Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2006   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Wheel alignment goes automatic

Taking a couple of minutes to complete, shops can use wheel alignment as a revenue generator

An array of new, more advanced alignment technologies has the potential to give independent service shops a way to increase revenues and customer satisfaction, all while lessening the time it takes to actually do an alignment job.

John Van Loenen, national sales and marketing manager for Hofmann Canada in Mississauga, Ont. said today’s alignment systems leave the old conventional CCD technologies far behind. Where a technician would have to place four CCD heads onto the wheels of a vehicle to take the readings, today’s systems use a complex, but simple-to-use array of reflectors and cameras to take alignment measurements in less time than it took to set up the old CCD technologies.

“We can now give you a full reading in under three minutes,” Van Loenen said. “With a traditional aligner system, you are looking at about 20 minutes to set everything up and do a reading, if you have a really good mechanic.”

This long set up time often meant a shop would not undertake an alignment check unless they could guarantee the customer would take the next step of giving permission to do the work on the vehicle after the measurements were taken. The reason is not hard to see. Taking 20 minutes or more away from an experienced mechanic with no payoff in the end does not make a whole lot of economic sense.

Van Loenen said the use of advanced cameras and reflectors on today’s alignment systems, like Hofmann’s Geoliner 660 Image Wheel Aligner, not only offers faster set up times but a wider array of information that can be used to align and fix a range of wheel and steering issues on a vehicle. For example, shop owners can install an Advanced Vehicle Measurement tool that will give the technician rolling radius measurements, 2-wheel alignment readings, caster trail, crub radius readings and ride height information.

Hunter Engineering Company’s DSP600 alignment system also uses a set of digital cameras and shatterproof aluminum faceplate reflectors that are mounted to the wheels of the vehicles to speed up alignment. The DSP600 uses multi-dimensional modeling to provide more accurate alignment and allows the technician to use either a live plane mode that use the reflecting targets as a reference plane, or a traditional alignment mode that uses the rack runway as a reference plane. The system also allows a technician to get a variety of readings, from caster measurements, bushing calculation and wheel-off measurements.

“You can also use the systems to help you find and fix bump steer issues,” added Maitland Gillespie, national training manager with Hunter Engineering. “Bump steer is when you hit a small bump in the road and the steering wheel jerks severely right or left. This is especially an issue with low riding vehicles. We have bump steering graphing technology which can detect and rectify the problem on the bench.”

Carl Pruitt, training specialist with the John Bean Company in Conway, Ark. said most alignments issues are not caused by a driver hitting a pot hole or large bump, as many might suspect.

In fact, most alignment issues are caused by time and wear on a vehicle through normal driving conditions. This means that most people never really know that their vehicle has a misalignment, unless it is pointed out to them.

Pruitt added that along with the greater automation of today alignment systems, like John Bean’s Arago V3D system, many of today’s more advanced technologies allows a technician to see what an alignment problem might cause on a vehicle over time if not fixed.

“We offer advanced vehicle dynamics so that an experienced technician can take a look at the castor readings, toe reading or camber readings and use that information to tell if the car will pull to the right and wear the tires on the outside edge,” Pruitt added. “For a new technician, we have screen and software that takes a snapshot of the readings of the vehicle, compares them to the specs of the car and puts up on a screen what the readings mean and what might happen to the car because of them. And all of that can be printed off and presented to the customer in layman’s terms.”

Mark Weare, sales and service representative with Marktech Electronics Ltd., distributor for Bear Automotive Equipment in Hebbs Cross, NS said Bear Robotics’ turn-key aligner not only fully automates the process of wheel alignment but also provides a technician with a print out of the diagnostics and findings that can be presented to the customer.

Why is that important?

“Because printouts have power,” Weare said. “It is much easier for a customer to read a printout than to listen to a technician tell them what the problem is. A printout makes it easier for them to comprehend that the vehicle has a problem and that the problem has to be fixed.”


Hofmann Canada

Hunter Engineering Company

John Bean Company

Marktech Electronics Ltd., Distributor of Bear Automotive Equipment

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