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Making a Frame Equipment Purchase

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Frame equipment is among the most costly purchases a shop owner will make. So spend time analyzing your options before making a decision, because the equipment could be in your facility for a lifetime if you select the right one. 

Robert Hornedo, president of Pacific Collision Equipment Co. in Signal Hill, Calif., offers advice on what to consider when assessing frame equipment options, to help make the best possible decision.

There isn’t one modern body shop today that should consider buying a frame machine. Frame benches are now the equipment of choice.

Frame benches are accurate datum-controlling systems that allow shops to perform framework with precision and quality. You can perform pulls on old model vehicles as well as fixture new model vehicles per OEM specifications. As more car manufacturers start employing repair procedures similar to European OEMs, it’s crucial to have a bench in your shop.  

There are only a handful of brands that manufacture frame benches, including Car-O-Liner, Celette, Car Bench America, Global Jig and Spanesi. There are two types of bench categories: dedicated and universal.

Dedicated benches are designed to be used with specific vehicle makes and models. Celette is currently the only brand of dedicated benches available.

Universal benches allow shops to build fixtures that fit any vehicle of their choice. Universal benches are manufactured by Car-O-Liner, Car Bench America and Global Jig.

There are three things to consider when choosing between a dedicated and universal bench:

1. Cost. Dedicated benches can be less expensive to purchase, but also require shops to rent or buy additional fixtures for every vehicle model they repair. That can get very costly over time. Universal benches are more expensive up front, but tend to be much more cost-efficient long-term because they can be used on any vehicle model.

2. Return on Investment. Consider the ROI of the frame bench based on your frame labor rate, jobs per week and damage severity. Users of universal bench systems typically see a full ROI within 1.5 years when they bill for mounting, measuring, fixturing and pulling procedures.

The ROI for dedicated benches is very low because shops have to buy or rent fixtures for every vehicle repaired, a cost of about $600. Insurance won’t reimburse that expense.

3. Vehicle types. Some bench brands are specific to one OEM. If you operate a high-end shop that specializes in a certain vehicle make, that may dictate what you purchase. Ferrari, for example, requires the use of one specific bench; that’s the one you should buy if those are the cars you repair. General collision repair shops that repair all vehicle models may want to consider a universal system for versatility on a broader range of cars.

Most OEMs recommend universal benches. They cost up to $90,000, so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Each of the options offers phenomenal capabilities to produce quality repairs, but there are a few other factors to consider:

Electronic measuring. Car-O-Liner has electronic measuring and printout capabilities built into the system. The other systems do not, and require shops to purchase a separate electronic measuring product from another company.

OEM approvals. All of the frame bench options have OEM approvals, but some don’t have very many. You need to ensure the bench is capable of holding frame rails in place to the manufacturer’s length, height and width specifications for the vehicles you work on. Identify which auto manufacturers have approved the various options, and determine whether those approvals match the types of vehicles you most commonly fix.  

Upper-body measuring. Upper-body measuring capabilities are very important. The entire structure of the unibody is part of the energy management control of the vehicle. Leaving one aspect out of spec deteriorates the integrity of the whole vehicle.

Upper-body measuring is not built into some of the bench systems. Shops have to acquire the service through a secondary company to get a full package. Meanwhile, one of the bench options offers an upper-body measuring tool in the same package. That helps shops more easily manage costs, training and support services.

Make sure to obtain demonstrations before making your final decision. Frame bench suppliers should be able to bring the equipment to your facility so you can see it in action before writing the check.

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