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A question of better balance

Wheel alignment goes further than just preventing excessive tyre wear and tracking problems. For bodyshops it is also an important safety element and omitting an alignment check can have serious implications.

A vehicle involved in an apparently minor accident may appear to only have panel damage, but impact with a kerb can send the wheels out of line – and you can’t tell whether the alignment is out just by looking at it. The only way to discover this is for the vehicle to undergo an assessment with wheel alignment equipment.

“Modern vehicles are much lighter and more susceptible to damage. This can occur just by hitting a kerb while parking. Outwardly there may not be damage, but potholes, road damage and kerbs can make a big difference,” says Philip Hodges, managing director of Beissbarth UK, suppliers of automotive equipment.

Carry out a thorough inspection

All four wheels of a vehicle need to be correctly aligned, even from a routine servicing point of view, and the advice from equipment manufacturers is to carry out a check even if there doesn’t seem to be any need to.

“Be professional. With the right training and knowledge you will not only convince and win customers, they will be pleased with the results,” says Hodges.

He believes that it is all too easy to botch an alignment job. For instance, a simple shortcut is to not carry out a complete inspection of both front and rear suspensions for worn or damaged parts.

“Every trained alignment technicians knows that you cannot align worn parts, yet some only check the most obvious things such as track rod ends and ball joints. A thorough inspection should include every suspension and steering component,” he adds.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Use factory-preferred settings

Part of a complete alignment job, therefore, is to check out all the possibilities that may contribute to a steering or handling problem. The inspection should include a check of all four wheels for looseness and any visible signs of tyre wear.

“Let the customer know from the start that you know your business. Don’t assume that the most obvious problem is the only problem. Another ‘time saver’ in alignment is not checking those items you can’t adjust, such as camber caster king pin. Skipping this is bound to lead to trouble because if you don’t check, how on earth can you tell what the problem is,” says Hodges.

Similarly, Hodges points out the importance of consulting manufacturer’s specifications. There are no ‘rules of thumb’ when it comes to alignment specification, he says, instead technicians should look them up and use them.

“The best results are always obtained by aiming for the factory preferred settings, then you can charge the right price for a professional job well done,” he adds.

There is a debate in the industry as to whether two-wheel alignment is sufficient or if four-wheel is the only method to truly align a car. The majority of the equipment manufacturers advocate four-wheel systems, mainly because they claim that two-wheel systems may not be as cost effective as they first appear. Although they are cheaper initially, in terms of efficiency there is a time issue – a four-wheel system can measure all four wheels at once so it’s faster and means the relationship between all wheels can be assessed.

“If you do a two-wheel alignment, there is no guaranteeing getting the steering wheel straight,” says Paul Beaurain, managing director of Pro-Align.

“Some manufacturer equipment claims to be four wheel when in fact it is two wheel. These are effectively two wheel systems with a centre line – that’s not four wheel.”

He cites cases where the repairer, under pressure to cut costs, has omitted alignment on the basis that the repair appeared to be panel damage only. However, the car has then been found to be unroadworthy with alignment angles outside the manufacturer’s specified range.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Constantly developing technology

Wheel alignment and angles may have not changed since the invention of the modern car, but alignment equipment is constantly developing. By using the latest technology, the measurement process has been made quicker and easier for bodyshops and garages. Pro-Align now supplies the Hunter Imaging range of aligners, which can carry out the check in just five minutes.

The software provides operators with clear measurement and adjustment programmes, tool and kit databases, a digital photo database, alignment guide video collection, alignment specification (which is updatable from the web), plus a three-dimensional virtual view for customer presentation.

“Wheel alignment equipment is constantly developing but the all important, customer-friendly printout remains proof of a job well done,” says Beaurain. Why opt for four-wheel alignment?

Safety

A bodyshop should always inspect the suspension system of each vehicle as part of the alignment procedure, allowing it to spot worn components before they can cause problems.

Handling

The majority of ride and handling problems are caused by misaligned wheels. They range from the car pulling to one side to steering wheel vibration. When all system components are aligned properly, road shock is more efficiently absorbed for a smoother ride.

Fuel Economy

Total alignment sets all four wheels parallel which, along with proper inflation, minimizes rolling resistance and improves mpg figures.

Tyre Wear

Misaligned wheels are a major cause of excessive and premature tyre wear. Over a vehicle’s lifetime, a correctly aligned set of wheels can add 1000s of miles of tyre life.

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