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Hidden damage is generally internal damage not visible to the naked eye. It is very often left unrepaired on motor homes and travel trailers, because it was not discovered. The RV has obvious minor damage to the front lower panel.

These types of vehicles have heavy frames, axles, wheels and tires. The body panels (outer shell) however are lightweight. Many panels are also flexible and when impacted they may be driven inward several inches. The panels spring back to their original shape leaving the impression the damage is minor except for a few visible stress cracks. Internal support damage may not be discovered.

Did the windshield just pop out? Is there internal damage that should be looked for?

Coachmaster Collision has written many estimates where other shops have been a thousand or more dollars less in cost. Evidently, the shops do not understand the extent of the damage and could not include the hidden damage on the estimate. Fortunately in almost every case the customer selected Coachmaster because of our thorough estimate. An accurate and thorough estimate is what an RV owner expects and so does his Insurance Company.

Damage to the inner body support caused the front panel to move inward too far, causing the windshield to pop out of its retainer.

I especially remember an estimate from another RV repair shop because it was so poorly written. The parts were not named correctly and the list of necessary parts, labor and repair was incomplete. The Insurance Company adjuster called Coachmaster Collision for assistance…even though Coachmaster Collision was not going to perform the repair. The RV owner was a personal friend of the RV business owner and insisted the repairs be completed at his friend's business.

The Insurance adjuster called Coachmaster's RV estimator, Allan Gordon, for assistance. At their request Allan traveled to the other shop and prepared an estimate. Insurance Companies require a very detailed estimate. The Department of Insurance Regulations require specific details of repair procedures to be included. Not all Insurance Companies have trained RV adjusters. They hire independent adjusters or depend on a professional repair facility to write a complete and accurate estimate. In this case the Insurance Company agreed to compensate Coachmaster Collision to prepare an accurate estimate.

Repairs required removing the windshield. Green and blue area indicate repairs to fiberglass fractures.

Unusual? Yes, but this Insurance Company went out of its way to protect The RV owner it insured. The Insurance Company's decision to obtain an accurate estimate most likely saved a friendship between the RV owner and the RV shop owner as well as avoiding a large headache for themselves.

I've been fascinated with lasers ever since I read in the paper about how NASA scientists used a laser beam to measure the distance to the moon in 1969. It was discovered the distance was not as it had been commonly believed. Previous astronomers calculated the distance by looking at the stars and using mathematics to determine the distance. The calculations varied through the centuries and were often thousands of miles in difference.

But that is still close considering the great distance to the moon. The laser proved the distance within a few inches. Thousands of miles different than was previously thought.

This article is intended to inform the reader that accurate collision repairs are not something that just happens. There is equipment that needs to be purchased and new skills to be learned as science advances.

I thought: "A laser is accurate within inches at the great distance to the moon;Imagine how accurate it could be for repairing vehicle collision damage!"

As you read this article Coachmaster Collision is approaching our 47th year in business. During this time, we have upgraded our lasers and other related equipment many times and will continue to do so. We enjoy technology and I have never lost my fascination for lasers.

It was in the mid 1970s when I heard of a company that was building a laser for auto body work. I contacted the laser manufacturer and was advised that they are working on a vehicle "total body laser." They had a few test units in shops in the Eastern States but we were the first inquiry from the Western States. They assured me I would be the first to be contacted when a unit was ready for sale.

It was some time later when I got the call and made arrangements to appear for training. We became the first body shop in California and number 12 in the nation to use laser beams for accuracy when repairing collision damaged vehicles.

At a California State Auto Body Association meeting held in Monterey, California, leading shop owners complained. The laser was an unproven method and the association should not recommend its use. A dedicated (fixed jig) type measuring method, which was the most foolproof method to repair a damaged modern car at the time, should be the only method recommended.

A fixed jig has one great advantage. It is simple to use because the car fits it if undamaged…or it does not, if damaged. But it has many disadvantages. The first is: it is costly to buy and useless without the fixtures. Each car model has to have its own fixtures. The fixtures have to be delivered to a shop and the daily rental fee for the fixtures often renders a vehicle not cost effective to repair. In other words, a total loss.

At the meeting I voiced my opinion: Science has proven laser beams to be accurate and this has been published in many scientific papers and magazines. Should the California Auto Body Association come out against science and the use of lasers it will just look foolish and will lose professional credibility. Fortunately they listened and did not reject the laser. Today lasers are used throughout the nation in the well-equipped shops.

Our laser has proven invaluable over the years. We have added a second laser and upgraded our system now three times as more features are introduced to make it easier and faster to use. Of course this also saves money for vehicle owners and Insurance companies.

