According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, 38% of auto crashes are related to tires, wheels, steering, and suspension problems. Regular checks on your vehicle's steering and suspension system, including the alignment, steering, gearbox, tie-rod, and control arms help your vehicle track the roadway properly, thereby preventing avoidable accidents. Either on routine inspection or at the first hint of a problem, ensure to book an appointment with a qualified and experienced auto front-end mechanic near you to determine if your vehicle needs a fine tuning, a repair, or part replacement. While many auto technicians may claim to be a front-end repair expert, asking the following questions will help you determine their qualification to solve a vehicle's front-end fault.
Are You Licensed, Registered, or Certified?
Working on the increasingly complex mechanisms of motor vehicles requires the right set of knowledge and skills. As such, in most states, auto repair technicians and mechanics must possess a state-issued professional license. However, licensure requirements such as professional education, training, and examination differ from one state to another. Generally, professional certification from recognized professional bodies such as the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) is usually sufficient to obtain a state-level professional license. However, some states such as Hawaii and Michigan require auto repair technicians to scale through state-administered licensure procedures. Therefore, it is a good idea to contact the consumer protection office of your state of residence to find out the specific licensing requirements for auto repair technicians and mechanics in your locality.
The ASE Certification program is the most widely accepted professional certification. Out of its several certification tests, auto front-end repair technicians typically complete the suspension and steering specialization. Technicians must have two years of relevant work experience or relevant formal schooling plus a year of experience to obtain this certification. Technicians who have completed all the available specialty certifications are awarded the ASE Master Technician certification.
In addition to state-level licenses, you may also want to consider asking for proof of bonafide membership of an industry-recognized professional association, especially in states where the requirements for licensure are relaxed. This is because most professional bodies require members to be certified and set professional standards that members must adhere to. Also, some of these bodies allow you to find a certified auto technician in your locality directly.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire an Auto Front-end Repair Technician?
The majority of auto front-end technicians charge on an hourly basis. On average, vehicle front-end technicians charge around $20 to $25 per hour. This fee range is only an estimate, and the actual hourly fee varies according to the technicians' expertise, reputation, and the type of vehicle in question. The front-end systems of certain cars are more complex than others and will typically require advanced tools and gadgets.
It may be possible to considerably reduce the cost of auto repair steps by doing the following:
- Use manufacturer-approved repair agents: Most large vehicle manufacturing companies maintain approved auto repair centers that staff technicians who have received specialized training to work on their vehicles. You can locate an approved vehicle repair shop close to you by going through the repair agents' or location directory on the vehicle manufacturer's website. In addition to top-quality services, these technicians will typically charge some of the lowest fees in the industry. This is because the manufacturing company may have subsidized the cost of repair for customers.
- Use the dealer's repair shop: If you purchased your car from an auto dealer, these dealers usually have trained technicians available who maintain the vehicles in stock and attend to customer vehicle complaints. Because dealers sometimes deal in more than one vehicle brand, they either retain the services of technicians capable of handling front-end systems of several vehicles or hire different technicians for each vehicle brand. Ultimately, the fees charged by these technicians will be as low as possible, and if your vehicle's fault is quite minimal, then it may be fixed for free as part of the dealer's customer service.
- Buy replacement parts from only approved manufacturer agents: Aside from getting parts that are original and that bear good warranty coverages, doing this also ensures that you get these vehicle spare parts at a price closer to the factory price. On the contrary, buying from an unaccredited or random spare parts dealer exposes you to the risk of buying fake and counterfeit parts.
What Are the Common Auto Front-end Repair Expenses?
The steering and suspension components of vehicles' front-end systems vary by type of manufacturer, and as such, each vehicle may require varying front-end repair needs. While some faults may require simple repositioning or bolt tightening, others may necessitate that you replace some components. Below are some of the additional expenses that come with hiring a front-end repair technician:
- Wheel alignment: Regardless of what the actual fault with your vehicle is, after a front-end repair, technicians will usually recommend that you have its wheel alignment examined. Regular vehicle alignment examination removes the risk of increased wheel wear and tear that your vehicle may be exposed to from poor alignment. Although some repair centers offer free wheel alignment service after vehicle repair work, others charge a token for this service.
