The voice of opportunity knocks seldom these days. However, there are some not-so-far-reaching business alternatives that other collision repair shop owners have found profitable — including tire and wheel service.
A smart shop owner knows each and every customer driving — or towing — a vehicle into his shop for an estimate is a vehicle owner looking to have his car restored to near perfect condition. A smart shop owner also knows the line between body repair and mechanical repair have slowly dissolved, especially when it comes to wheel alignment. And who says tire work isn’t compatible with body and paint shop services?
If you’re looking to add more services to what you already offer customers, consider the following tips on tire and wheel services — two areas traditionally deemed mechanical, but not for long.
The Tread on Tires
Tires are much better these days. Today, they’re designed and constructed to meet strict guidelines set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQGS) will give you a broad guideline to use when selling a customer tires for a defined purpose. The UTQGS information is right where you need it — on the tires. The grades can be found in two places: on a paper label affixed to the tread and molded into the sidewalls. Brochures that explain the tire grades are also available.
But be cautious. Relying too much on this system is something you want to avoid. Each company tests its own products based on its interpretation of the guidelines, with many of the major brands testing on the conservative side. Traction, tread wear and temperature ratings have been used and abused so much in recent years that a few major dealers have abandoned using the system entirely when trying to qualify a customer for a tire. In these cases, tire companies will send specific comparative data when a new model is introduced. The science behind this type of testing is more specific, allowing you to quickly get a feel of where a tire belongs in the lineup.
Please note that the UTQGS is only designed to help buyers make relative comparisons among tires. It’s not a safety rating, nor is it a guarantee that a tire will last for a prescribed number of miles or perform in a certain way. It simply gives tire buyers additional information to use with other considerations, such as price, brand loyalty and dealer recommendations.
Under the UTQGS, tires are graded by the manufacturers in three areas: tread wear, traction and temperature resistance.
• Tread wear — The tread wear grade is a comparative rating based on the wear rate of the tire when tested under carefully controlled conditions. For example, a tire graded 200 should have its useful tread last twice as long as a tire graded 100. However, real-world tire-tread life, in miles, depends on the actual conditions of use. Tire life is affected by variations in driving habits; service practices, such as tire rotation, wheel alignment and maintaining proper inflation pressure; and differences in road characteristics and climate.
• Traction — Traction grades represent the tire’s ability to stop on wet pavement as measured under controlled conditions on asphalt and concrete test surfaces. The traction grades, from highest to lowest, are AA, A, B and C. A tire graded AA may have relatively better traction performance than a tire graded A, B or C based on straight-ahead braking tests, but the grades don’t reflect the cornering or turning traction performance of the tires.
• Temperature Resistance — Temperature grades represent the tire’s resistance to heat and its ability to dissipate heat when tested under controlled laboratory test conditions. Sustained high temperature can cause the tire to degenerate and reduce tire life, and excessive temperature can lead to sudden tire failure.
The temperature grades, from highest to lowest, are A, B and C. Grade C corresponds to the minimum performance required by federal safety standards. Grades B and A represent higher levels of performance than the minimum required by law. The temperature grade is for a tire that’s inflated properly and not overloaded. Excessive speed, under-inflation or excessive loading, either separately or in combination, can cause heat build-up and possible tire failure.
Please note that all information provided by NHTSA should be used only as a basic guideline to assist your customers in their purchases. Determining the specific use of the tire is the best criteria to use in tire selection. Important factors such as the type of vehicle, the terrain the vehicle is primarily run on and routine tire maintenance — such as wheel alignment intervals and rotation — all contribute to safe and long-lasting tire service.
If you’re thinking about adding tire and wheel services to your shop’s offering, don’t forget the following.
• Body shop paint and prep areas may suffer from the dirt and dust brought in by tire and wheel services. To combat this problem, shops being converted for these services should set aside an area that can be kept clean and has access to water to keep the dust down.
• When it comes to storing tires, don’t keep them in an area that’s subject to paint overspray and other VOC by-products. The reaction these chemicals might have with the synthetics in the rubber can shorten their service life.
• Keep tires and tubes away from compressors or electrical-unit operating areas. Ozone that’s normally created as machinery cycles on and off can add to a hostile storage environment and cause tire dry rot and cracking.
• Working with insurance companies in regard to tire replacement on late-model vehicles can be simplified if the price of the tires you’re selling are less than wholesale. Contact wholesale suppliers for guidelines on area price structures for servicing and selling tires.
What Else is Required?
Many new vehicles are equipped with “run-flat” technology and require the use of special tire-handling equipment for removal, replacement and other services. Although this equipment will raise your initial investment in offering wheel and tire services, the equipment is quite capable of handling just about anything that comes through the door.
Other considerations should include specialized training and safety classes for all personnel performing tire and rim services. Exploding wheels and tires are problems we’ll never entirely be rid of in the automotive service business.
Keep the Profits Rolling In
For those body shops offering non-traditional products and services — such as tire and wheel sales and service — an already established relationship with collision repair customers will help boost business for the additional services. If a customer is familiar with your shop and has had quality work done there before, he’s more likely to trust you and return to you when other services are needed.
When you think about it, offering tire and wheel service really isn’t too far-fetched for a collision repair shop. Rims and custom wheels are a natural sideline for many body shops — overall paint jobs accented by a set of new tires and wheels will make the completed job that much more attractive. And just because tire and wheel service has traditionally been linked to mechanical repair doesn’t mean your body shop can’t venture into the business, too. Lines are blurring, times are changing and, for those shops changing with the times, profits are increasing.
Contributing editor Bob Leone, a retired shop owner, is ASE Three-Way Master Certified and is completing qualifications as a post-secondary automotive instructor in the vocational school system in Missouri.
A Twist on Tire Service
Before Burns’ body and paint shop offered expanded tire services, Brown’s mechanical shop had the equipment to de-mount, balance and repair tires. The inventory of tires the body shop maintained included only those special ordered to replace tires damaged in accidents.
These days, the duties of mounting and balancing are shared by both shops. Inventory is currently stored in the mechanical shop area, but both shops can access the stock as they need it. The arrangement works well: The body and paint shop does paint and collision work for late-model vehicle owners — vehicle owners the mechanical shop might never see until the manufacturer’s three-year/36,000-mile warranty is up. The fact that return tire buyers may also be looking for some touch-up or detailing work helps Burns.
Warranty follow-up is taken care of by whichever shop originally sold the tire. The body shop depends upon the mechanical shop for alignment services, and the bench system available at the body shop for major structural problems can be a real asset to the mechanical shop when a vehicle comes in that has no more room for adjustment or is plagued by a sagging frame or cross members. And the extra expenses involved with tire and wheel service, such as wheel weights and tire-valve stems, are shared equally by both shops.