As the word got out to the Insurance Companies and the public that we could correct improper repairs. We got new criticisms from shop owners. One owner complained to an Insurance company, "no matter how perfect we can make a vehicle Coachmaster can always make it better." I replied to the Insurance Company representative. "If we can make it better…it was not perfect." Vehicle owners come to us because they are not satisfied with their repair and we can provide documentation.

We also upgraded our frame machine. I got a call from a body shop in another city a few months after I sold them our old frame machine. He asked, is there some way to make the machine more accurate? I asked what the problem was. He said the repairs are not coming out to factory specificians and he especially wanted Coachmaster's machine because of the reputation we had for doing accurate repairs.

The machine is only a tool I replied, it's kind of like getting a new golf club…you can't make a hole in one until you have a lot of practice. The operator achieves the accuracy.

Then why did you get another machine he asked? Because the Mega Liner is bigger and more powerful and will handle a larger variety of vehicles…but it is always the operator that makes it accurate. Especially if he is using other tools, such as laser beams.

To complement our laser beam system our latest acquisition is an infra-red, 3D imaging alignment machine. Using the two in conjunction on every frame repair creates a double check for accuracy and an ideal wheel alignment.

But it does not end there. Between the two devices we can determine if the body is bent even if not visible to the naked eye. A vehicle involved in a moderate collision often has minor body misalignment (called frame damage on an estimate.) The owners may notice doors or the hood or trunk lid close differently. If this is the case the wheels may be out of alignment too. The owner may adjust the doors and make then work to his satisfaction but the body is still bent. Wheel alignments have very limited adjustment. If the body is bent the wheel alignment may not be achieved without frame repair.

A vehicle I remember in particular, because the repair was so unusual, had a bent frame from a side impact. A front wheel was tilted inward by several inches at the top. The repair shop installed a longer bolt to the steering arm and shimmed the arm out until the wheel was straight. Unfortunately this caused other steering angles to be off and the vehicle steered erratically. We corrected the frame, restored the steering arm to the correct position and used the correct bolt to secure it. The alignment was corrected and the vehicle drove properly.

A Death Wobble is a phenomenon not to be confused with a front-end shimmy or a wheel balance problem. A Death Wobble (DW) is very common on vehicles with a solid front axle. It has earned its name, not from mechanics but by vehicle owners that have been frightened by the experience.

The DW usually starts at about 45-65 MPH. The front wheels start to wobble left and right very rapidly. The steering wheel jerks left and right by several inches. The movement is so rapid it is difficult to hold onto the steering wheel. Loss of control seems imminent. At speeds over 60 MPH, the front end feels like it is ready to break loose from the vehicle. Applying the brakes quickly as you would in a reflex action causes the DW to become more violent.

If you experience the DW I have found that the safest method to regain control is to hold the steering wheel as steadily as possible. Take your foot off the gas pedal and carefully apply light brake pressure. If the wobble increases, brake pressure is too high. As the vehicle slows and lighter brake pressure is reapplied the wobble should stop within a few seconds.

I have experienced the DW on a curve at about 65-MPH. It was especially frightening since I was passing a logging truck. The wobble struck as I was side by side with the logging truck. I held steady with the steering wheel following the curve. I let off the gas pedal and lightly applied the brakes. The wobble increased and I let up on the brakes. I gently reapplied the brakes again, the vehicle slowed and the wobble stopped.

Once a DW is experienced it will return again until repairs are made to the vehicle. However, the DW may not occur again for days, weeks or months until conditions are ideal for it to return. Do not convince yourself it was a one time occurrence because time has passed. A vehicle that had a DW still has the mechanical condition that caused it, it just needs the right road condition to activate it.

You must still return home or to a place for repair. These hints may help get you there safer and to help reduce the chance of the wobble returning until repairs can be made.

Check for tire and/or suspension failure
If there is no damage to the vehicle and you are determined the vehicle can be driven, start slowly.

Reduce speed
If the highway is smooth and straight, drive slower but not so slow as to be a hazard on the road. If that is impossible or you are too afraid to drive, call a tow truck.

Observe the pavement condition
Watch especially the right side of the road because that is where most pavement irregularities are. Avoid potholes, speed bumps or irregular pavement if possible. They can make the wobble return.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the vehicles I am talking about have solid front axles. They are mostly pickup trucks and SUVs. The most common cause of the wobble is worn, loose or damaged steering and suspension parts. Next is Irregular tire wear, out of balance tires or bent wheels. If the vehicle was repaired after a collision, we often see frame dimensions that were not restored and improper wheel alignment.

Modified vehicles, (lifted higher) with oversize wheels and tires can exaggerate any inherent design weakness. Wheel alignment is often the cause of DW because stock specifications may not work on a modified vehicle.

