The average wheel alignment is like a physical. It’s a preventative measure car owners take to correct or buffer problems before they (literally) spin out of control. Owners are well-advised to have this service performed about every 18,000 miles, whenever tires are purchased or installed and in the event of a sizeable impact. Treads wear down. Contents shift in motion. That is why alignment equipment remains a constant for the auto tech as well as the mobile dealer/distributor.
Because typical alignment models can run anywhere from $11,000 to $30,000 depending on the features, it is important that shop owners realize the investment potential in this kind of shop staple.
“Alignment is one of the most profitable services shops can offer,” said Jim Huhn, director of marketing communications at Hunter Engineering. He points out that “customers make money by performing the service itself, but also by performing undercar inspections as part of the service.” During these inspections, Huhn said “techs often uncover other repairs such as shocks, struts, the rod end, ball joint and suspension mechanics. You get the labor charge for performing alignment, and sometimes for installing aftermarket kits, or parts such as bushings and shims.”
But because of the price and physical size of the equipment, Team Bear USA President Dan Jones said selling alignment equipment is not like selling hand tools. A common theme he encounters is a lack of education about the product. “Some people think the machines are very difficult to use. Many techs feel systems are expensive and complicated. The cost is easy to justify. With only a few hours of research and understanding, these things can be up and ready to go.
“It’s important to have a good basic understanding of wheel alignment theory,” said Jones. All it takes is a couple nights’ study. Most issues, almost every issue we see, are questions on how machines function.”
Andrew Randell, Accu Industries vice president of sales and product manager, has been in the alignment business for 13 years. He finds that misinformation is often an issue, both for the techs using the equipment and the distributors making the sales.
“Take a good look at the literature and find the meaning of verbage you don’t understand,” Randell advises dealers. “If you can’t answer ‘What is this?’ you’ve already lost credibility. Know what your machine can do.”
Technology is ever-changing. Alignment equipment is no different. Newer models are coming equipped with camera-based sensors that speed up alignment services in busy shops, boasting easier use and greater durability. Software is also making strides toward machines that are fully Windows-compatible. No doubt there is more on the horizon.
“The alignment machine is becoming a more sophisticated piece of equipment where it does more than just alignments.” Randell said. “It is almost a diagnostic tool for other capabilities such as ride-height adjustment.”
Jones has noticed a growing consumer interest in alignment equipment with Ethernet. “People want to be able to load up equipment and tie it into their existing network.”
Another trend Huhn sees in the industry is an increase in service to modified vehicles. This includes “tuner cars where the suspension has been lowered, cars with custom wheels and other modifications that can change alignment and the dynamic of suspension systems.” Such vehicle modifications usually require a more customized alignment process, which nowadays can be easily performed with user-friendly software.
Randell adds, “It’s important that distributors be aware of programs available for laptops to help demonstrate the machine’s capabilities.” Such programs can be a resource not only for the tech, but also the client he is servicing.
A distributor who knows his stuff translates into a confident technician. Even if all the right answers aren’t at your fingertips, knowing the right questions is a good start.
“What kind of training and customer service is available to the end-purchaser of the alignment system? What service is available should something need repair? It’s important for technicians to know they are backed by customer support from the manufacturers.” Huhn said.
Randell also believes that understanding warranty is key with this piece of equipment in particular, as the cost to maintain alignment equipment can amount to $1,000 per year. It’s good practice to know not only selling features, but the type of warranty that’s offered.
Bottom line is the well-informed distributor makes the sale.
“The market is opening up more and more to wheel alignment.” Jones said. “As cars are being built better, shops are geared toward normal, routine procedures. Alignment is a service that will always be needed.”