Hunting for alignment profits
Independence, Mo.—Rich Frost, service director of Cable Dahmer Chevrolet, wanted to sell more alignments through courtesy inspections. He had been interested in service drive inspection equipment for several years, but even though each car could be assessed in just a few minutes, for his shop, he said the numbers didn’t make sense. With the busy pace of his service drive’s two lanes, he figured he’d need a full-time staff member dedicated to it, at a cost of $45,000 per year.
So he was skeptical when he was invited to Hunter Engineering’s Bridgeton, Mo., headquarters to demo the company’s new Quick Check Drive alignment inspection system. But after seeing how it takes only seconds to automatically measure toe and camber as the customer enters the service drive — with no human interaction needed — he agreed to become a beta tester for the equipment, one set for each lane. He was a quick convert, and a little more than two months into the three-month beta test, begun in July, he’s decided to purchase the equipment, which costs about $50,000 per unit.
“This allows me to get the same results without a person running it,” said Frost, who oversees seven service consultants, 15 technicians, six quick-lube technicians, and four used-car technicians. “For our alignments, we were averaging about four a day, and now we’re averaging about 10 a day. I did the math, and with the increase we’ve had, it will be about a six-month payback for both machines. That’s just for my alignments, and not anything else you get from around the wheel just for having the car back there.”
In August, about 40 percent of the vehicles that came in failed the Quick Check inspection. The equipment needs no handling or input by a service advisor to begin its measurements, requiring only that the customer drive past the sensors and stop at any point past it. As the vehicle enters the service drive, 32 laser beams activate and shoot across the lane from one compact Quick Check Drive sensor cabinet to the other.
A camera scans the license plate and automatically pulls up the vehicle’s toe and camber specifications from its VIN registration. Almost instantaneously, that assessment is transmitted to the service advisors, so that as soon as the customer approaches the counter, the service advisor’s tablet PC indicates in green (pass), red (failed one or more measurements), or gray (unable to measure because of a bad plate reading or, rarely, the customer did not drive straight in), if a four-wheel alignment is recommended. If a customer has recently traded vehicles, the license plate (or temporary tag) can deceive. But the service advisor can manually change the vehicle make and model in the system, Frost said.
He had the option to install just one set of equipment at the exit of both lanes as they converge to enter the service department’s shop, “but from the time it takes to get off the drive, a lot of times the customer would no longer be here. I think you lose a little bit of selling power if you don’t have the data right there.”
The equipment requires little to no training for service advisors, showing to the customer plainly in red or green and the measurements of where adjustments are needed. Selling additional alignments has been painless, Frost said, with an unexpected benefit.
“What’s happened a few times is you show them, ‘Your alignment’s good; you don’t need that. However, you are overdue for other maintenance items on the car.’ It builds a little bit of trust because, ‘You’re not trying to sell me stuff I don’t need.’”
Service advisors have the information at the ready on their tablets, but Frost says from his Hunter Engineering sales/service dealer, Myers Bros., he will soon be adding Hunter’s Flightboard, a large flat screen monitor mounted on the wall with the last five vehicles to be measured displayed with a pass/fail.
Additionally, to help ward off damage claims from a confused or dishonest customer, each unit’s cameras take multiple photos from four angles to document the vehicle’s condition, including bumps and bruises, as it enters the service drive. The consistent measuring accuracy of the system, compared to the Hunter HawkEye alignment machine, has been a pleasant surprise.
“Being a skeptical person, you think that when it shoots lasers when a person just drives past, how accurate can it really be? But it really is, and I’ve been really impressed with that. It was accurate enough that when we first put it in, my alignment guy said, ‘Hey, they’re not matching. For the right rear camber, it is showing different than what the alignment machine is. But we found the head of the alignment machine was bad.”