There are a lot of wheel alignment shops but it is difficult to find technicians with experience on DW repair. Often the recommendation is to completely replace the entire front steering and suspension parts because corrective repair is difficult to analyze. Estimates are not unusual to be in the $3000.00 range for complete replacement

If you tell the repair estimator you have a death wobble and the estimator does not know what that is, seek another opinion from someone at a shop that does know.

It is very common for owners to bring their vehicles to Coachmaster for a DW problem that is still there after they have spent hundreds of dollars trying to have it fixed elsewhere.

We have devised a system for testing the individual components and replace only what is needed.

One of the most common mistakes trailer owners make is: Failure to properly attach a safety chain between a trailer and the towing vehicle. There seems to be a consensus by the general public that simply attaching a chain is sufficient. Here are some vehicle code regulations to assist you in making a safe hookup.

Section 29004 (b) of the California Vehicle Code requires that the safety chain or cable and connecting devises be of sufficient strength to control the towed vehicle in the event of a failure of the hitch or other coupling devices.

A trailer, even if purchased new with the safety chain welded to the drawbar may not match with the vehicle hitch. The chain is often longer to be adjustable for multiple vehicle hitch combinations. It may not be in the proper position for your vehicle, resulting in a dangerous towing condition and a vehicle code violation.

I have often seen safety chains connecting to the towing vehicle using bolts as small as an eighth of an inch. Bailing wire used because the owner did not have an attaching bolt and even dog leash chain used because it's all the owner had. None of it was adequate to control the towed load.

Section 29004 (c) The safety chain shall prevent the drawbar from dropping to the ground in the event of a draw bar failure.

Safety chains being too long to comply with 29004 (c) is something I see everyday as I travel the roadways and look at hitch and safety chain connections.

We have repaired hitch/drawbar failures when the safety chain was adequate. The damage to the towed vehicle, the boat trailer and the boat was restricted to just banging into each other until the driver was able to stop. The safety chain kept the trailer drawbar off the ground. Considering three vehicles being damaged the owner was still lucky.

A collision I inspected from a failure of a hitch and a safety chain being too long resulted in the draw bar hitting the pavement. The safety chain was not adequate and broke, causing the trailer to go free. The trailer rammed into another vehicle. Then the boat came off the trailer and slid along the roadway. Both the boat and trailer were totaled. The other vehicle was badly damaged, fortunately the drivers were not injured.

I would like to mention another problem with safety chains that are too long. Fire danger. Chains dragging on the pavement cause sparks and sparks cause fires. If your chain can not keep the drawbar off the ground, the drawbar may also create sparks when it hits the roadway.

The sections of the vehicle code in this article are condensed referring only to the two most common mistakes I see. Do yourself a favor and look up the complete sections.

In conclusion: Don't make your safety chain so tight that it restricts the full turning radius. If proper turn radius is achieved and the drawbar can hit the ground when disconnected, the chain may have to be relocated.

One of the most common damage we see to a boat trailer is caused by "jackknifing" the trailer." This is usually when the trailer is being backed up and the turn angle becomes too severe. The trailer can not turn farther and the tow vehicle driver is unaware that the turn limit has been reached. Continued backing up will force the trailer draw bar (tongue) to come in contact with the tow vehicle. Damage will often occur to both the trailer and the tow vehicle.

The front draw bar/tongue of the trailer will bend usually at the main body of the trailer or at the ball coupler. This results in a trailer that when towed, does not follow the towed vehicle directly behind but to one side. The trailer will shimmy and sway, often running over curbs or the center dividers. Backing up now becomes much more difficult.

The towed vehicle usually gets rear corner sheet metal damage and broken taillights. If the driver is inexperienced we have seen bumper, hitch and frame damage to the tow vehicle.

Many boat trailers are considered a total loss if sections are damaged and require replacement. In these cases tracking will be affected because the main body of the trailer is often out of square. I have never heard of a welding shop with a frame-straightening machine. The typical automotive frame machine may be too short for a boat trailer and the personnel not experienced in welding heavy metal.

Coachmaster has the largest frame machine in Northern CA. Because of this we can often straighten the trailer without removing the boat, saving money for the owner. We also have large welders, power cutting tools and a plasma cutter for heavy metal. We can straighten trailer axles for owners that complain of unusual tire wear patterns, including severe tire wear.

Bent axles are often the result of poor road surfaces. Many owners do not realize this is often an insurance claim.

He phoned to say...sorry you didn't get the job. The other shops bid was $700 dollars lower than yours was. The Insurance Company chose the other shop.

We had written him a collision repair estimate for his vehicle. He had been a customer for many years and we want our customers to be customers for life. I could hear the disappointment in his voice. He had placed his trust in us for all these years and now he felt we were charging him too much. A business relationship was being destroyed. But more important we had developed a friendship and that too was now in question.

