Heavy-duty collision and repair requires diverse talents and adaptability
West Sacramento, Calif.—From trucks and trailers with sleepers and without, to emergency and construction vehicles, West Coast Frame and Collision Repair faces new challenges every day, Owner Randy Erbes said. “Our jobs, and the materials involved, vary so much we must have an adapt-and-overcome attitude to succeed.”
Frame and collision repair has been the mainstay of the 27,000-square-foot facility the past 15 years, he said, and 2006 brought the addition of West Coast Fire Apparatus and Engineering, servicing the needs of ambulance companies, fire departments, and forestry services.
The newest addition to the shop, which sits on four acres, is a machine shop capable of straightening rear ends, axles, refurbishing center sections, and Magnaflux testing, Erbes said. “We keep expanding our capabilities, adding services, and building our customer base. Due to our unique tooling and abilities, companies throughout the Western U.S. rely on us. We can perform maintenance, repair, and collision work all under one roof.”
“The different divisions give us balance,” he said. “If our mechanical shop is slow, they can help with backlog in the body shop or emergency equipment, and vice versa. The only things we don’t do in house are major engine and transmission overhauls. We emphasize cross training with our techs so everyone always has a job to do. I work closely with our general manager and my son-in-law, Curt Metcalf, to keep the shop working efficiently. He really helps me keep our eye on the ball.”
West Coast Frame is known for having the largest frame rack west of the Mississippi, Erbes said. “I designed and built the rack myself,” he said. “We can push 200-ton vertical, 100-ton horizontal, and can push or pull in any combination or direction. The rack is designed to perform three-dimensional straightening on any axis. We can straighten up, down, do angles and twists. The machine can operate as many as 12 rams from four ton to 150 ton at the same time.
Safety on the big rigs, emergency equipment, and buses is vital, he said, and Magnaflux testing is used to find flaws and cracks invisible to the eye. “If there was an off-road impact we always Magnaflux kingpins, steering arms, and spindles to find cracks and hidden damage. Components are expensive; a spindle is $1,000 to $1,200, but it only costs $100 to check. Magnafluxing ensures the pieces are safe to reuse.
Machine shop Foreman Cliff Fredricks has more than 30 years of experience, Erbes said. Besides straightening and Magnafluxing, the machine shop can recondition center sections and caps. “We heat the units and braze brass into the bearing carriers and then machine for trueness. Brass is as strong as the original cast iron, so after being line-bored the piece is as good as new, Erbes said.
“The challenges we face are staggering,” he said. “We employ framemen, bodymen, painters, fabricators, machinists, electricians, alignment techs, and emergency equipment specialists. We work with steel, aluminum, fiberglass, and composites. Work is challenging and our fabricators regularly have to recreate large detailed or custom panels from scratch,” he said.
Erbes said the newest piece of equipment is a Bee Line LC7500 laser alignment system. “We align trucks, tractors, motorhomes, and trailers — singles or tandems, two wheel, four wheel, and 18 wheels. We regularly troubleshoot problems others could not or cannot address. Sometimes you have to go outside suggested parameters to make things work. Our shop foreman and alignment specialist, Daren Lance, is one of the best. The new Bee Line unit has taken our ability and efficiencies to a new level.”
The 20-man shop is always busy, he said, and frame, fabrication, paint, machine work, and alignment are all done in the main building. Directly adjacent is the emergency equipment shop. “Our Emergency Equipment department is led by Rick Tracy and he has helped expand the division tremendously,” Erbes said.
“We can address just about any problem on an emergency vehicle, from lights to tires,” Tracy said. “We do it all in house. Our team is EVT (emergency vehicle technician) certified and can handle not just the vehicle but the emergency apparatus as well.”
From ladders and pumps to communications and electronics, emergency vehicles are complex in every way, he said. “We also provide mandated ladder and pump certifications as well.”
Erbes said emergency service includes field support for major operations such as wild fires. “We are contracted by the U.S. Forestry Service to support their equipment during operations and to be sure it is 100-percent operational prior to returning to home base. An important part of response is demobilization. Every piece of equipment and apparatus must be inspected and repaired before the equipment is released to head home.”
Tracy said field support has helped its emergency equipment division continue to expand. “As different departments get familiar with our in-house capabilities, more and more are calling upon us for repair and maintenance work. We have an open-door policy that emergency professionals appreciate. They can come by at any time and check on their project. It helps to confirm and understand the process and manage their expectations.”
Another area where West Coast is called upon is in expert testimony, Erbes said. “We are asked to investigate accidents that may be a result of mechanical failure. We do accident reconstruction, investigate cause, and do forensic vehicle inspections.”
West Coast prides itself in providing an OEM or better quality of repair. “They all come with a huge liability. We won’t do anything we can’t defend on the witness stand,” Erbes said.