- Oil replacement: A technician may find that the strange sound your vehicle has been making is due to the degraded quality of its lubricant. Over time, your vehicle's steering oil will become light with usage and cause light friction in the metal components. The solution to this will simply be to replace it with new oil. The price of oil will depend on the amount and brand of oil that is the standard for your vehicle.
- Parts replacement: Sometimes, your vehicle's front-end problems will have arisen from faulty parts that have to be replaced. In addition to the service fee, your technician will charge you an extra fee for the parts, if they have them. Otherwise, they may request the funds from you to purchase the replacement parts elsewhere.
- Auto Cleaning and Wash: This involves general car washing to remove stains on your vehicle's interior and body from the repair. Some auto service centers may have car wash units where you may clean your car for a fee. Otherwise, you will need to take your car to an auto cleaning service center and have it washed for a fee.
Who Will Do the Work?
Sometimes, you may be hiring an auto front-end repair technician by proxy, such as hiring through a large auto servicing firm. In cases like this, it is your responsibility to ensure that the technician assigned to fix your vehicle is competent. For instance, regardless of having verified that the auto service outfit is registered properly, you must go the extra length to vet the credentials of whichever of their staff is assigned to you. This will include asking for proof of professional licensure and relevant work experience.
By doing this, you will ensure that your vehicle is in the right auto service outfit and that a qualified expert is handling it. In addition, working with and establishing a rapport with the technicians in charge of your vehicle may also come in handy for any future repairs.
What Qualifications Should An Auto Front-end Repair Technician Have?
Auto front-end assembly technicians generally require training in relevant vocational, apprenticeship, or any other recognized post-secondary programs, some of which feature classroom-type instructions as part of the entire training curriculum. These technicians must combine this with substantial years of work experience to be able to work independently. Formal educational institutions also offer associate degrees in general auto repair and service programs.
Once a technician starts to work, their employers most likely require that they obtain industry certification. In addition to professional training and certification affiliated with recognized professional bodies such as the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE), Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association, and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), other programs exist. Recognized non-affiliated programs include the Automotive Youth Educational System and the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation.
All these programs offer technicians advanced and specialized training and certification. As a result, certified and experienced technicians typically have more expertise in handling the different day-to-day auto front-end problems.
Will You Provide References?
Asking for references is an excellent way to avoid the most common problems that come with hiring, especially for first-timers. For example, references to previous jobs allow you to properly assess the kinds and brands of vehicles an auto front-end repair technician has handled in the past. However, you should still check for licensure, certification, and other similar requirements.
Dealing with an auto front-end repair technician near you ensures you also get client references in the locality you can visit. This is an excellent opportunity to ask for a review and job rating from vehicle owners they have worked for in the past. If you meet a referrer who had the same issue as your vehicle, you should ask more specific questions such as cost of service, replacement parts, and time taken on the job.
Moreso, many professional auto repair technicians typically have official websites featuring their specializations, job histories, and testimonials from past customers. You may look up a prospective local technician by simply doing an internet search for the keyword auto front-end repair technician near me. Asides from the customer testimonials available on a technician's website, you may also look for reviews on web platforms such as Yelp, Better Business Bureau (BBB), and Google Business Reviews.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
A vehicle's suspension system is built to take in and redistribute ride bumps and motion shocks resulting from the structural imperfections of the road. As such, its components include shock absorbers or struts, bushings, ball joints, control arms, and coil springs, all of which are usually located between the vehicle's frame and the road. Below is a brief description of what each component of a vehicle's suspension system does:
- Shock Absorbers: These hydraulic oil-filled cylinders compress and decompress to minimize the extent of bounce when the vehicle encounters bumps. They balance out the roughness of the road and ensure the occupants of the vehicle enjoy a smooth ride experience. Unfortunately, shock absorbers wear out over time, resulting in frequent erratic bounces and absorber oil leaks.
- Struts: Vehicles that do not use shock absorbers use struts instead. Struts provide the much-needed structural support for the vehicle's suspension system. They bear a substantial part of the vehicle's suspension side-load, provide support for the springs, and keep the tire and wheel well-aligned. They, therefore, affect riding and handling comfort as well as braking, steering, and vehicle wheel alignment.