I could imagine how he felt. Did he now think we've been overcharging him for all those many years?

I had to do something to regain his trust and friendship. I asked him to count the lines of repair they have on their estimate. He said about six lines. I said I have a page and a half. I can't believe they have all the damage listed. Look at the estimate and tell me if they caught the buckle in the roof. There's nothing about the roof he said.

Did they catch the dent in the wheel? There's nothing about a wheel.

If the wheel is damaged as badly as yours is and the roof has a buckle, it is a good indication of possible frame damage…There's nothing he said.

Obviously there is no wheel alignment either I said. No, he replied.

Did they write to gauge the frame? No he said.

It's easy to write a cheap estimate and give excuses later. A common excuse is to blame the vehicle owner. "I repaired the vehicle as per the estimate. If there was additional damage, you the car owner should have pointed it out to me."

Vehicle owners have to trust the shop to write a complete estimate. Then they have to depend on their insurance representative to make sure the estimate is complete to restore their vehicle to a pre-loss condition.

I often had to argue with insurance adjusters in the past. Why is the cheapest estimate the correct one I would ask? Because your estimates are too expensive was the reply I most often got. I replied, but I can always justify what I write as necessary for a complete repair.

I realize that Insurance Companies must contain repair costs. However, they do have a contract with the policyholder and an incomplete repair is not upholding their part of the contract.

In this particular case, the adjuster told me because you find too much damage. Well isn't finding all the damage the correct way to return the vehicle to a pre-loss condition I asked? Yes but you have unnecessary repairs. Name them I said.

We went over the estimate. The adjuster acknowledged the other estimate has 6 lines and I had a page and a half. It's simple I said. Call the other shop and ask them why the damage is not listed on their estimate.

He called back later and said they had seen the roof buckle but did not feel it was related to this collision. Obviously then, they did not see the wheel damage did they I asked? They did not look at the wheel he said. If the wheel is damaged as badly as this one and there is a buckle in the roof, it is a good indication of frame damage. They also missed the frame gauging and the wheel alignment. He agreed and approved my estimate.

I phoned the vehicle owner and advised him my estimate was approved.

When can I get an appointment he said?

In conclusion, several years later, this same insurance adjusted got in a collision with his new car. Since the car was new he took it to the dealer for an estimate. The dealer told him he was not equipped to repair frame and suspension on the car and doubted any one in Shasta County was either. The Insurance adjuster said to the dealer, "I know someone who can repair it."" He brought the car to Coachmaster and we repaired it.

People that are interested in cars often read car and trade magazines. They are a good source of information. But sometimes the information is not accurate. An article appeared in a trade magazine by one of the newest custom rod celebrities showing how to prepare a car for painting. The car had an old paint job that was failing.

He demonstrated a process to prepare the car for a new paint job that saved a lot of work. I was dismayed. This method is doomed for failure. I have been adamant about not using this method for decades.

It seems every few years I see or hear of a painter who decides to spray sealer on top of a failing paint job, rather than strip (remove) the paint off the car body.

I guess it is just human nature to avoid hard work. Stripping is hard work, sealing is much easier. Using a sealer to cover a failing paint job is just wishful thinking. It has resulted in failures and costly re-do's in virtually all attempts that I have seen.

You may get away with excessive sealing on a show car that is not exposed to the elements. Especially one that is stored in a garage then transported in a covered trailer to an indoor show. A daily driver exposed to the weather will not last long.

Sealers generally are much easier to finish sand than the original paint job. Once sanded the sealer will seem very smooth and perfect. Within a few months the original pattern of the failing paint will began to show from underneath the new paint job. A few months more and the failure will resemble the original failed paint job.

Sealers are used before painting to increase adhesion, color hold out (uniformity in gloss and texture) and to give an even color base for transparent colors. They also fill minor imperfections (very minor) on a car that is properly prepared for painting.

I have been an advocate of stripping failing paint off the vehicle, almost my entire career. It is the only way to avoid a failure of the new repaint.

A few months later I received my monthly copy of the trade magazine in the mail and there was the latest article from the celebrity painter. The sealer failed. He said he was wrong and advised his readers not to use the method he had originally recommended.

In conclusion: Every painter who has asked me my opinion when they are considering using a sealer for more than it's intended purpose, has defended the sealer as more capable than the manufacture recommends.

If they followed my advice they risk loosing the job, because to strip a vehicle is very time consuming to the shop and expensive to the vehicle owner.

I have seen the completed work of painters who chose to seal the vehicle by using excessive material. They sprayed multiple coats to flood imperfections in the failing paint job. Some had costly re-do's, stripping and repainting the vehicle at their own cost. Some went to court and lost. Some went out of business.

