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Best practice: Wheel alignment

New cars are increasingly dependent on accurate steering and suspension set-ups – driving through just one pothole can cause real problems. 

If a car needs re-setting, technicians need to use equipment that can restore factory specification, otherwise drivability will be compromised. 

“There’s no doubt that more sophisticated chassis technology combined with the growing damage risk from our pothole-ridden roads has made the importance of correct wheel alignment even more significant,” says Snap-on Equipment general manager, Chris Behan.
Fellow Snap-on brand John Bean (formerly Balco) has introduced new ergonomic cabinets which have been “developed to meet the needs of professional workshops,” the company says. “By combining our advanced wheel alignment and balancing technology with stylish, technician-friendly cabinet designs, we aim to help workshops present themselves as professional and up-to-date operations,” said Behan.

Alignment checks essential

Snap-on Equipment product specialist Stewart Levitt says it’s essential to carry out four-wheel alignment checks: “Because a car runs on four wheels it can only be correctly aligned with four-wheel alignment. This is done by aligning all four wheels in one task, or aligning the front wheels and then referencing the rears,” he said.

Longer service intervals and worsening road surfaces mean alignment checking is becoming more important. “On modern cars that use electronic power steering it’s important that with the front wheels correctly aligned the steering wheel is too, or there could be problems with the diagnostic system,” Levitt said. “And as service intervals are increasing, I’d say it was essential that every time a car comes in for a service, the wheel alignment is checked.”

Levitt said that while cars are more resilient than some pundits might say, the combination of rougher surfaces and low-profile tyres means steering and suspension systems are working hard. “A small pothole won’t knock the suspension out,
but alignment can change gradually,” he said.

To make money from wheel alignment, it’s important to use good-quality equipment from an OE-approved supplier. That means not only is it more accurate, it can do the job more quickly, which leads to faster turnaround times and more cars being checked during the day. But it’s also important to buy equipment that has good spares back-up and technical support, as well as training programmes. “Training is vital,” Levitt said. 

Make equipment work harder

There’s also the chance to make wheel-alignment equipment work harder through buying a dual-usage set-up that functions as an MoT lane. It will pay for itself more quickly.

At the same time it’s important for technicians to talk to their customers about wheel alignment and why it’s a vital part of a car’s service. Service reception posters have a role to play – as do leaflets – but Levitt says face-to-face communication is always more beneficial. 

“We carried out a case study that showed there’s a need to educate drivers and sell them the benefits of wheel alignment. Those benefits include better fuel economy, longer tyre life and increased safety, and that can best be explained by the technician talking with the motorist,” Levitt said.

Top tips

  1. Check wheel alignment at every service
  2. Make sure there’s good spares support and training
  3. Talk to customers about how vital alignment checks are
  4. Consider buying dual-function alignment/MoT-test equipment
  5. Go for a good brand – preferably one with OE-approval

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