BodyShop Business
Debate: Do Dealership Body Shops Perform the Lowest Quality Repairs? Yes.
Danny Wyatt
6/7/2010

Read the opposing argument from Bob Flanigan, manager, O'Daniel Motor Sales Body Shop, Ft. Wayne, Ind.

I would ask Bob if he has ever had post-repair inspections done on his work. And he says that "we" both decide the repair plan? Who's we? Him and the insurance adjuster who's had 12 weeks of training?

Bob's probably a nice guy, but he's looking through rose-colored glasses. There's a possibility he's an exception to the rule, but I would want to see his estimates before making that determination.

From doing post-repair inspections, I see more repairs ranking from fair to poor coming out of dealership body shops than other kinds of shops. And when you get two or three from the same shops all the time, what other conclusion can you draw, especially when you see the estimates? They're cost shifting structural repairs into body labor.

Just because I do post-repair inspections in North Carolina doesn't mean only dealerships here are cranking out poor repairs. I hear from my friends who also do post-repair inspections that it's happening in their regions, too. I admit I don’t ask them if a dealership shop or independent was responsible, but I can make my assumptions based on the flawed referral system. As long as you're a participant in the system, you're a co-conspirator along with insurers.

The chain DRP shops are just as bad as dealer shops. I recently did a pre-repair inspection on a 2008 Infiniti X35 at one of these shops. The first estimate was around $8,800, but then it went to $17,000 before I saw it. When the estimator and I went over the second supplement, we added another $4,000 in repairs. The insurer ended up totaling it.

Dealer Decline

Years ago, dealerships were the places to go. When I first got in the business, my first real job was at a Ford dealership, and my body shop manager was very particular. I ended up re-doing a lot of things, but I learned a lot.

I've been to the dealers and have confirmed they've been taking their training. But then I see the repairs they're performing and I want to ask, "What's wrong with you guys? You took the training and knew how the repair was supposed to be performed, but this is what I'm finding?"

I recently looked at a 2008 BMW 535 that a BMW dealer shop repaired, and at first I was pretty impressed. But when I looked at it again, I found a bent frame rail and weld burns. When I pried back a little bit of metal, I also found rust all down between the main flanges. This shop just didn’t take the time necessary to perform a quality repair.

Of course, the proper procedures weren't reflected on the repair estimate either, including applying corrosion protection. Also on the estimate was "replace outer wheelhouse," but they didn’t do that either. Every time I mentioned the wheelhouse, the shop manager talked about the floor pan they installed. I said, "I see you put a pan in, but what about the wheelhouse?" I had to throw him out of my shop. Based on this scenario, I would be curious how much goes on that Bob doesn’t see. Then again, his shop might be small enough that he can police his guys.

These shops can take all the training they want, but it's about applying the training. Some insurers require that shops obtain I-CAR Gold status to be on their programs, but then the shops don't adhere to that training and cut corners to save the insurers money. And the insurers look the other way.

I looked at a Toyota dealer's repair recently and, on the surface, it actually looked okay. But when I started digging deeper, I found that the estimate indicated they had removed the dash to put the apron in. I can tell you they didn’t do that because if they had, there would have been weld burns on the firewall. Also, they didn't apply any corrosion protection. In the end, they had to completely redo everything.

The shop's own insurer-employed DRP manager looked at the vehicle and agreed the shop hadn't pulled the dash out. He was frustrated, saying, "We pay them to do it right – we have an open checkbook." I've heard this same thing from many insurance DRP managers, but obviously, they haven't succeeded in getting the message out. If they had, their insurance masters would be paying out more for repairs. As a side note, the estimator in the above story supposedly was relieved of his duties by the insurer.

The average charge for corrosion protection I've seen is $10 with 3/10ths to apply – and you might have a whole rear end that was installed! Has anyone ever done time studies? Do they have a resistant welder? You punch the hole, apply weld-through primer, make the weld, clean the weld and epoxy/prime again. This takes "x" amount of time. In my opinion, it takes at least five minutes per plug weld for the entire process, maybe more.

