Million’s in alignments: Tulsa dealer discovers profitable service
Steve Million has only been offering alignments at his dealership, Four Star Tire Inc., for three months. He probably wishes he'd started earlier. "I had people telling me, 'You have to get into it,'" says the Tulsa, Okla.-based tire dealer. "A lot of customers were asking for it."
Four Star Tire has always offered light mechanical work, including brakes, shocks, and struts. Alignments, according to Million, "go along with the tire business." He decided to add the service to his menu.
"I talked to a salesman at Myers Tire Supply." Myers put him in touch with a representative from Snap-on Equipment Technical Automotive Group, who sold him a new John Bean alignment machine.
A trainer then came out and showed Million and his garage foreman how to use it. (Million, who has owned Four Star Tire for 16 years, still turns wrenches at his shop. The single-location dealership sells Yokohama, Kumho, Mohawk, Sumitomo, BFGoodrich and Uniroyal brand tires.)
It takes 30 minutes for Four Star Tire to perform a standard alignment. For passenger cars, the dealership charges $40 for a two-wheel alignment and $60 for a four-wheel job. A two-wheel alignment on a one-ton pickup runs $50.
"You don't do four-wheel alignments on most of your larger trucks. There are no adjustments in the back."
Million and his men go down a checklist before starting the alignment process. "We look for loose front-end parts and any worn parts to make sure everything is good and secure."
Checking underneath cars and trucks has led to other repair jobs, he says. "You can look at the front end, you can look at the brakes, you can look at the universal joint, the shocks, the struts -- everything is right there. Almost every vehicle is different.
"We don't fix anything without telling the customer about it and then they make the decision. If it's something dangerous, we recommend they get it fixed right (away)."
The length of time that a car will stay in alignment varies, according to Million. "It depends on the driver. If you have someone who's taking care of his car and not hitting every chuckhole or curb, you probably need to have it checked once a year. Most customers won't have it checked unless they hit something or have an accident or if they get worn tires. Irregular tire wear is the biggest tip-off.
"But I've seen where customers have a busted ball joint and they still drive their car in here. You can tear up a lot on a front end. Front ends aren't as stout as they used to be. The undercarriage isn't as heavy. Auto manufacturers want a better-riding car so they've cut back on stuff. It's a lot easier to knock (a newer car) out of alignment."
The biggest mistake an alignment tech can make "is just putting it on the rack and doing an alignment without checking the undercarriage first. We make a point to make sure every (part) is good and tight."
Million and his techs even test drive cars after they've finished aligning them to make sure everything is operating correctly.
"We don't have many comebacks." And customers enjoy the convenience of the service. "When people go somewhere, they want to get it all done right there, no matter what the problem is. Most of the time we can get (a repair job done) within the same day."
Four Star Tire currently does four to five alignments a day. Million would like to boost that number to at least 10 per day. "Word-of-mouth has been our biggest advertisement so far. I've been really pleased with the service."