Hunter training center recognized

Mark Olson shows the operation of a computerized alignment machine at the Hunter Engineering training center at Shoreline Community College.

By: Jerold B. Smith
The Hunter Engineering training center at Shoreline Community College’s Professional Automotive Training Center (PATC) offers a real-world setting to learn about undercar service in today’s market.

Parts & People visited the center during the recent Vehicle Maintenance Management Conference (VMMC) at PATC during the college’s spring break. Hosting the visit was Mark Olson, who trains at PATC and at Hunter facilities in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Hawaii. An ASE-certified Master Technician, Olson is also a certified instructor with I-CAR and is a former autobody shop owner.

The Shoreline training center, which includes a classroom and adjacent shop, is used for instruction of students at PATC, as well as dealership, independent repair, and tire shop personnel, Olson said. Regular classes are at the center for ongoing training of working technicians several times a year, under the direction of Jeff Elder, Hunter’s Portland region manager for sales/service/training.

In the shop area of the training center are two Hunter WA430 in-floor alignment systems, a DSP 9000 and GSP 9700 wheel balancer, and a TCX 575 tire changer, among other equipment.

While the basics of wheel alignment still involve caster (the forward or rearward tilt of the steering axis as viewed from the side) and camber (the inward or outward tilt of the top of the wheel as viewed from the front), Olson said the most dramatic advancement of alignment equipment in the past five years is the capability of resetting angle sensors. “It’s a game-changer, as will be the new Revolution tire changer that automatically demounts tires, lowering the dangers of tire service,” he said.

“If you bought an alignment rack 20 years ago, it’s probably still working, but for some models there may be limited parts or service available,” Olson said, adding that computerized systems available today allow for faster, more efficient, and likely more profitable alignment service.

Olson stressed that inspections prior to alignment service, and reviewing what the vehicle issues involve, are vital. He said there are four reasons for alignment service: 1) the customer simply wants one; 2) the vehicle is pulling, which involves caster and camber; 3) the steering wheel alignment is off, which involves toe; and 4) there is significant tire wear that is a camber and toe issue. A test drive on a straight flat road may determine pull at various speeds (“Toe does not cause pull,” he said), or issues with electronic stability control systems.

Checking tire pressure is important, Olson said, as is inspecting tire wear to determine issues. For example, excessive toe occurs when wear starts on the shoulder, moves inward, and feels rough, while excessive camber wear is isolated to the tire shoulder and the tire is smooth.

Understanding suspension systems and wear on everything from shocks and struts to bushings, coil springs, and wheel bearings is important, Olson said, adding that shifting parts may be an issue for out-of-alignment vehicles. “What’s real is that the thrust angle (the angle formed between the thrust line and the geometric centerline) is what pushes the vehicle.”

Olson said the primary wheel alignment includes the camber, caster, toe (total and individual), and thrust angle. Comprehending how suspension and steering systems vary on light-duty cars and trucks, as well as medium- and heavy-duty trucks, is an important element in proper wheel alignments. He noted that vibrations seldom are associated with wheel alignments, but may be caused by excessive tire wear, wheel balancing, worn engine or transaxle mounts, and other problems.

Even with sophisticated alignment service equipment available today, Olson stresses that fully understanding why an alignment may be necessary on a vehicle is important for technicians in order for them to properly repair cars and trucks.  Complex electronic stability control systems, electronic rack-and-pinion steering, steering sensors, and other systems are changing alignment protocols, Olson said, which affects overall stability and understeer/oversteer.

On trucks, Olson said, tandem scrub angles and the intersection of horizontal lines are vital to understand.

While there are several benefits to wheel alignment — such as reducing tire wear, correcting pull, or straightening crooked steering wheel position — Olson said that grasping basic problems and knowing proper procedures of two- and four-wheel alignments will make service better for customers and more profitable for shops.

“When you understand things like geometric centerline (a line drawn through the midpoint of both front and rear wheels), thrust line (the bisector of rear toe), directional stability (the tendency for a vehicle to maintain a directional path), and the relationships wheels and steering have to one another, the process is much easier,” he said. He noted that following factory-preferred specifications is also important.

With more complicated suspension, steering, and wheel systems in play on late-model vehicles, Olson suggests that ongoing training is vital to providing quality alignment service for customers. “It’s likely to get worse, rather than better, so be prepared for the vehicles that will be coming to your shops,” he said.

Reprinted by permission of Parts & People See more at parts and people

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