In the early stages fade on headlight lenses appears as a fogged lens. At its worse condition it is whitish and no longer clear.

I was walking past a row of cars at the mall when I noticed several parked cars that had faded headlight lenses. This is a very common problem today. I decided to count the faded headlight lenses in comparison to the clear lenses on my way to the store. I wanted to see the percentage of good headlights v/s faded headlights. I counted 13 cars in one row. Three had clear lenses, and 5 had lightly faded lenses. The last 5 had lenses completely faded and would have made night driving dangerous.

Out of 13 cars only 3 had lenses that worked properly. The 5 lightly faded lenses probably lost 10-15 percent of the light. The 5 badly faded lenses probably lost 50 percent of their light.

When a headlight lens fades, it does not allow as much light to penetrate the lens. and light to the road ahead is diminished. It also creates a distorted light because the prisms in the lens cannot direct the light to the roadway, making it difficult for the driver to see. For approaching traffic it has a halo effect making it difficult for approaching traffic to see you. This is also a violation of the California Vehicle Code, Sec.24252. (a) Failure to maintain lighting devices.

Recently there have been commercials on TV advertising repair products that make the lenses clear. The labor required to sand and polish the lens is more than most people would want to undertake. It is very time consuming. Another product demonstrated a swipe across the lens with its liquid restorer to make the lens look new on TV. It's also advertised to restore faded body trim panels. I tested this product and it failed to restore the lens to a like new condition. There was slight improvement immediately but by the next day the lens had dulled back, resulting in only about a 10 percent improvement. Incidentally the body trim panel I applied it to had a water stain on it. The stain was not visible when the panel was faded but it sure showed up once the product was applied.

Two questions we often get, what causes this and is the lens replaceable? UV rays from the sun are believed to be the cause; heat from the bulb also contributes. The answer to the second question is, headlights are assemblies, and the lens only is not replaceable. New assemblies are available and costs run in the Two hundred to three hundred dollar range for many vehicles. After-market rebuilt assemblies are available at about a 20 percent savings for these type headlights.

On newer vehicles, new assemblies often cost over One thousand dollars for each light. Rebuilt units may not be always available and cost varies.

Repairing the lights is the most cost effective method. The kits sold to the public, starting with the simplest just require a liquid be wiped over the lenses. I discussed this above as not very effective. The other type repair kits contain sandpaper and require a lot of hand sanding and then polishing to get the lens clear. Some kits provide a polishing pad and require a drill. Some kits have a liquid UV protectant that is wiped on after the sanding and polishing. The results I have seen from the "do it your-selfers" at best are described as fair or they give up. These repairs often last a short time.

Before faded lens.

After, repaired lens, using the Coachmaster exclusive process.

As you can see from the after photo, quality is excellent and our method is a Coachmaster exclusive. Sand storm and minor road chip damage can also be repaired. Coachmaster has been making headlights clear again since the 1970's.

The most common repair failure I see in the shop is "Do It Yourself" fiberglass repair. Let's explore repairing holes and cracks in fiberglass boat hulls.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of products available to the general public that will stick to fiberglass. Most common are epoxy putty, gel coat chip repair material, and automotive body filler used for filling dents in cars. These products are rigid and will fail if they are applied to a surface that is flexible.

You have to understand that a fiberglass boat hull may seem rigid, but it flexes when the boat is in motion. To repair damage to a flexible area on the bottom of a boat hull with a rigid product is inviting a chance for failure.

It does not matter how strong epoxy putty is advertised to be. If it does not flex, its chance for failure is great. Epoxy putty is best for repairing small nicks and small screw holes on the upper deck. Auto body fillers are not suitable because they have little tensile strength.

Another common mistake is brushing fiberglass resin over stress cracks, only to discover the cracks reopen and look identical to the original cracks. Fiberglass resin is weak and not flexible. Only when fiberglass fibers are properly added does it become flexible and very strong. A proper fiberglass repair will flex with the boat hull and be a permanent repair.

If you do not have the expertise to do a repair to the bottom of your boat, I strongly advise you to have an expert repair it. Remember that improper upper deck repairs may cause your fish finder or drink holder to come loose but a failure of a repair in the bottom of a boat could result in sinking the boat.

Coachmaster Collision is known primarily as an automotive and truck collision repair center. We also repair RVs of all types. Our marine repair division has been insurance approved for over forty years. We have repaired thousands of damaged areas to boats and all kinds of watercraft and have never had a failed repair.

RV repair, specifically motorhomes and big camp trailers, require skills and equipment that are not typically found in just one occupation or one business.

Steel and aluminum are used in the structural components of RVs. Metalworking skills and equipment are required. If damaged in a collision, body and frame repair skills are required.

