D-I-Y Training

The American Council of Frame and Alignment Specialists (ACOFAS) is not popular with hotel catering services. Time and again, when ACOFAS hosts a training event at a hotel, the classes run so long that meals have to be delayed, to the dismay of the hotels' catering staffs. Seems the technicians get so involved with their training that the Q & A sessions after the classes just go on and on and on...

To what does ACOFAS owe their success? Nothing more than a core group of dedicated shop owners who realized that if they wanted quality training for their technicians, they would have to do it themselves.


"Several shop owners that were very dissatisfied with the availability of technician training formed ACOFAS in 2005," explains Gordon Botts, owner of Botts Welding in Woodstock, IL. The first organizational meeting was held in February of 2006 in Chicago, and 14 shop owners, component manufacturers, and members of the trade press attended. Shortly thereafter, the Training Committee established the first training clinic, and to say they felt a sense of urgency is a bit of understatement; this inaugural event took place only nine weeks after the association was formed.

Held at Mutual Wheel in Milan, IL in May of 2006, the training clinic focused on Heavy Truck Total Chassis Alignment. According to Botts, approximately 60 people attended. After receiving three hours of classroom instruction regarding terminology and shop safety, the technicians were divided into six groups, and each group received approximately 90 minutes of hands-on training at each of six training stations:
• Drive and steer axle straightening out of vehicle on a 150-ton press
• Steering gear box inspection, diagnosis and adjustment
• Drive axle suspension inspection and laser alignment
• Front end suspension inspection and alignment
• Steer axle on-chassis correction
• Wheel end trueing and balance


Since that initial success, ACOFAS has held eight more clinics, with more than 250 technicians attending. With representatives from such heavy-hitters as BeeLine, Noregon Systems, Hunter Engineering, ArvinMeritor, Bendix, Hendrickson International and Michelin as presenters, these clinics delve into a diverse array of topics, including:
• Heavy truck frame diagnostics and straightening
• Recreational vehicle suspension and handling enhancements
• Bendix ABS and ABS6 road control
• Hendrickson AIRTEX and STEERTEX axle maintenance and adjustment
• Electronic vehicle inspection and brake dynamometer
• Preventative maintenance program marketing, establishing and training
• Torsional vibration diagnostics, including engine and driveline
• Wheel end vibration, including tire, rim, hub, drum/rotor and bearings

Continuing in this tradition, ACOFAS is hosting a multi-topic training clinic on June 8th and 9th in Winston-Salem, NC. On the first day of the event, ArvinMeritor trainers will cover medium-duty (Class-5, 6 and 7) truck and bus hydraulic brake systems, including hydraulic brake ABS systems and diagnostics. On the second day, a Noregon Systems trainer will cover computer diagnostics for cab systems, engines, transmissions, and other components.

Unlike some earlier training events, the June clinic will include a pre-test and a post-test, and Botts promises that it will not be intimidating to technicians.

"We're going to hand them the pre-test before the class, Sunday night, and ask them to fill it out," he explains. "They hand them in Monday morning before they start the class. We're not going to be grading anybody on this; we just want the guys to have an idea what they're going to be covering. It's going to be the same test (they take after the class). It's to get them to open their minds and be willing to learn."

This may be the only test ever that doesn't dock you for wrong answers. If a technician selects the wrong response, he or she is referred to the proper training manual, to look up the correct answer.


ACOFAS has good reason for making its pre-test non-threatening: "There are an awful lot of really competent technicians out there who really know their stuff, but they don't get along well with testing," Botts says.

That accomodating attitude carries through to the post-test, which technicians can take online after they've returned home from the clinic.

If a technician gets an answer wrong on the post-test, he or she will be referred to the online discussion forums on the ACOFAS website.

"They can find the right answer, then go back into the test, click the right answer, and go on to the next question," Botts says. "In the future, when they're working on this thing, and they run into something they're not sure of, they can go right straight into that manual and find the answer.

"The important thing is not that they know the stuff, but that they know where to get the answers."


Technicians from New Hampshire, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Minnesota, Iowa and California are signed up for the June clinic, and Botts is confident that they will all return to their jobs with valuable new skills and insights.

"I see a phenomenal difference in the guys after they come back," he says. "It does so much for them. It gives them the feeling, and rightly so, that you value them as a technician and that you want to improve them. It makes them much more productive, and gives them a better feeling of self-worth.

"I think that's the biggest key," he concludes. "They listen to guys who are in management saying, 'Well, I'm going to be gone for a week because I have to go for training,' and they say, 'What about me?' Well, this takes care of the 'What about me?' It makes them realize that, yes, there is new stuff out there, yes, they need to be up on it, and yes, I think you're competent enough to take this training course."

For more information on the ACOFAS June training clinic, go to www.fleetmag.com/online/calendar/