Can Structural Repairs Be Profitable? - BodyShop Business
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Can Structural Repairs Be Profitable?

The answer is up to you. With an accurate estimate, trained technicians and the proper procedures, you can be sure those big hits don’t become big losers.

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Do big hits have to be big money losers?

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Shop managers and technicians ask these questions constantly. But what’s the answer?

“Yes” for the first question. “No” for the second.

It’s estimated that more than 70 percent of all repairs performed in a body shop today cost less than $3,000. So the number of “big hits” rolling into your shop – and others across the country – isn’t as common as you may think. Though you probably don’t see true big hits often, repairing the ones you do come across can be profitable.

How? Let’s start by looking at the current approach to structural repairs:

The vehicle enters your shop and you write an estimate. But where does your structural repair pricing come from and how is it analyzed? Most shops currently use a “standard” mount and measure figure that includes the basic setup, and then they use an additional figure for pulls. What does one pull amount to? How about conjunctive pulls? All these are legitimate questions if you intend to make a profit on a big hit.

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Mounting: It’s Not All Standard
Mounting the vehicle is the key to efficient repairs. If the vehicle is moving around the rack or bench, the repair process is defeated. Not only are pulling angles affected by improper mounting, but the vehicle structure itself can be jeopardized.

The problem is, mounting a vehicle can be a complex task. Rocker panel pinch-weld clamps aren’t used on all vehicles, and full-frame vehicles require specialized clamping to hold and support them. Specialized clamping is also necessary to properly clamp BMW, Mercedes and other vehicle makes to avoid causing further damage. All this means a “standard” mount – which is what you’re charging for – isn’t sufficient for these vehicles.

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Take Time to Measure
Is measuring the vehicle prior to repairs necessary? Ever heard the comment (or said it yourself), “By the time I got the measuring system set up, I could’ve pulled the vehicle!”

This isn’t a true statement by any means. Without a proper measuring system to diagnose the complete vehicle, damage can go unnoticed. Plus, measuring during the repair with the proper measuring system and data ensure final fit-up of exterior panels is kept to a minimum, which increases productivity. (Measuring the upper body of the vehicle will also make repairs more efficient.)

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Vehicle manufacturers require a 3-D measuring system to properly repair a vehicle to pre-accident condition. But a 3-D measuring system requires some basic training to make it work properly and the repairs more efficient – so owning one without learning how to use it won’t improve productivity.

Pulling for You
How can pulling processes increase productivity? First, move as much damage out as possible at the same time. Remember, it all went in at the same time! This is where conjunctive pulls come in. By pulling the frame rail, the connected quarter panel begins to straighten at the same time, leaving a slight overlap in repair times. Time calculation here can be a sticky situation, but proper identification of all the damage at the time of the estimate can address this.

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Computers to Guide Us
Can we improve current measuring processes and make structural repairs more profitable? Yes. And computerized measuring can help with some of the time factors.

Think about how much time is wasted before finding structural damage during teardown. If a vehicle had been measured during the estimating process, the whole repair process could change. Bottom line: Measure the vehicle during the estimate. That way, additional damage can be identified and documented.

This process – if performed electronically – requires minimal time and improve your shop efficiency level. Also, at the time of the estimate, you’ll have a better understanding of structural repair needs and be able to determine the classification of technician required to perform the repairs. A repair is so often compromised because of lack of experience or knowledge by the technician. No more technicians in over their heads. This process will allow for a better flow of repairs because of a better understanding of vehicle condition.

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Measuring a vehicle during the estimating process also means hidden damage, or inertia, becomes apparent earlier in the process. Measurements can be taken from the basic center section and then a couple of points in both the front and rear sections. This will provide enough information to set a repair process in motion. So often, inertia damage isn’t noted because measuring is focused on the obvious damage area and not the opposite end of the vehicle. This hidden, indirect or secondary damage can add time and money to any repair. But if it’s addressed at the beginning of the repair, it can be corrected at the same time as other procedures.

