It has been almost a year since I wrote “Diary of a Bad Repair” in the November 2010 issue of BodyShop Business, and it’s still business as usual as for some of the body shops in my area as far as cranking out unsafe hack jobs. And yes, the majority are still coming from new-car dealerships, both DRPs and non-DRPs, large independent chain DRPs and the wanna-be DRP shops.
Managers and estimators at new-car dealerships and large chain independent shops are writing poor estimates. The problem is that the majority of these shop managers and estimators are simply serving a public relations purpose.
All the I-CAR training and OEM repair information in the world isn’t worth a penny without real, hands-on working experience and proper training. Would you fly in an airplane knowing that the pilot’s only training was using a flight simulator? Would you trust a nurse to perform a heart transplant on you after he or she worked alongside the surgeon to see how it was done?
For this very reason, these shop managers and estimators should not be in the collision repair industry until they can do the same job as the body tech first. It’s only then that they can estimate the repair cost of a damaged vehicle, whether it’s in my state of North Carolina or other states.
I’m also still seeing shops working off insurance adjusters’ poorly written damage appraisals and not writing their own estimates. Have you not heard that the jury in the Progressive vs. North State Custom case found that the insurance adjuster’s estimate is irrelevant?
Another reason for unsafe or butchered vehicles is that shop managers don’t have real quality control systems implemented. They’re more concerned about cycle time. Also, the body techs cut corners in order to turn labor hours for a big payday. Sadly, the body techs know better, but instead of bucking the boss, they do what they’re told in order to keep bread on the table for their families.
Before I share with you photos and information on two hacked vehicles, I have to ask you, “How should we stop this madness?” Here’s what I propose:
1. Require the vehicle body and structural engineers to repair several of their designs so they can feel your frustrations, then chastise them for designing vehicles the way they do.
2. Require shop managers and estimators to have at least five years of hands-on repair experience so they can write a proper and thorough repair estimate and toss out the irrelevant insurance adjuster’s estimate.
3. Do away with cycle time.
4. Do away with labor hours turned commission pay and pay the repair techs an hourly wage or salary based on their repair skills along with a bonus for quality repairs.
5. License shops, managers, estimators and techs throughout the country and impose hefty fines on them for poorly prepared estimates and allowing unsafe or butchered vehicles back into the vehicle owners’ hands.
I know many states have laws in place to avoid some of these problems, but many are seldom enforced. So other than shooting the vehicle engineers who are designing and placing this chaos on the collision repair industry, the remedy may be in my questions and what it takes to turn things around so that there will be fewer unsafe vehicles being delivered to vehicle owners.
The first unsafe and butchered repair was done to a 2005 Subaru Impreza WXR.
When this Subaru came to me in February 2011, the owner, a 20-year-old young man, and his attorney believed that the new-car dealer did not disclose prior damages to this vehicle.
Right off the bat, I could see this Subaru had wreck written all over it. The young man told me the VIN plates under the hood and B-pillar and the cowl VIN stamping didn’t match the dash VIN plate. I thought, “If he saw different VIN plates, why did he consider buying this wreck? Was the new-car dealer bold enough to put this Subaru on its used-car lot looking the way it did, with the VIN plates not matching?”
After questioning the young man a little more, he told me that he wrecked the Subaru in mid-2010, just a couple months after he bought it. I knew then that that changed the “failure to disclose” to a butchered, unsafe repair.
After receiving the repair estimate, I read where the new-car dealership body shop put in a used dash assembly and used driver’s door, then left the salvage VIN plate on the dash and the driver’s door, never informing the North Carolina License & Theft Bureau which can carry a felony charge if malicious intent can be proven. But I know there was no malicious intent, just plain ignorance on behalf of the shop.
After I ran the numbers, I figured out that the Subaru was 8 percent from North Carolina’s 75-percent total-loss threshold. This vehicle was a true total loss from the word go, yet the shop opted to keep the repair cost down, which I believe is a common practice in North Carolina.