If damaged in a collision, body and frame repair skills are required. Also, the equipment has to be big enough to handle these vehicles.

Fiberglass is used in many panels. The major panels are the front and back panels of the RV. These panels need the expertise of a technician that understands the stresses and flexibility of fiberglass to insure the repair will be permanent. The side panels are textured on some RVs and require a special skill to duplicate.

RVs are also comprised of wood. Carpentry skills are required, plus wood working equipment.

Mechanical skills are required to repair the steering, suspension and drive train.

Other skills required are the ability to repair interior trim, paint, wallpaper, and electrical component replacement.

All of this skill and equipment is available at Coachmaster Collision, RV Division. Home of the largest frame machine in northern CA.

There are a lot of mysteries in life. Science can answer many of them but I don't think the subject I am discussing is a scientific mystery. It is, I believe, a lack of knowledge and incorrect information that is very common among the general public.

One of the most common damage we see to a boat trailer is caused by "jack knifing" the trailer." This is usually when the trailer is being backed up and the turn angle becomes too severe. The trailer can not turn farther and the tow vehicle driver is unaware that the turn limit has been reached. Continued backing up will force the trailer draw bar (tongue) to come in contact with the tow vehicle. Damage will often occur to both the trailer and the tow vehicle.

The front draw bar/tongue of the trailer will bend usually at the main body of the trailer or at the ball coupler. This results in a trailer that when towed, does not follow the towed vehicle directly behind but to one side. The trailer will shimmy and sway, often running over curbs or the center dividers. Backing up now becomes much more difficult.

The towed vehicle usually gets rear corner sheet metal damage and broken taillights. If the driver is inexperienced we have seen bumper, hitch and frame damage to the tow vehicle.

Many boat trailers are considered a total loss if sections are damaged and require replacement. In these cases tracking will be affected because the main body of the trailer is often out of square. I have never heard of a welding shop with a frame-straightening machine. The typical automotive frame machine may be too short for a boat trailer and the personnel not experienced in welding heavy metal.

Coachmaster Collision has the largest frame machine in Northern CA. Because of this we can often straighten the trailer without removing the boat, saving money for the owner. We also have large welders, power cutting tools and a plasma cutter for heavy metal. We can straighten trailer axles for owners that complain of unusual tire wear patterns, including severe tire wear.

Bent axles are often the result of poor road surfaces. Many owners do not realize this is often an insurance claim.

Complaint: I have had my car aligned three times in three different places and it just keeps slipping out of alignment.

Alignments do not slip out unless a bolt or steering component is loose. Vehicle owners often imply a mistake was made and the alignment technicians neglected to tighten something. However, it would be highly unlikely that 3 technicians would make the same mistake.

What I have found most often is, the alignment is set as a wheel to wheel comparison, not to the centerline of the vehicle. New or rotated tires develop the same unusual wear pattern, giving the car owner the impression the alignment has slipped out.

I have discovered that many of these vehicles have frame alignment or steering linkage problems. Some problems were so minor they could not be detected by the naked eye. The alignment technician did the best he could, but he could not achieve "Total Vehicle Alignment", due to the condition of the vehicle or limitations of the equipment. This is one of the major reasons I decided to buy my own equipment and do total vehicle wheel alignments.

Coachmaster Collision has been doing frame repairs on vehicles for over forty three years and it only made sense to do our own wheel alignments. This is not very common in body shops today and was very uncommon forty three years ago.

Complaint: No one can align my car: it has a constant pull.

After vehicle owners tell me they have had multiple alignments and the car still pulls, I look for the unusual, starting with air pressure and different brands of tires. Just because tires have the same number on the sidewall does not guarantee they are the same diameter if they are different brands. I use a large caliper gauge to check the diameter of each tire. I have found tires with the same numbers on the sidewall differ in diameter by as much as ½ inch.

Even if the wheel alignment specifications are perfect the total vehicle geometry will not be! A pull or unusual tire wear can occur. I continue to be surprised on how few people know this.

Complaint: My tires wear funny but my car does not need a wheel alignment because I have never hit anything.

If your tires are wearing funny you have a tire, frame or wheel alignment problem!

During the life span of a tire and many thousands of miles traveled, the tires may have turned a million times. The roads today are in desperate need of repair and it would seem unlikely that a driver would never hit a chuckhole or a hole in the shoulder during the life of a tire. Normal wear of steering components and a defective tire are also possible causes to be considered.

I have compulsive behavior, (a compulsory or obligatory desire to do something.) I can not control it even if I try; I automatically go into compulsory behavior. It is even worse that I know many of my trailer towing friends are not affected with this disorder. What I mean is, I worry about my trailer. It's bad enough when I am the driver but when I am the passenger in a friend's vehicle, I find that I am worried about his trailer too. It's even worse when my friend totally disregards his trailer and I have to worry about it for him.

