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Tire changing equipment evolving to handle bigger tire, wheel technologies

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AKRON—“The world of tire changers has gone from little change for years to now changing pretty rapidly,” said James Huhn, director of advertising for Hunter Engineering Co.

Tire changing and balancing equipment technology is evolving as quickly as tire and wheel technology, spurred along by run-flat tires, low-profile tires, plus-sized wheel/tire packages, customized wheels and tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS).

With the current popularity of larger, more expensive wheels and low-profile tires with stiffer sidewalls, the traditional center post tire changing equipment that served the market well for decades isn't enough anymore for tire shops that want to increase business and profits, according to equipment manufacturers.

“Auto makers have been pumping out cars with 15-, 16-inch rims for years. Within the past (five to 10 years) there has been a proliferation of larger size wheels and custom wheels. It's popular to trick vehicles with custom larger wheels,” Mr. Huhn explained. “It takes more modern tire changers to handle the larger wheels.

“Shops have found themselves in a bit of a problem,” he added. “If they can't handle (the custom wheels) they can either turn business away or take a chance.” But in taking a chance, if the tire shop damages the wheel, it has to replace it. “That totally wipes out the profit on the service job,” he said.

With the popularity of “tricking out” vehicles, “if you're not in the game, it can be a huge loss of revenue for you,” Mr. Huhn said. “It's a large part of the market that can have a negative impact on tire dealers or car dealers.”

Tire changers are now designed to handle custom wheels with great care so that in some cases the wheel surface is never touched. Newer changers can generally handle up to 30-inch light vehicle tires.

The 30-inch tires are still few in number, but Myers Tire Supply Co. suggested that with the seemingly endless growth in sizes, if a shop buys a new tire changer, it should get one that can handle 30-inch tires.

Hunter's product manager, David Scribner, said that tire shops need more than one kind of tire changer because no one changer can service all types of tires/wheels. “Most shops that do different tires have more than one changer. Having different technologies works better for efficiency,” he said.

Not everyone can afford the latest technology. Top-of-the-line tire changing equipment can cost as much as $15,000 or more, but it is a necessary capital in-

vestment for dealers who want to stay in business, according to equipment manufacturers.

“You have to be in the game. You have to make the decision if you're going to be in the business or not. If you're not in the business to do low-profile, it really can take away a big part of the business,” Mr. Huhn said.

Run-flat tires also require the proper machine for servicing. “(Run-flats) will never be widespread, but if you're going to service them, you have to have one,” said Jeffrey Jobe, director of marketing for Myers.

Two main drivers to support an upgrade are bay turns and the custom wheel business, according to Kevin Keefe, director of marketing for Hennessy Industries Inc. More work with faster service time means more profit. “Speed, efficiency, accuracy and durability are the cornerstones of what we do in ongoing enhancements,” Mr. Keefe said.

Though more high-tech, the equipment also is built more durably to handle the onslaught of larger and heavier tire/wheel assemblies that can exert a lot of force on the machines.

Conventional equipment can scratch and nick custom wheels—which can be expensive for the dealer to replace. “A couple of damaged wheels will more than pay back the premium you'd pay (for upgraded equipment),” Mr. Keefe said.

Keeping up with the competition is another incentive to upgrade. A few years ago car dealerships began a big push to capture more tire sales and service business by upgrading their service shops with the latest tire changers and balancers.

“Car dealerships are becoming a larger portion of our and the industry's business. It's gone from about zero to 4 to 5 percent now,” said Hennessy's Mr. Keefe, adding, “Car dealerships predominantly go for the top-end equipment.”

“The car dealership is our company's growth market,” added Myers' Mr. Jobe. “Car dealers are moving more into our market. They see it as a growth market.”

He noted that car dealerships that sell vehicles with Group Michelin's Pax tire/wheel run-flat systems want to be the ones to service those tires, so they are buying the latest technology.

Overall the tire service equipment industry is still healthy, according to Mr. Keefe. “As of late it is driven in large part by the boom in aftermarket tires and wheels and the necessity to upgrade equipment to handle that.”

“Shops understand that to be in business and to be profitable they have to service this new trend,” added Mr. Huhn.

“You have to have the equipment to do the job. If you turn away a certain amount of business, you've eventually got to decide if you're going to stay in business,” Mr. Jobe said.

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