I’m going to share with you what I found while inspecting the repairs to this Subaru if you want to call them repairs. You be the judge and jury over the shop manager, estimator, body tech and dealership owner.
The Inspection Begins
I removed the driver’s side interior trim panels, along with the right and left fenders and rocker panel molding for an inspection of the repairs. But before I got into the repairs, I noticed that the shop manager or the estimator failed to add a few recognized cost-occurring manufacturer and I-CAR repair procedures and materials to the third supplement to the estimate, which were:
1. The use and application of weld thru-zinc primer during the welding process.
2. The use and application of rust inhibitor wax or petroleum compounds.
3. The use and application of epoxy primer.
4. Drill holes for welding.
5. Fabricate reinforcement inserts.
6. Welded panel adjacent repair.
7. Clamp marks repair and refinish.
8. Seam sealer.
9. Use/application of undercoating.
10. Masking for priming of body panels.
11. Masking for painting body panels.
12. Color tint to assure outside color match.
13. Spray-out test panel to assure outside color match.
14. Wet-sand and buff clearcoat finish.
On page 1 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 3 listed “R&I front bumper cover.” I noticed the front bumper cover had been previously repainted, and the impact cushion located between the front bumper cover and bumper reinforcement was missing. If this impact-cushion was missing when the tech removed the front bumper cover, he should’ve noted it in the estimate and told the insurer and the vehicle owner that it needed to be installed. But it wasn’t noted anywhere.
Photo 1 (see slideshow above) shows the underside of the front bumper cover and bumper reinforcement. Look closely and you’ll see that the impact cushion is missing.
On page 1 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 6 and 7 listed “repair hood and refinish.” It was obvious to me that the hood and roof had not been painted. Plus, if you want to talk about trash in the clearcoat, it looked as if someone had been sweeping the floor nearby when the left fender, driver and passenger doors, and windshield pillar were painted.
I knew I had to verify the color difference in case of a lawsuit, so I asked the local jobber’s paint department to use their color camera to read and measure the color variance between the hood, left fender and roof panel.
Three different readings were taken of the hood and left fender, and the results showed that the hood was a Mazda color and the left fender was a Subaru color.
On page 2 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 15 listed “replace left upper rail.” As I was admiring the installation of this upper unibody frame rail, I found that, when comparing it to the factory spot welds in the right upper rails, it lacked nine MIG plug-welds. I had to wonder how this Subaru would’ve reacted in a frontal crash. Do you think the airbags would’ve deployed properly?
In Photo 2, black circles indicate the area where the tech made the MIG plug-welds. Notice how nicely they’re dressed! And check out the stitch-welds that look more like continuous tack-welds when you compare them to the right upper unibody rail laser welds.
Photo 3 shows the right upper unibody frame rail with black dots indicating factory spot-welds. Photos 4-5 show the underside view of the left upper uni-body frame rail with its share of weld-burns left untreated for rust to develop. Check out the I-CAR recommendation for MIG welding plug-welds:
The general rule is to make the same number of plug-welds as original spot welds, and in the same location. More or few welds may:
Strengthen or weaken a part.
Cause a continuous heat-effect zone along mating flange, which may weaken the part.
Change the crush characteristics of the vehicle design.
Increasing the spacing between plug-welds can have the the same effect as gaps in continuous welds.
On page 2 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 20 listed “replace LKQ instrument panel.” As I previously stated, the shop installed a salvage instrument panel, leaving the salvage VIN intact. It also installed the driver’s door that was the same color what luck! But it left the VIN label on the salvage door.
For your information about using LKQ for describing used parts in the repair estimate, according to the Federal Trade Commission, using descriptive wording such as “LKQ” or “Quality Recycled Part” or other wording other than used salvage part is “unfair and deceptive.” So you had better show the word “used” on your paperwork if you don’t want to be sued.