I am constantly checking my trailer in my rearview mirrors. Towing a trailer is not a relaxing thing for me to do. I want to make sure my trailer tires miss the chuckholes and rocks in the road. When I go into a right hand curve in the road I watch the trailer tire near the shoulder and make sure I don't turn too tight, so that the trailer tire doesn't go off the road or hit a curb. Making a left hand curve, I watch the left trailer tire to make sure it does not go over the centerline or hit the center divider.

Drivers trained in high speed driving, such as police officers know to take turns tight, on the inside of the curve. Many drivers instinctively do this. This helps maintain control and gives more space should a tire lose traction. It is the wrong thing to do when towing a trailer. A towed vehicle/trailer has a smaller turn radius and right turns need to be made wider to keep the right trailer tire on the pavement and the opposite is true when making a left turn to keep the trailer on your side of the road.

A friend of mine now retired, was a police officer in southern California. He was an exceptionally good driver and was involved in one of the longest pursuits at the time. The chase went through several cities. Years later I had the opportunity to go off road riding with him on his Kawasaki Mule. He drove it like a police chase; we had a good time!

It was on the trip back, on a narrow, winding mountain road towing the Mule on a trailer, he asked me why I seemed to be so jumpy. I said, do you realize every time you go through a right hand curve the right side tire of the trailer goes off the pavement about a foot. On the last curve the tire started going off the embankment. Had it gone much further it would have been a long drop off down the mountain.

In conclusion; slow down on turns, make turns wider, watch your trailer tires and your trailer will appreciate it. To do otherwise invites damaged tires, bent wheels and bent axles. But be careful, you may become compulsive about it.. And in this case that is good.

She walked into the shop waiting room area and announced loudly for all to hear. I have had three wheel alignments, two of the shops were incompetent and the third is a crook. Can I trust you to solve my problem? What is the problem with your car I asked? I need a wheel alignment she said.

She was angry when she came in and said the names of the shops loudly so all in the office and waiting room could hear. The shops were well known. I knew they were not incompetent and certainly not crooks. I was embarrassed for them when customers could hear her. She had demanded her money back and the first two complied, she called them incompetent, the third would not, so she called the third a crook.

Again I asked, what is the problem with your car? Nothing that a good wheel alignment won't fix she said. I replied, you have had three wheel alignments and you still have a problem. I need to know what you think is a problem. She replied, "I don't know why I should have to help you and still pay for a wheel alignment."

Well three shops didn't solve the problem, maybe it is not related to a wheel alignment. It definitely is she said. Well, if you won't tell me I will only work on your car by the hour. I will align it and you can test drive it. If the problem is not gone we will go back on the clock. You can test drive it and I will go back on the clock again until I discover a problem only you know and will give me no information about.

But that could cost a lot of money she said. Yes I replied, but it's as if, you are asking me to find a lost object, but you won't tell me what the object is. Finally, she understood. She said, there's a rattle in the front end, it shows up every time I hit a bump. "A good wheel alignment should have fixed that."

It can be very difficult to repair a car for a person who does not want to spend money. It is even more difficult if the person insists on a specific repair and withholds information needed to properly analyze the problem. Then they may call you incompetent or a crook because the results were not as they expected.

Originally my inclination was not to offer to work for this person but my curiosity got the best of me. I was curious about the rattle that a good front end alignment would correct, that's why I offered to take it for a test drive. I hoped I could vindicate the three other shop owners and show her the rattle would be nothing a front wheel alignment technician would look for.

Let's take it for a test drive I said. We pulled out on the road and the noise sounded during the first roughness of the pavement. She said, "there it is." I heard it I said, let's go back to the shop.

It wasn't just a rattle, it was loud, multiple bumps from something heavy under the hood. I'm sure she felt it in the steering wheel, as a hard bump would resonate throughout a unibody style car.

I opened the hood and the first thing I looked at was the battery. Sure enough someone had recently replaced the battery and apparently had forgotten to tighten the securing bolts and the battery could just bounce around in its tray.

I tightened the bolts and asked her to take it for a test drive.

She came back excited. It's fixed she announced! What was it she asked. Someone replaced the battery recently didn't they I asked? Why yes, we did she said, but what would that have to do with the wheel alignment? Nothing I said. The person who installed the battery forgot to tighten the securing bolts and the battery was just bouncing around.

From the look on her face, I suspected she or someone in the family installed the battery. "I'm really embarrassed she said."

She asked me what she owed me, I told her nothing, it was easy to find because you gave me a clue… but I do think you owe the other three shops an apology I said. I didn't expect her to comment but she agreed and said she would call them.

