From left: The Auto Worx crew, which includes Dennis Smith, owner, Theresa Hall, office manager, and Donnie Watson, ASE Master tech, say business has grown about 20 percent in the past two years, thanks in part to adding air ride suspension systems.Dennis Smith, owner of Auto Worx says he learned on a Bear “pit” alignment system.The Bear 605 “pit” alignment system allows Auto Worx to perform alignments on exotic vehicles that no one else can, Dennis Smith, owner, says.Dennis Smith stands next to his custom 1948 Nash, featured on the History Channel’s “Top Gear” program with another classic behind it.The shop specializes in alignment of lifted vehicles that have larger tires, multiple shocks, and radically different steering angles.

A niche in ‘old school’ ride control

From hot rods and classics to HD trucks, Auto Worx specializes in alignment techniques and practices

Fontana, Calif.—To say Dennis Smith, owner of Auto Worx, is “old school” would be an understatement. He has been doing precision alignment, brakes, and suspension work for more than 40 years, starting with his initial training at Bear Frame, in Glendora, in 1971.

“Back then, technician certification didn’t exist, we learned from the masters. Training was more like an apprenticeship,” he said. “What I know isn’t from a book, it’s from decades of hard work making the vehicles I work on run smoother on the road than when they were originally designed.”

Smith continued to work at Bear Frame until the 1988, when he opened A&A Alignment, Brake & Suspension, in El Monte, with his cousin, Mitch Selleck.

In 1999, the family moved to Fontana and Smith opened Auto Worx, Alignment, Brake & Suspension, specializing in hot rods, classics, lowriders, lifted trucks, exotics, RVs and heavy-duty trucks, often referred to him from other shops that don’t have the right equipment for those vehicles, Smith said.

“We can fix it when no one else can. If it fits in my doors, I’ll fix it.”

The shop has three bays and two Bear 605 solid beam pit service systems, which Smith said help him get to steering correction points and replace parts easier than modern ramp systems.

The Bear system includes wheel clamps and Aline-O-Meter readout pendants that hang from the hood or under the vehicle to monitor camber/caster angles as corrections are made.

The bear system is car-oriented, so there’s no time lost jockeying and positioning the vehicle as is necessary with rack-oriented optical systems, Smith said. Simply drive the vehicle onto the level rack and go to work.

The shop performs front-end, thrust angle, and four-wheel alignments.

“Front-end alignments are fine for vehicles with a solid rear axle, but confirming that the front tires are positioned directly in front of the rear tires is also important,” he said. “That requires a thrust angle alignment to make sure that all four wheels are ‘square’ with each other.”

The shop has an AAMCO 4000 disc/drum brake lathe and a two-post Bend Pak lift for doing brakes, shocks, air ride suspension, and other under-car work.

Donnie Watson, an ASE Master tech with 20 years’ experience and certifications in six categories, does the brakes, electronics, tune-ups and other auto repairs; while Smith's specialties are the under car work and alignments.  

Smith said “worn suspension parts are often the most overlooked components of vehicles and yet are among the most crucial for safety, ride control, and comfort.”

Research conducted by KYB America shows that around 86 percent of all vehicles are sent to the scrap yard still equipped with their OE shocks, he said.

“It’s a little known fact that many cars and trucks that end up in junkyards have never had any major steering or suspension parts replaced,” said Aaron M. Shaffer, marketing manager for KYB America. “They still have the original equipment shocks and struts, springs, ball joints, tie rod ends, and steering racks.”

   Auto Worx has several commercial accounts, including Rudy’s Auto Body, R&B Auto Sales, Sunrise Ford Collision, the City of Fontana Public Works, and several local body and tire shops, said Theresa Hall, office manager.

Average car count is about 100 vehicles a month and repair orders range from $50 for a simple alignment to $10,000 for a complete suspension/four wheel disc brake package.

 “Our business has grown about 20 percent in the past two years, thanks in part to adding air ride suspension systems from Universal Air Suspension, and installing Intoxalock ignition interlock devices,” she said.

The shop uses local stores for the bulk of its parts needs, including O’Reilly and Monica Bautel of Morris Automotive Supply, but also buys from other specialty shops like Classic Performance Products.

“Time is of the essence, so finding our parts locally gives us an edge by delivering same-day services in most cases,” Smith said. “We are also partners with Juan Guzman of La Sierra Tire Shop in Fontana, who gives us and our customers great service.”

 Hall added, “As you can probably see, Auto Worx has a unique business model — it is truly fun working here with Dennis and supporting his mission to provide quality auto repair for a reasonable price.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.