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The computerized printout of measuring performed during the initial estimate is also the documentation required to get proper payment for needed repairs. The proof is in the printout. Three millimeters can’t easily be seen by the naked eye but it’s noticeable on a printout.

By performing a few preliminary steps up front, you can be more productive, and additional time necessary to properly repair the vehicle can be initially added to the estimate rather than in a supplement.

No Time for Training?
Now let’s look at actual repair technician efficiency. How often do technicians with little or no training perform repairs that are “over their heads”? Too often, I’ve heard, “I can’t afford to have my technician out of the shop for two or more days of training.”

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Can’t afford it? You can’t afford not to send them for training. Improper repairs or improper usage of equipment can be very costly. Technicians require training not only about repair processes, but about the proper use of equipment. You surely didn’t just get in a car on your 16th birthday and start driving down the street without instruction. And as our labor pool shrinks more and more every year, the need for more training increases.

The type of training can also be an issue. Is the provided information going to make the technician more efficient? Are real-world repair issues being addressed? Repair theories are all fine and dandy, but the training provided must increase productivity.

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The Equipment Factor
Equipment used in the repair process can also hinder

productivity and profits. Though collision equipment manufacturers sometimes use different processes to get to the final step, for the most part, the efficiency of equipment is proven by its design and the vehicle data provided to repairers.

Cost shouldn’t be the deciding factor of this major purchase. Each piece of equipment has proper uses and abilities, and buying for price doesn’t give you the best return on investment. The old saying “you get what you pay for” is very applicable to this part of the repair process.

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Going By the Book
Sometimes structural repairs can become subjective. Although there are proper processes in place by vehicle manufacturers and equipment and training providers, too often judgment calls are made – ignoring what’s proper.

These judgment calls often start at the estimating process. Deciding whether to repair or replace should be left to professionals, not newcomers. Also, sectioning of rails can be a sticky situation when OEM information isn’t available. At that point, procedures are available from research centers like I-CAR and Tech-Cor. These operations have been developed through studies and actual testing, not by someone trying to shortcut a repair because it’s easier or faster. Also, it narrows the liability to the repairer and facility.

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When it comes to structural repairs, “seat of your pants” judgments are accidents waiting to happen. Because there’s no physical data to support reliability and crashworthiness, only perform proven methods when making these types of repairs.

Let’s look at a rail with an improper sectioning process performed:

  • Will it survive another collision? Maybe, maybe not.
  • Is it a weaker joint than the pervious unsectioned rail? Possibly.
  • Does it have a reinforcement added in the section that now makes it stronger than the original rail? That could be true.
  • Will this added strength cause a different crash characteristic than the original? Absolutely.

All of these unknowns can add up to big problems later on. Think about air-bag timing, for instance. The timing for deployment was developed and tested with a certain rigidity of the OEM rail. Will improper repairs affect the timing? You bet. That’s why procedures are tested and proven, and why they should be adhered to. Reworks or improper repairs eat away at profitability.

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Increasing Profitability
Your shop can be more profitable if:
1. You have properly trained technicians repairing a vehicle.
2. The vehicle’s received an accurate inspection and estimate.
3. You use the proper equipment and procedures to ensure a quality repair is performed.
4. You repair the vehicle in a timely manner to the customer’s satisfaction, all at a fair cost.

So often, vehicles are misdiagnosed from the start. “It doesn’t need a pull!” you say. “A little tug and it will be fine.”

These types of repairs happen every day, but they’re not efficient or smart – and they turn that big hit into a big loser.

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Just don’t let it be your shop that loses out.


Writer Timothy W. Morgan is director of Technical Services and Training for Car-O-Liner Company.

Direct Damage – The actual impact area. The portion of the vehicle that directly contacts the collision force.

Secondary Damage – Damage caused by internal forces. The movement of occupant and/or cargo. Normally inertia related.

Indirect Damage – The movement of adjoining panels because of their connection to direct damage panels.

Inertia – The tendency of a body to resist acceleration, like the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or a body in motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless disturbed by an external force.

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