Consumer preference for ever-larger, even more stylized wheels continues to trigger changes that are redefining how profits are realized in a tire store’s service bays.
MTD asked equipment manufacturers for trends in consumer tire mounting and balancing that will influence tire dealers’ business strategies and equipment purchases.
We also asked how tire dealers can respond to the trends impacting the marketplace.
Answering on behalf of BendPak Inc. was Max Glassburg, creative content editor. Dave Scribner, product development manager, responded for CEMB USA/BL Systems Inc. Speaking for Hennessy Industries Inc. was Don Vanderheyden, director of marketing. Hunter Engineering Co. answered through two people: Pete Liebetreu, vice president of marketing, and Greg Meyer, product manager of wheel balancers and lathes. Snap-on Equipment Inc. shared perspective via Kyle Harris, product manager.
MTD began by asking each respondent to identify the top three trends their companies are seeing in consumer tire mounting and balancing.
BendPak, Glassburg: If you’ve been in this business for a while, you know that the wheel balancing game looks different today compared to what it looked like just a few years ago. We can definitely point to three industry trends that account for this change.
The first trend we’re seeing is the proliferation of larger-diameter rims and tires on smaller passenger cars. Dealers need to be ready with tire machines that can safely handle a wider variety of wheel sizes.
The second trend we’re noticing is that flashier rims are no longer exclusive to custom and luxury markets. OEMs are differentiating their wheels for uniqueness and identification purposes.
More and more, style matters to owners of vehicles that were once considered purely practical daily drivers. This change, which is being driven by OEMs and their response to market demands, means there is a bigger market for larger, more stylized wheels. This is even true for economy vehicle wheels.
To meet these new consumer demands, car makers are now offering aluminum and alloy wheels as standard options. This means less use of clip-on weights and more tape weights. It also requires an increased awareness of how to handle these specialized varieties.
The third trend we’re seeing, which we won’t spend as much time discussing here, is that both the off-road and plus-size markets are growing. Be ready to see more large tire-and-wheel combinations rolling into your shop.
CEMB, Scribner: Heavy wheel lifting can hurt your shop and balancing accuracy. There are young tire guys and bold tire guys but never old and bold tire guys. It’s tough work bending over and lifting all day long. The young and bold tire guys will someday be older and need to look at the guys who made it and the guys who didn’t and ended up disabled.
To prevent injuries and reduce shop liabilities, enforce the use of employee personal safety equipment and teach lifting precautions when assemblies approach 50 pounds and over. Most tire changers and wheel balancers are now available with tire lifts to aid in lifting from the floor to work height; it’s a good investment for your shop and your employees’ “wheel-being.”
Wheel lifts on balancers also allow the operator to greatly improve centering on heavy wheels by negating the effects of gravity combined with tapered centering cones and spacers. Shop managers should train all operators to understand the importance of how to simply validate a wheel is centered before balancing.
Hennessy, Vanderheyden: Computer balancers on the market today will dynamically balance a wheel. However, due to weight round-offs and slight weight replacement errors, they oftentimes leave an excessive residual static imbalance.
The ongoing pursuit of increased fuel economy will continue to increase vehicle sensitivity to vibration and drive the need for tighter balancing tolerances in aftermarket wheel service.
Tire innovations driven by the need for reduced rolling resistance will compound the ride quality challenges already faced in the aftermarket.
Hunter, Meyer: The first trend is comeback reduction. Many customers are beginning to understand the value in customer retention. When dealing with tires, this means the tires must be vibration-free the first time. Customers are investing in equipment that makes this easy. Tire changers like the Revolution that can automatically perform a bead massage ensure that tires are seated properly on rims and reduce road force and therefore vibrations. Having equipment like Hunter’s Road Force balancer that can “test drive” these and fix problem assemblies before giving the vehicle back to the customer is critical.
The second trend is ease of use. Technician turnover is a real issue. Tire dealers are looking for equipment that is easy to use and allows technicians to start working with little to no training. They are increasingly looking for equipment that is simple to use and provides on the job training with videos, animations, and simple instructions.The third trend is technician safety. Preventing technician injuries is a key concern. This is becoming increasingly difficult with the larger tire assemblies that are now standard on vehicles.
Leverless tire changers are much more popular than years past to reduce injuries. Wheel lifts are very popular on both tire changers and balancers to reduce technician strain.
Snap-on Equipment, Harris: Consumers are moving from traditional cars to SUVs and trucks. This will require tire dealers to stock and sell larger, more expensive tires. Trucks wear tires faster than traditional passenger cars and require replacement more often.
Wheels continue to grow in size; for example, 22-inch wheels are now standard on many SUVs. This requires greater skill and attention to detail when changing as not to damage raised spokes or crack plastic cladding.