A few days later two of the shops called me to thank me for vindicating them. Wow, she actually did call to apologize. I asked if she had offered to pay them and they both replied yes but they refused to accept the money because they did not want to do business with her again.

Modern vehicles are very complicated, but they are more dependable and last longer than ever. Unfortunately it is now much more difficult for the average owner to have knowledge about their vehicle. Help your mechanic by providing a list of symptoms. It is better not to demand a specific repair, let the mechanic make the decision based on the symptoms. This will help and hopefully save you some money too.

We always ask why a person thinks they need a wheel alignment, because often the problem is not the wheel alignment. We always road test before the repair so that we can experience the symptoms the customer is complaining about. We frequently discover a tire low on air or a damaged or defected tire. Also common is an odd size tire on the vehicle, a sagging spring or worn parts. A trunk full of tools or other property stacked on one side of the trunk is another common occurrence and the list goes on.

Have you ever followed a vehicle that seemed to be going sideways on the road? If you were to watch it as it went around a curve you would notice that the vehicle could not navigate the curve smoothly. It would move from side to side in the lane. I wonder, does the driver realize how dangerous this condition is?

I got a phone call from a government agency in a mountain town about 150 miles east of Redding. The caller said, "we have a small SUV that was involved in a collision and repaired, but now it drives side ways and no one in town can find out what's wrong with it."

How many inches off center is it, I asked? I expected her to say an inch or two, she replied "about three feet."

A rear axle that does not align with the front axle of the vehicle causes a vehicle to not track properly. Pickup trucks, especially 4X4 type are the most common vehicles to have this condition. Trucks that are lifted to gain more ground clearance are even more susceptible, because any strain on the frame and running gear is increased. Often the cause is hitting a hole or running over a rock. A frame that has been damaged in a collision with another vehicle is also a common cause to not track properly.

Cars often have a tracking problem too. Hitting a curb or object in the road, especially for little light weight cars is common.

Some vehicles have adjustments on the rear axle and if the condition is slight, it may be adjustable, if not the vehicle will require frame alignment repair.

It arrived at the shop a couple of days later. Out of curiosity I asked the driver to drive down the road in front of the shop. I wanted to stand in the roadway and observe the vehicle for a hundred feet or so, as it drove away from me. My purpose at this time was not to analyze the vehicle but to get a perspective on what seemed an exaggeration on the description of three feet.

I have repaired many vehicles that drove sideways as much as six inches. One to three inches is more common. Six inches is considered extreme and a vehicle this far off would be very difficult to keep in a straight line and dangerous on mountain roads. It is especially dangerous during winter's slippery road conditions. Locking up the brakes will cause the vehicle to spin into a circle. Towing a trailer is even more dangerous, it will increase the force and exaggerate the spin, resulting in a jackknife.

I was surprised to see the vehicle take up almost the entire traffic lane. Instead of looking over the hood, the driver was looking over the right front fender area to see the road straight ahead. As he turned the vehicle around and came back toward me I could see the right rear wheel almost on the dirt shoulder of the lane, while the left front wheel was hugging the centerline. It gave me the feeling of watching a circus clown vehicle. I visualized a bunch of clowns with red noses, painted white faces and big floppy shoes jumping out when it stopped.

The problem was the vehicle had a bent frame called a diamond condition, it was the most extreme I have ever seen on a vehicle that was still being driven. The left frame rail had been pushed forward more than six inches, causing the rear axle to point toward the right side, instead of following the front wheels.

This was a utility type SUV with a very strong frame, designed for highway and off road use. Amazingly, the vehicle body did not show very obviously damage but cross measuring the body revealed it too, was out of square. The driver did not complain about the doors being difficult to open and close but they were binding in the bent body. The impact must have been primarily on the bumper at the left rear corner, bending the frame and the body bending with it.

A vehicle frame is similar to a ladder. Imagine a ladder, with one side bent ahead of the other side. The ladder would not stand vertical against a wall. A vehicle with the same condition would not drive straight on the road.

We placed the vehicle on the frame machine. It required pulling the frame and the body simultaneously. 10 tons of hydraulic pressure was required at each pulling tower on opposite sides, one in front of the vehicle the other on the rear. We gained inch by inch slowly as we had to stress relieve the body with the frame. This we accomplished with portable hydraulic jacks and large blocks of wood to distribute force evenly, so a large mass could be moved and not do jack damage to the body sheet metal.

It is always gratifying when a driver test drives a vehicle then comes back to tell you the vehicle drives like new again. In this case the driver also commented on how much better the doors opened and closed.

The above is an extreme misalignment condition and required a more aggressive repair method than the typical collision repair. A misalignment this extreme on vehicles used by the general public would normally make the vehicle not movable and result in damage to mechanical parts.