When does it make sense for a facility to acquire and operate its own vehicle alignment equipment? “ROI is always the final factor,” says Beckett. “Items that can contribute to the equation include the initial cost of the system, as well as the annual maintenance cost for it and the labor to operate it. On the other side of the ledger are the costs paid for alignments, transportation costs to get the vehicle to the alignment shop and the loss of income from the vehicle while it is out of service.
“This formula assumes that you will produce an alignment equal to that provided by the vendor. If you think you can improve on the vendor’s results, or get the job done in less time or at a more convenient time, additional savings can help the ROI.”
Generally, any fleet that has 10 trucks or more can justify owning its own alignment system and making alignment in house, Johnson says.
“With a dedicated alignment program, and one that is adhered to, it is possible to save $1,000 or more per year on tires - 140,000 miles on steer tires versus 70,000 miles - and $14,000 per truck per year on fuel savings - 2 percent,” adds McCullough. “That is a total of $2,400 per vehicle per year, and this does not include other benefits which include improved handling and safety.”
“It is a misnomer that off road vehicles, straight trucks and P&D vehicles do not benefit from total vehicle alignment,” Johnson notes. “These types of vehicle often benefit even more than linehaul applications as they go through tires more quickly.”
Obviously, there are many factors to be considered when investing in alignment equipment. Hunter Engineering’s Brock says to look for equipment that provides the most accurate and repeatable measurements, as well as good after-sale support and training.
Speed and efficiency of the equipment is important, McCullough says, because labor is possibly the highest cost incurred by a shop, and time is money. So, too, is simplicity and ease of operation.
“The system must be simple to use whether the operator has good computer skills or no computer skills,” he says. “Training and retraining of employees is another major cost for the fleet operation and the best of the modern alignment systems can be mastered with or without factory training.”
Further, McCullough suggests finding equipment suppliers that offer thorough initial training, as well as a technical support line for alignment-related questions. “When repairs are needed to the equipment, the vendor should offer a plan that provides a prompt and professional solution.”
Josam Products’ Johnson advises purchasing truck specific equipment that provides “repeatability, reproducibility and accuracy.”
Other key considerations are ruggedness of the equipment and whether it has the capability to be routinely calibrated by a shop’s own technicians, adds Mick Dalton, director of marketing, Bee Line Company, Bettendorf, IA, a leading manufacturer of wheel alignment, computer balancing and collision correction equipment for automobiles, heavy duty trucks and tractor trailers. There is also the matter of shop space, which would dictate pit models or above-ground units, and the decision to dedicate an alignment bay with a total truck alignment rack or “tune up” alignments on the floor or on location.
Everyone agrees that the reputation of the equipment supplier is very important as well.
Also essential is the investment in technicians and training “to produce exceptional results,” stresses M.D. Alignment Services’ Beckett.
He explains that with some high-tech computerized alignment systems, the required training for operation is minimal and the equipment can be used by almost anyone by simply following instructions. “But if the operator doesn’t know enough about trucks, have an understanding of suspension design, tire characteristics or the methods of measurement and alignment dynamics, he is unlikely to produce high-quality results.”
John Messina president-elect of Truck frame and Axle Repair Association (TARA) and president of Tampa Spring Company offers this advice for deciding upon which trailer frame and alignment shop to use...