The best work I ever saw came from an independent shop with two locations, one of which does DRP work. There was $19,000 of damage done to the back end of a Suburban, and after inspecting the repair, I told them I was impressed. I also told them they forgot this, this and this. The manager said, "Lord, don't tell my boss that because that was money out the door the writer didn't catch." But they also performed a lot of procedures they didn't charge for, giving the work away.

Profit Pressure

I think a lot of DRP managers at dealer shops are pressured to turn a profit by the boss man and get into a comfort zone looking out for themselves. They know if they make waves, they'll be gone. To fix this dilemma, I think the shop manager is going to have to ask the owner/operator, "Look, how do you want this done? Do you want everything written correctly? Do you want us to charge for every single procedure we do, just like you do in the service department?" 

New-car dealer shops have become insurers' prime targets as DRP shops due to the vehicle owner’s mindset of, "Who else should know how to repair the damage better than the dealer who sold my car to me?" Insurers also know that the body shop is not a life source to the dealer but only represents supplemental income.
 
The dealer owners placed their necks in the hangman's noose, not realizing they signed one-sided agreements in favor of insurers. They also didn't realize what was going to face them down the road; they only thought of more repairs coming into their supplemental body shops and selling more parts along with additional service work and possible new-car sales. They didn't foresee the additional money they would have to spend to expand their body shops for their new masters and buy high-dollar frame machines, build modern paint rooms, hire additional personnel to estimate repairs and repair vehicles, and send employees to I-CAR classes. They didn't foresee being forced by their new masters to buy customers' vehicles back or face possible lawsuits for shoddy repairs. They allowed themselves to be hung by their new masters, with no place to go except out of the collision repair business. They became prostitutes, slaves and thieves.

I Feel Your Pain

Similar to Bob, I also don't like giving discounts because that eats into profits. If he's telling the truth, he's one of the few dealers that don't do that. In my state, dealers give all kinds of discounts and concessions.

I would love to see Bob's estimates. Why does he need DRPs? If he's not a co-conspirator, then he doesn't need them. He could advertise, and word-of-mouth about his quality would get people in the door. But how many consumers know what quality repairs are?

Again, I say prove it. It all shows up in the estimates and the repairs Bob's shop puts out. There may be a lot of estimates he gets from insurers that have aftermarket parts written on them that he'll replace with OEM because his parts department will match the price. After all, dealers want to keep the business and make a few bucks, so they'll match within a dollar or two.

Bob says that at least two of the insurers he does DRP work for perform follow-up inspections on his cars and rank him high in quality, but that doesn't mean anything. After all, it's the insurer that's inspecting the car! I've caught so many things DRP inspectors didn't see. They look at the outside appearance and how body lines line up, but they don't dig in to see what it’s really all about. They don't want to see, because if they did, they would still be there and there wouldn't be any work going out the door! I, on the other hand, put cars on lifts.

It's one big square. It's what the insurer wants to see, what the consumer wants to see, what the body shop manager wants to see, what the tech wants to see, etc.

I don’t know of many truly independent shops in my area. The few that are here do nice repairs. Independent shops that only have one DRP also do nice repairs. But the bigger the shop and the more DRPs it has, the worse the quality. 

Another thing all you insurance-friendly DRP shops need to know: Every time you cost shift structural and frame damage into body labor, you're lowering the personal injury amount that a claimant may be entitled to and helping your insurance master screw over a deserving personal injury claimant.

If you big DRP dealer shops say I'm wrong about dealer shops performing repairs that range in quality from fair to poor, then take the CSI challenge and prove me wrong. Let me come into your shop for a day, review your estimates and inspect the repairs in process. I don't know of a dealership in North Carolina that would take that challenge.


Read the opposing argument from Bob Flanigan, manager, O'Daniel Motor Sales Body Shop, Ft. Wayne, Ind.


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