Alignments are poorly understood by most people, including many service personnel. The correct geometry of the wheel on the axle is important for the safe operation of the vehicle.
Proper alignment ensures the correct contact patch of the tire on the road. The typical contact patch is about the size of a dollar bill. Even minor changes to the alignment can dramatically affect the contact patch and cornering, stopping, handling, fuel economy and tire wear.
There are many suspension parts that make up the suspension of the vehicle, and there are three major parts to the alignment.
- Camber – the tilt in or out of the tire (positive or negative)
- Toe – turning in or out (positive or negative)
- Caster – wheels not in a square position, and likely the frame is also out of square
Because roads are not smooth, obstacles like curbs and parking blocks hit the suspension. They can easily knock it out of specification. An alignment tries to keep the tire as close to square as possible.
Not So Obvious
Signs that a vehicle is out of alignment are not as evident as one would think. Tire balance and inflation can also dramatically affect vehicle performance, steering and ride quality. All three things — inflation, balance and alignment —can also prematurely wear tires and erode fuel economy.
Typical alignment condition is shown in aggressive shoulder wear on the tire. As little as 1/32 of variation in groove depth across the tire can indicate issues with the alignment or inflation. Tires with all levels of tire wear can be out of alignment specification.
The best time to catch an alignment is when the tires are still green, and you can save tread life.
Often identifying an alignment condition is difficult. There are tools to help identify alignments through actual measurements of the geometry of the wheel and through irregular tire wear. Both methods are accurate enough to sell the alignment.
How to Sell
The key to selling alignments is education. A proper presentation should include the following information and arguments:
- Sell the Safety of the Vehicle – contact patch to improve tire contact with the road.
- Reduced Friction – saves the tire’s life; generally, 1/32 equates to about 5,000 miles of tread life on the average passenger car or truck.
- Improve Fuel Economy – an alignment will improve fuel economy by about 10%.
An alignment will typically pay for itself in fuel savings in less than 12 months for the average consumer. Thus, when properly presented, the alignment should be one of the most straightforward service operations to sell to the consumer. Selling alignments and tracking the alignment rack usage can also produce $30,000 in gross monthly profit, making it the most profitable stall in the shop. The key is identifying every opportunity and presenting it properly to the consumer. Dealers can capture 50-70+% of all alignment opportunities.