- Bushings: These components are designed to cushion vibrations, noises, wheel wobbling, and general steering difficulties. They are positioned to enclose the control arms and give the vehicle a sleek cushioning effect.
- Ball Joints: These parts of the vehicle suspension system provide the vehicle's pivot ability with which it easily turns the wheels alongside the rest of the suspension system.
- Control arms: The wheels of the vehicle are attached to its frame with the control arms. These arms maintain proper vehicle wheel alignment and will therefore cause misalignment when they wear out.
- Coil Springs: Coil springs give the vehicle a balanced height on the road, ensuring that the vehicle's weight is not tilted to one side. They provide adequate support for a vehicle's weight and prevent one-sided tire wear.
Some of the common signs to look for in your vehicle's suspension system include:
- Rough ride experience: Once you start heavily feeling every bump and pothole your vehicle encounters, then your suspension is most likely due for repair. By this time, the smooth and sleek ride experience you used to have will have vanished.
- Vehicle Nosedives: Another sign that your vehicle's suspension system is due for repair is when your vehicle takes a sharp nosedive when you apply the brakes. This is usually a result of wear in your vehicle's shocks and loss of the ability to reduce bounce impact.
- Greasy or oily shock: Just in case your brakes do not reveal the defect in your vehicle's shocks, the sight of grease and oil on your shocks is a sign that you should have an auto front end checkup. Once your shocks begin to leak fluid, their work becomes suboptimal and will adversely influence your overall ride experience.
- Uneven tire wear: A faulty suspension system will give your vehicle a ride imbalance. Over time, the tires on the side of your vehicle that are carrying excess weight will wear out and have treads quicker than the other side. Fixing this as soon as possible will save what remains of your tire's life span and improve your vehicle handling experience.
- Vehicle turning drifts: When you turn around corners and feel a drift in your vehicle's hind wheels, then your vehicle is losing gravity and firm friction due to a faulty suspension system. It would be best to immediately take your vehicle to a competent front-end technician to fix this issue.
- Steering Problems: The performance of your vehicle's steering system is an excellent indicator of the state of its suspension system. Stiff steering or inadequate steering response is a sign that your suspension system is not working optimally. You should immediately have it fixed to avoid worsening steering problems.
Generally, the cost of fixing your vehicle's suspension system will depend on the vehicle brand and the parts to be replaced. Exotic and luxurious vehicle brands will require more technical skill and advanced equipment to diagnose and fix, and thus, can be quite expensive. On the other hand, the cost of repairing the suspension systems of mid to lower-range vehicles will typically fall within the standard pricing range of between $1,000 to $5,000.
Another factor that may determine how much you will spend on fixing your vehicle's suspension system is whether it requires repair or replacement. Worn-out suspension system parts that need complete replacement will cost you relatively more than ordinary parts repair.
The extent of vehicle usage will determine how soon you may need to replace parts of the suspension system. Generally, shock absorbers or struts will require replacement once your vehicle clocks a particular mileage, around 50,000 to 100,000. This figure varies from one vehicle brand to another. Leaky or greasy shocks and struts may also be a sign that a replacement is due.
A vehicle's control arms will typically wear out between 90,000 to 100,000 mileage, and this may be sooner or later, depending on the quality of the road your vehicle plies. It is, however, better not to wait until it wears out completely before fixing it. Instead, have your technician assess it every time you work on your vehicle's suspension. Some of the signs that a control arm replacement may be due includes; vibration, loud banging noises, and an unresponsive or shaky steering wheel.
Similarly, signs that your vehicle's suspension system tie-rod needs a replacement include cranky and shaky wheel sounds, wandering, and a rough steering experience. Again, given that tie rods are an essential component of your suspension system, you should fix them as soon as you notice these faults.
Good maintenance culture requires that you not wait until your vehicle's suspension system breaks down before getting it fixed. The different roads, driver's road culture, and vehicle brand result in varying due times for vehicle suspension system check-ups. However, a standard recommendation is that you should have your vehicle's suspension examined once your vehicle reaches a mileage of 50,000 or more. It is equally a smart practice to constantly lookout for warning signs of a failing vehicle's steering and suspension system.