Custom wheels are a $1.21 billion industry and custom wheels are getting larger in diameter, wider and also offer more extreme offset. Many aftermarket wheel and tire packages are dealer installed.
Update on equipment
Modern Tire Dealer also asked manufacturers the best ways for tire dealers to leverage these trends.
BendPak, Glassburg: As we know, tire dealers need to have the ability to safely and accurately accommodate larger wheels built with custom materials and varying paint finishes. The types of metals and finishes, such as the popular powder coat finish, can make handling these tires a delicate activity. If handling is not precisely performed, well, that can be a very costly lesson. Proper handling requires tire changers with larger wheel handling capacities and clamping systems that will accommodate exotic wheels without damaging them.
It used to be that unique wheel types were primarily found on luxury cars, but the market is becoming increasingly diverse. Traditional tire changers, if not properly equipped, can mar softer alloy and clad wheels. Such changers can also scuff or scratch powder coated finishes, which are expensive to re-finish. Powder coating is becoming a popular trend among custom car builders, so expect to see many of these color-rich wheels rolling in your shop soon, if you haven’t already.
In order to stay competitive in their markets and safely handle these wheels, savvy tire dealers are supplementing their wheel service offerings with a “touchless” tire changer. Touchless tire changer designs typically mount the wheel at the center hub rather than the outside diameter of the wheel. This means there is reduced chance of damage to visible surfaces. In addition, a touchless changer utilizes mounting and demounting tools that make no contact with the wheel, further reducing the chance of costly damage.
If nothing else, the major takeaway here is that the market demand is for larger wheels and more unique wheel stylings. Is your shop prepared for the future?
CEMB, Scribner: Better quality wheels allow more profitable wheel balancing. Major brand name tires and wheels are built with much better uniformity. They balance with less weight and are more uniform (i.e., have less eccentricity). As a result, the wheels today are primarily balanced to correct static force.
Wheel balancers place two weights to perform a dynamic balance, but actually a single weight can now suffice to provide the same dynamic balance if it is placed in the exact correct location; all because the wheels are better quality.
This can be proven. When balancing you’ll notice that the two correction weights are often located in the same quadrants of the wheel. Shifting over to a static mode you can see that most of the imbalance is also reflected in the static mode.
The fact is that most wheel balancers are outdated and need to catch up with the better-quality wheels we are now balancing.
Newer wheel balancers are able to scan the wheel and allow the operator to place a single weight over 70% of the time in a single computer-chosen position to perfectly dynamic balance the wheel. This can save over 33% in labor costs on every wheel that is balanced. That’s enough labor savings in an average tire shop to make the lease payment on that new machine every month.
Hennessy, Vanderheyden: Improper mounting results in 60% of vibration-related comebacks. Excessive residual static results in 10% of vibration-related comebacks. Improper wheel weight usage results in 7% of vibration-related comebacks.
Modern tire changers and balancers are designed to accommodate the challenges of modern tire and wheel assemblies with adjustable pin plates, balancing algorithms and laser-guided wheel weight placement capabilities.
The latest tire changers, such as the Coats 80X Rim Clamp tire changer, speed bay turns, which leads to increased profits for shops. Coats offers an online video series that explains the tools and technologies to increase tire changing speed and efficiencies. The Coats buyer’s guide steps a dealer through the process of selecting mounting and balancing equipment.
Hunter, Liebetreu: Low-profile and run- flat tires challenge the ease of use and effort of traditional equipment. Thus new equipment offers aids and power tools like leverless, etc. The larger assemblies are physically hard to manage, thus wheel lifts, etc. New assemblies demand accuracy as well. They can be sensitive to vibration and damage during service.
New vehicle suspensions are more highly tuned, driving the demand for perfection in service even higher.
The best equipment and best equipped shops are better able to handle these additional requirements with easy mounting, damage-free tire changers and accurate, weight efficient, and road force capable balancers.The successful tire dealers can separate themselves from what is perceived as a commodity market.
Those who are able to set themselves apart as vibration experts and tire specialists will be more successful than those who do not. Having the right equipment and trained personnel is critical, but expressing this to customers is equally important.
Snap-on Equipment, Harris: Customers can leverage the SUV trend by stocking larger sizes for trucks and SUVs and by being sure their equipment is up-to-date and well maintained to handle these larger, heavier assemblies.
Adding additional equipment such as wheel lifts to existing tire changers and balancers is a great way for a business to equip itself to take advantage of this trend.
As OEM wheels grow in size and complexity, having proper mounting and balancing tooling is critical. Being able to balance these large and heavy wheels without damage while avoiding customer comebacks is virtually a requirement in today’s tire industry.
Equipping your shop to service customers with expensive aftermarket wheels and tires can create new revenue streams and also create new challenges.
Having the very best and latest in leverless tire machines can make the difference between buying a customer a new wheel or making a happy customer. ■