Attention to detail drives Driveline NW
Everett, Wash.—Drivelines NW (DLNW) celebrates its 45th anniversary in business this year and continues to be a major player in the Northwest market for driveshaft services that include building new units, providing R&R service, and supplying a wide variety of driveline parts, said second-generation Owner David Lee Jr., whose late father founded the business in Seattle in 1972. Lee’s wife, Cathi, who joined the business when she was 18, co-owns the business and works there part time.
With headquarters now in a 10,000-square-foot facility in Everett, Lee said the company also operates a 7,000-square-foot Seattle operation, as well as a branch in Fife. “Each one of the branches are busy and do about the same level of business, and we continue to show growth at each operation,” he said, adding that the smaller Fife location has outgrown its space so the company is seeking a larger facility to be able to handle customer needs.
Lee, who began working at DLNW at 18 while attending college, said the main factors for the company’s continued growth is a result of extensive knowledge of the driveline business garnered over its 45-year history, having the proper equipment to build and repair driveshafts, tenured staff that understands the repair process, and, most importantly, a built-in redundancy in each shop to ensure quality work. “We do a lot of double checks at each stage of building a new unit when needed, or repairing a damaged unit. We double check the welding, balancing, and assembly processes so each shaft is properly engineered to better-than-OE specs.”
Using Rockwell, Powertrain Industries, and Axi-Line driveshaft balancers and service equipment, among others, Lee said taking excellent care of the machines at each shop is paramount. “Our equipment is vital to us, so we take care to make sure it is in top operating condition. A new Rockwell balancer with a welding package can cost as much as $500,000.”
With an average of 20 R&R or build units handled daily at each store, plus parts sales, Lee said with 13 counter personnel and technicians on staff he would like to hire another person for each location. “It can be difficult to hire the right person with experience as this is somewhat like being a blacksmith; it takes a great deal of understanding as to how our machining works and the actual R&R and build process. We have specialized equipment to balance automotive, industrial, heavy-duty, and specialty driveshafts.”
About 50 percent of the overall business involves retail and fleet customers (taxable business), while the remaining business is wholesale to repair shops, parts outlets, other driveline repair facilities, and specialists, Lee said. “The business is split pretty evenly between medium/heavy-duty and light-duty vehicles, much of the latter being 4x4 business.”
Lee said the DLNW provides design and engineering services, on-site vibration troubleshooting and analysis, and can balance shafts ranging from 100 to 4,000 RPM.
Driveshafts for a wide spectrum of vehicles are serviced at DLNW that includes automotive, racing, light-duty trucks, heavy-duty trucks, off-road equipment, marine, industrial, agricultural, and special projects such as supplying driveshafts for a company that builds chassis for motorhomes, Lee said, adding that the company provides service for steel, chrome molly, aluminum, and carbon-fiber driveshafts.
The most common repair seen are damaged drivelines due to failed universal joints, Lee said. “Many times we are fixing a previously repaired shaft that was fixed with substandard parts. While today’s OE u-joints are generally high-quality and can get 100,000 to 200,000 miles of service, the quality of bearings in u-joints in many aftermarket parts is poor. Any of the u-joints sold to consumers are so sloppy they cannot be balanced.”
OEM technology has resulted in no vibration on cars and trucks purchased today, Lee said. “But as vehicles get older with more miles, complaints of vibration become common. One of the reasons we stock better quality parts and have so many types of balancers is that each type of driveshaft takes special components to make them run vibration free at all RPMs. We have a true commitment to quality and build and balance using the best parts available, both U.S. and offshore products.
With more than $1 million in parts inventory, Lee said major product lines include Rockwell, Meritor, Spicer, Elbe, GWB, and others. “Rockwell was one of the first lines we purchased direct in 1972. They helped us into the business and were instrumental in getting us set up with other factories as a WD.” The top products sold, he said, are u-joints and center bearings, as well as transmission and differential yokes.
In 1993, Lee said Spicer was added. “It was a line we always wanted and today we offer Spicer Factory Authorized Service, as well as offering Meritor/Rockwell Factory Authorized Service.”
With a marketing area throughout the Puget Sound region, Lee said DLNW does a fair amount of business in Hawaii, Alaska, Idaho, and Oregon.