On page 2 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 33 lists “replace a section of the left hinge pillar.” The below photo shows a left side view of this Subaru where the tech replaced a section of the left hinge pillar and rocker panel. Notice that the mating flanges are prized back. I did that to check for any application of weld-thru primer, thinking I might get lucky and find some but I didn’t. I also did it so I could count how many MIG plug-welds there were on the left side of the left hinge pillar and rocker panel. I counted 19 (indicated by the yellow arrows) located in-between the two yellow lines, but counted 38 factory spot-welds in the same area on the right side. It looks like the tech re-engineered this section of the Subaru. But hey, why replace all the plug-welds when the trim panels cover them up? You can’t see it from my house (Photo 6).
Photo 7 shows existing damage to the left inner hinge pillar. It appears that the inner hinge pillar was simply beaten out with a hammer and covered back over with the padded insulation and wiring. Again, there are more weld burns that the tech didn’t even cover with a can of spray paint.
On page 2 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 45 lists “section left rocker panel.” According to the OEM repair data, the left rocker panel was sectioned improperly. The diagram below indicates how the left rocker panel is supposed to be installed. But forget it, right, because what does the vehicle manufacturer know anyway?
Photo 8 shows the underside of the left rocker panel where rust has developed around all the MIG plug-welds that went untreated for corrosion.
On page 2 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 42 lists “repair right hinge pillar.” This Subaru took a hit to the left side hard enough that it pushed the dash panel over to the right, damaging the inner and outer hinge pillar, which were not repaired. I guess the tech thought that not repairing this damage was okay. Either that or the shop manager knew that repairing this damage would surely total the car. (Photo 9)
On page 2 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 67 lists “blend roof panel.” After checking the color of the hood, I checked the roof next since I knew it hadn’t been blended. The special camera read the roof panel to be a Chrysler color.
On page 2 of the third supplement to the estimate, line item 72 lists “unibody set-up and measure.” I found that the frame machine clamp marks weren’t repaired and rust was developing, but I wasn’t surprised. The usual and customary procedure for repairing clamp marks for most body shops in North Carolina is to use a can of undercoating to cover them up. But I guess this shop ran out of undercoating. Photos 10-11 show inside and outside views of the clamp marks with rust developing.
On page 3 of the third supplement to the estimate, line items 79, 80 and 81 list “replace LKQ left knuckle, lower control arm and left strut.” Folks, when it comes to installing salvage yard suspension parts, at least take the time to remove the markings on the parts. I found that the right side front left knuckle, lower control arm and left strut had been replaced but the left side had not even though the estimate called for it. I guess it was just a typo on estimator’s part. Photos 12-13 show the underside view of the right and left front suspension.
That’s it for the first butcher repair. What do you think? This shop has some nerve to turn out work like this. I have no doubt there are new-car dealers that do quality work somewhere on this planet, but not in North Carolina. If the Subaru repair disturbed you, wait till you see the next hack job coming up from a new-car dealer, too.
The second of the two unsafe butchered repairs is that of a 2011 Kia Sorento (Photo 14 – see slideshow above), owned by a mother of six children. As Mom was approaching her driveway, she had to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to get by and was rear-ended by a driver talking on a cell phone and not paying attention.
After the accident, Mom took her vehicle to a dealership because, since she had bought the car there, she figured it was the place to go. She would come to later regret that decision. The dealership wasn’t a DRP shop and, like other body shops in North Carolina, it allows the insurance adjuster to dictate the repairs.
The dealer shop manager never wrote an estimate or provided an invoice; the shop just butchered the Kia. The only thing the manager did was call for a reinspection of additional damage that was found and let the insurance adjuster write the supplement.
I’m only going to share a few parts of the adjuster’s damage appraisal and pictures of the repairs made to the Kia. You can then decide for yourselves the fate of the adjuster, the dealership body shop manager, the body tech and the owner of the dealership. Let me add that the Kia went back to the dealership after my first inspection of the repairs and still needed re-repairing after they were done with it. So the photos I’ll be sharing with you are before and after photos of the first repair, then the re-repair work.
