnostic equipment, or an alignment lift – all of which adds to the cost.
Should you decide to save money by choosing used, or reconditioned equipment, be especially careful; ensure that it can be updated. GEMCO comments that alignment equipment is subject generally to regular database and software updates. As general advice, Tecalemit says that hardware quality is critical because most systems rely on the accurate mounting of equipment to the vehicle. In terms of lifts, the company advises that good quality turn and slip plates are critical for fast, efficient and accurate measurements/adjustments.
You need to decide if choosing an OEM approved system is better for you. Absolute Alignment comments that OEM approval gives the garage owner confidence that the aligners are checked by and conform with particular OEM specifications and sets the equipment apart from the many cheaper options, such as the makers of kit that originate from China, which do not have the same level of service support in the UK. Pro-Align adds that OEM-approved hardware tends to be the same as a good-quality standard-system but the software will have been adapted to meet individual brand requirements. The main benefit of choosing dealer-specific aligners is that you can be confident that your equipment matches franchised dealer standards. This can be useful to prove your credentials to a sceptical customer, notably if you are a marque-specialist.
Should you wish to upgrade to an alignment lift, again consider your needs. Pro-Align recommends that you consider the ramp’s wheelbase and weight capacity and warns that lighter and insubstantial lifts are likely to affect the accuracy of your alignment measurements. Absolute Alignment, meanwhile, has announced a new two-post lift option, which negates the need to purchase additional stands, or equipment. This gives smaller workshops the facility to offer wheel alignment services, where there might be insufficient floor space to accommodate a four-poster. Choose a good- quality installer, too. Many lifts require an entirely level floor, for example.
When deciding which system to buy, take your time, research carefully and consult your supplier. Absolute Alignment, for example, told us that garages like to see the equipment working at their premises with their technicians, which is why it offers free on-site demonstrations. Quality suppliers should also provide technician training, showing them how to use the equipment, but you should not expect comprehensive suspension alignment schooling, this may require additional training. Consider if you need a full range of services and if your supplier could provide it, from initial advice, through to installation and aftercare.
ECP’s Workshop Solutions offers maintenance services and recommends that alignment equipment is serviced at least annually. Gemco highlights that it is the UK’s largest garage equipment workshop, service and spares provider, stating that it has more engineers than anyone else in the garage equipment industry. Nonetheless, it recommends that workshops perform their own alignment equipment checks, including keeping the equipment clean and lubricating all moving parts adequately. Tecalemit has over 80 mobile customer support engineers and told us that aligners, generally, will need periodic recalibration. Tecalemit CCD wheel aligners, for example, issue an automatic warning, when they reach the end of their set tolerances. Pro-Align concludes that workshops, which set their own daily and weekly maintenance procedures and inspections, coupled with recommended professional servicing, will not only obtain optimum performance from their investment but also will provide more accurate alignment services for their customers.
Perform pre-alignment checks: Look for excessive wear in suspension and steering components, plus assess the condition of the tyres, including inflation pressures.
Do not cut corners: Some procedures can be time consuming but do not rush.
Follow the instructions and avoid shortcuts: Some requirements might seem strange, such as weighing down certain vehicles, but not doing so will affect the accuracy of your alignment service.
Not forgetting the ramp: Remember to ensure that the ramp is level and that the locking pins are taken-out of the slip and turn plates, when required.
Communication with customer: Develop a plan to upsell alignment adjustment but never forget the importance of highlighting when adjustment is unnecessary, which helps to build longer- term customer loyalty.