Comfort with Fundamentals Makes Decisions on Service Equipment Purchase or Replacement Easier


“It might be time to think about adding to or replacing some of your service equipment. That means being comfortable with the fundamental questions of where to start and how to ascertain what equipment is really needed.”

You checked the dealership closet and you are fresh out of wire hangers. This means your service manager has no tool left to fix that aging lift for the 40th time. Now what?

Okay, that example was a bit facetious, but seriously, when was the last time your dealership took a realistic inventory of its service equipment? Does that equipment still help get the job done, quickly and well, or is your service staff so used to holding their heads right, standing on one foot and pressing the “On” button that they really don’t remember how the machine is supposed to work?

Can your current equipment handle all of the new vehicle models, including trucks with extended cabs and dual rear ends, and run flat tires? Most importantly, is the equipment safe for both your employees and customers’ vehicles?

If you had to answer “maybe” to any of the questions above, it might be time to think about adding to or replacing some of your service equipment. That means being comfortable with the fundamental questions of where to start and how to ascertain what equipment is really needed.

Lift Maintenance Pays You Back

Let’s start with the lift, your single-most-important piece of shop equipment. Whether they are in-ground, above-ground, old or new, lifts are the workhorses of a service department. They tend to require very little maintenance and work well day-in and day-out for years, without much thought given to them – until they suddenly fail.

serviceRegular maintenance on your lifts will give back years of dependable service, and routine inspections will ensure they are operating safely. If you have older in-ground lifts, make sure you have replaced the hydraulic fluid with an environmentally friendly replacement liquid. If your service department does suffer a leak that is above the shop floor, replacing hydraulic fluid decreases the odds that the lift will break down and prevents a hazardous waste spill.

If your lifts are above-ground, check your cables to make sure they are not frayed and your pivot points to be sure they are lubricated.

Cases For In-Ground, Above-Ground Models

Now, let me address some pros and cons for replacements for each style of lift.

In-ground lifts can be situated closer together than other types of lifts. So, a dealership can lay out their bays tighter such that they fit an extra bay into the space that otherwise would hold 10 to 12 bays. However, in-ground lifts are more expensive and drive up construction costs because of the additional floor prep needed. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, once installed they cannot be moved.

Above-ground lifts are my preferred choice for lots of reasons, including lower cost than in-ground models, the lack of underground components to service, and the ability to reposition the unit or move it to a new shop. The most compelling point in their favor, for me, is that you now can purchase above-ground two-post lifts that have line voltage and compressed air delivered to the post itself.

In other words, you don’t have cords and hoses running from the wall to the vehicle, which removes a tripping hazard and shop clutter. This type of lift gets all of its air and power connections from above, within a tech’s arm’s reach. In addition, a service department can mount trouble lights, hose reels, a cordless tool charger, etc. right on the post, although it will need at least one heavy duty two-post lift or a four-post drive-on model. A heavy duty two-post lift can service most commercial units and without the floor space needs of the much larger four-post drive-on model.

However, service managers need to bear in mind that above-ground lifts do require more room in between to allow for posts and passage. This could be a significant factor in a smaller shop. And, remember this point: When deciding on the size of a heavy duty lift, you can’t think only about gross vehicle weight. If your shop services a lot of commercial trucks, you have to anticipate the loads they carry. For example, materials can add as much as 5,000 pounds to the total weight of a plumbing truck.

Advances In Air Compressors

Let me now discuss air compressors. Repair shops’ air needs have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. With the advancement and power of cordless tools, techs use much less air then they once did. This may or may not be true for body shops, which continue to be active users of air-driven hand tools in order to reduce tool weight.

Reduced air requirements means service departments can turn to a smaller, more efficient compressor. I have always liked having a main unit with a 5-horsepower back-up. This way, if the main unit goes down or requires maintenance, your techs still have air to get their work done.

Also, you should look into a screw-type compressor. While the initial cost is a bit higher than with a piston model, it requires far less maintenance and is quieter in the shop.

I won’t have space in this article to touch on other key pieces of equipment including tire equipment, alignment racks, floor equipment and AC machines.

Where To Shop? NADA

Now, how can dealerships get the equipment that they need, at the best value, and comparison-shop? My best answer is simply to go to the NADA show and shop the floor. You will find every key category of equipment, from scoop to nuts, all under one roof.

Do your homework ahead of time so you know what equipment you want and the quantity you need. You can shop lift manufacturers with displays 150 feet apart that will work hard for your business. Almost all automotive equipment manufacturers present at NADA and will be happy to guide you through your purchase. Most of them will offer show specials if you order at the event, will offer to perform free floor layout evaluations for your shop, and provide specs for power, air, etc.

Don’t forget to research possible financial support from your OEM. Most auto manufacturers have an equipment division that will finance your purchases at really competitive rates. I know Ford and GM both have excellent programs, and I am sure there are others.

Finally do not overlook any opportunities from your suppliers. For example, your oil vendor may offer you an oil distribution system under a three-year contract on bulk oil.

I can’t overemphasize: Ask what’s available and comparison-shop. If you need service equipment, come to NADA in Las Vegas this year and get your shop back in shape.