As for the area of impact and damage, it was just left of the lower red marker lamp in the rear bumper cover. The damage was to the rear bumper assembly, rear floor pan, muffler assembly, lower rear panel, right quarter panel, right uni-body frame rail and rear suspension cross-member. The rear hatch wasn’t damaged nor was it blended.
The adjuster’s supplemented repair estimate came to $4,380.71. Naturally, all frame labor and mechanical labor was cost shifted into body labor time. The paint and materials came to $327.50 and weren’t capped. Also, the adjuster forgot to include a few recognized and cost-incurring I-CAR repair procedures. But after you see what I’m going to show you, I think you’ll agree that the dealership wouldn’t have performed the additional procedures.
Adjacent panel weld repair
Color tint paint for paint match
Color spray-out test panel(s)
Color sand and buff clearcoat finish
Mask panels for priming
Mask panels for painting
Repair clamp marks
Measurement of uni-body frame before, during and after uni-body frame realignment
On page 1 of the first supplemental estimate, line item 1, frame/unibody repair and set-up, it appears that the adjuster forgot to include “measure unibody frame” in his appraisal and I can assure you it was not listed anywhere else in his appraisal as a line item repair.
Mom told me the body shop manager claimed they measured the unibody frame rail with a tram gauge. I don’t know what kind of tram gauge they used, but they should’ve seen that the rear end wasn’t square before, during and after the so-called re-alignment.
Inside the yellow outline in the photo below is just one small area of the rear floor pan damage I found (page 2 of the first supplemental estimate, line item 15, “repair rear floor pan”). I love how the seam sealer was applied. Sure resembles the factory seam sealer, don’t you agree? (Photo 15)
Photo 16shows another view of the rear floor pan after re-repairs by the body tech. Notice the yellow outline was never removed; it was just partially painted over along with the black seam sealer. If you look closely, you should be able to see damage to the rear floor pan that still exists. I have to wonder, without removing the rear body panel, how is one supposed to remove the stress and buckles in the rear floor pan? There was nothing in the adjuster’s appraisal that mentioned anything about removing the rear body panel in order to repair the rear floor pan.
Photo 17 shows the rear panel that was replaced (page 2 of the first supplemental estimate, line item 17, “replace rear panel”). The body tech made the painter some easy money by undercoating everything. When the replacement seam sealer looks like this, no amount of underbody paint will hide this mess, wouldn’t you agree? Compare the underbody of Mom’s Kia Sorento to the new 2011 Kia Sorento. (Photo 18)
Photo 19 shows how the right rear unibody frame rail looked when I first inspected it (page 2 of the first supplemental estimate, line item 15, “repair right rear rail after pull”). The area marked within the yellow outline is damage that still exists. Notice all the seam sealer used around the unibody frame rail that hides the body tech’s work. Nothing is painted, just undercoated. I don’t know the brand name of the undercoating the shop used, but I want to buy stock in it.
Photo 20 shows the right rear unibody frame after the re-repairs. Once again, I had to clean off the undercoating. The re-repairs consisted of filling in the damaged area with body filler. This body tech really knows how make his repairs look as if there never was any damage when you compare it to the photo below of a new 2011 KIA Sorento. (Photo 21)
Photo 22 relates to page 2 of the first supplemental estimate, line items 39 and 40, “repair right rear wheelhouse after pull and drop right rear suspension to access rail repairs.”
When I checked to see if the tech dropped the right side rear suspension to repair the damage, I didn’t find any wrench or socket marking on any of the suspension bolts or nuts. Since I knew that Mom’s Kia was going back for re-repairs, I didn’t mark all the areas of damage to the right wheelhouse and unibody frame rail from my first inspection because I wanted to see if the shop manager, along with the tech and the adjuster, would find the damage.
