When a race team wants to buy a welder, just what does it need to know before shelling out the bucks? We went to the showroom floor to ask a number of welding manufacturers for advice on selecting among these versatile pieces of equipment.

The first order of business is to know what the race team will be welding. If it’s steel more than aluminum, the team will most likely need a MIG welder. Since most stock cars are mainly steel, we asked for the criteria of selecting a MIG welder.

Jeff Noland of HTP Welders says, “The best way to select the right machine is to seriously look at what the maximum thickness is that you’re going to be welding and size your machine accordingly. It’s going to key on amps.”

He says teams should consider more than the race car.

“Your obvious focus is on the race vehicle but if you are towing that vehicle to the track, then look at what you’re towing it with and any maintenance you might have to do on that...which could run into heavier material,” Noland says.

Noland recommends taking a look inside the welding machine, including the wire feed system.

“A lot of wire feeders are made of plastic where ours is cast aluminum with a gear drive. If you can’t feed the wire through the welding gun correctly, then the machine is not going to weld correctly,” he says.

Carl Peters of Lincoln Welders says mobility is an issue, too.

“When you start choosing them, you have the smaller 230-volt (machines) that are easy to move around and you have the larger 230-volt machines that are pretty much confined to the shop,” Peters says.

Peters says teams should debate whether they want a welding machine that features automatic settings.

“What’s interesting is that we actually had a unit that had auto settings on it where you pick the thickness and the machine automatically set itself,” he says. “But believe it or not, people still prefer two large knobs that they can turn with their leather glove. I think it’s still back to people want a machine that’s got one voltage, one wire feed control and they prefer to dial it in.”

Automatic settings may not appeal to some teams because of all the custom welding in racing.

“In my opinion, we kind of feel like you want to follow the KISS format—Keep It Simple Stupid,” Noland says. “The more computerized something becomes, unless you’re working with it every day, the harder it is to adjust and set. A programmable welder is not something I would think you’d want to get into for the home shop environment.”

Andy Weyenberg, manager of Miller Welding Motorsports activities, lists some of the criteria he would use to pick a welding machine.

“There are easy to use machines, and there are a little bit more complex machines as far as fine-tuning and adjustment capabilities,” Weyenberg says. “I guess if I was looking for a machine, the three main criteria I’d be looking for are number one, what level of experience do I have as an operator, number two is what’s the thickness of material that I want to weld and number three is what in reality is my price range?

“And then, if you can, it’s always best to get your hands on one of these things to test them. A lot of distributors will have some sort of demo program. Insist on taking this animal for a test drive. There’s nothing wrong with that. You wouldn’t expect to buy a car without taking it for a test drive.”

Weyenberg says teams should investigate how easily they can obtain service on the machines, and should pay close attention to the quality of construction. “Ask the distributor to take the covers off the machine that you’re looking at. It doesn’t take that long. The purchaser does not have to be a rocket scientist to see the quality of the internal workings of any particular machine.”

Weyenberg says teams may want to talk to independent service agencies about machine reliability.

“Don’t necessarily rely on what the distributor’s service man will say but go to an independent. Look in your phone book. There are independent service agencies that do nothing but service welding machines for a living—that’s it. They don’t do much selling so they are not influenced by whatever spiff whatever company might be putting on at that time. Ask him, ‘Mr. Service Man, what machine do you like working on?’ And he’ll say ‘I like working on the XYZ product. Why do you like working on it? Well, number one, it’s easy to work on. Number two, I get parts in a week or whatever it may be. That ABC Company over there, I might order a part and not see that part for two months.’”

The bottom line on buying a welder is to know what you’re going to be welding, how thick the material will be and your budget. Then, start asking questions.