Heating up the industry
Wheel-balance companies are constantly involved in a game of technology keep-up as cars become more complicated. One example of this is in the readout display. Where these machines used to have LEDs giving a readout, they now use LCD displays. The bottom line is that balance features have gotten so prolific, to rely on a number readout screen isn't a good investment.
"The cost of LCDs (basically computer monitors) are coming down so fast," Scribner said. "Also, the generation of operators is so different … guys in garages now grew up playing video games and are more comfortable with it [LCD technology]."
Another technological advancement in use is sonar.
"Sonar measures wheel width automatically without operator input, and measures radial eccentricity (runout) without [user] contact to give the most accurate balance," said Surey. "It gives an accuracy reading within 1 gram."
Surey expects sonar technology to become more affordable as volume increases and new wheels and suspension systems continue to be enhanced.
Newer machines are relying on the techs less and less to manually enter information such as width, diameter and the type of wheel weight they want to use. Now all of this can be accomplished by simply picking up the arm, or putting it down, and touching it to the weight position. Accuracy has also greatly increased. Newer machines have practically all measurements and balance modes.
A pretty penny
There's often no standardization between car companies on the tooling required when end-users spend a smaller amount of money on a balancer. Going for discount can then result in limited universal tooling that doesn't work today on many types of cars.
"You've got to realize the range of choices is mind-boggling," said Scribner. "You can buy [this equipment] on the internet with a credit card from no-name offshore commodity-type equipment dealers for less than $1,500. At the high end of the market you can spend upwards of $20,000. It's important for people to have an understanding of what they want to invest in."
According to Scribner, about 20,000 garages in the United States utilize high-end machines, which he cites as being able to solve problems before they happen and increase customer satisfaction.
Show, tell and sell
"Years ago, you could sell balancing machines to customers and walk away knowing he'll have the equipment he needs to do his job," Keefe said. "Today, because of sophisticated vehicles more prone to vibrations, you need to offer a balancing solution rather than a piece of equipment."
Techs are finding they need more today in terms of adaptors and accessories than they did five years ago, Keefe explained. And wheel-service equipment companies comply by offering standard packages that cover most original equipment vehicles. Extended packages go one step further to include aftermarket wheels and light trucks, while premium packages cater to larger systems such as medium-duty truck applications.
Garages are finding out about the complexity of tires and balancing equipment.
"High-end balancers also measure radial and lateral forces," Scribner said. "They're more exact, and in the long run they are much cheaper than anything that will do the same job. It's very cost-efficient. It's something a garage cannot afford to not have."
For a shop owner, a little show and tell about current wheel service trends pays big. This is one opportunity for everybody to make an income that wasn't there before.
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