The photo shows the right wheelhouse and unibody frame rail. The only thing there was more undercoating to hide the tech’s mess. Do you think the tech might have torn the rail from pulling on it? I like how his welds turned out, how he smoothed out the welds. If he was proud of his work, he would have never covered it all up with undercoating.
The photo below shows the uni-body frame rail after re-repairs. I guess the body filler that the tech applied throughout the right
rear unibody frame rail is to give it strength.
As I said before, that tech really knows how make his repairs look as if there has never been any damage.
I guess the shop manager, the tech and the adjuster forgot what I-CAR’s “kink vs. bend” rule:
“Deciding whether to repair or replace a structural part may be determined by whether a part is kinked or bent. A bend is defined as a change in the shape of the part between the damage and undamaged area that is smooth and continuous. When a part is straightened, it is returned to the proper shape without any areas of permanent deformation.
“A part is also considered kinked if, after straightening, there is a permanent area of deformation which will not straighten to its pre-accident shape without the use of excessive heat.
“Kinked parts are replaced because there are changes in the metal structure. These changes create permanent damage that cannot be repaired regardless of the type of repair being performed.”
As I was underneath the Kia, I saw that the right mid-section of the rear suspension crossmember was bent. As I was reviewing the adjuster’s first supplement, nothing was mentioned about repairing or replacing the rear suspension crossmember. I marked the damage so the shop manager, tech and adjuster could see it.
In his next supplement, the adjuster added to repair the rear suspension crossmember at the right rear mounting point and never mentioned the bend in the mid-section.
When you compare the following photo of Mom’s Kia to the next photo of the new 2011 Kia Sorento, you may be able to see the difference in the two mid-sections. I assure you, however, that the mid-section of mom’s Kia is pushed forward.
Measuring Mom’s Kia
Since a tram gauge was good enough for the shop to realign damage the first time (using a tape measure, I found the right-side wheelbase off a half-inch after the first repair), I decided an electronic measurement was appropriate for checking the
When Mom brought her Kia back for an inspection of the re-repairs, I had a good friend and I-CAR instructor demonstrate a new electronic measuring system on her vehicle and a brand-new 2011 Kia Sorento. My friend also teaches auto body at Southern Piedmont Community College, owns his own body shop and performs vehicle inspections just like me.
After comparing Mom’s Kia to the new Kia, he found that the rear crossmember was forward 4 millimeters and the wheelbase was short ¼ inch. He also found that the right rear unibody frame rail was short and out of square. The measurements we checked were all out of specification when comparing it to the undamaged vehicle measuring points on the rear suspension cradle, lower swing arm bolt, mounting bolts, and any hole or bolt on the shock absorber mount location.
I guess we found a little bit more damage than the shop that used a tram gauge did. I can just imagine how many vehicles the shop has “repaired” that are dog-tracking down the highway as we speak.
The Madness Needs to End
Well, folks, there you have it, just a couple more unsafe and butchered vehicles repaired by new-car dealer body shops. These shops should not be in the business of repairing damaged vehicles.
I know there are some good dealer body shops both DRP and non-DRP out there that do not do this kind of work, but I have yet to see them here in North Carolina.
When are shop owners, managers and techs ever going to learn that you can’t repairs people’s vehicles like this? What needs to be done to stop these butcher jobs?
Remember, crash dummies aren’t driving these wrecks, real-live human beings are. How many people have died in auto accidents due to unsafe repairs?
Remember, you’re supposed to be the repair expert, and if you’re fool enough follow the insurance adjuster damage appraisal, then you deserve what’s coming to you.
Danny Wyatt is the owner of Collision Service Investigators in Salisbury, North Carolina, and author of “Collision Collusion: Auto Insurers Modern-Day Gangsters in Collision Claim Payments” and “Signs of a Wreck How to Avoid Buying a Rolling Disaster: An Insider Shares Techniques” (www.csiofnc.com). He can be reached at [email protected].