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The “Other Guy’s” Repair

The perfect 100-point collision repair could take a really long time. And while those multiple steps and tasks may be exactly what the car manufacturer recommended, any real-world body shop has to balance the ideal repair with the time allowed.

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Mark R. Clark is owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s a popular industry speaker and consultant and is celebrating his 32nd year as a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

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At an automotive Concours d’Elégance event, trained judges pick over and often argue about every nut, bolt and adhesive sticker that was reportedly on that contestant’s vehicle the day it left the factory.

To win the trophies, many entries surpass the standard definition of “mint” condition, that of a time warp car on its way off the transport in whatever year it was originally delivered. Better than stock upholstery, metal plating and paint are often required to even compete in the top classes. Out of 100 possible points, 100-point cars are so rare that they’re almost unicorns. There’s always something the judges can call foul about.

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DRP vs. Non-DRP

So do we now have the makings of a similar situation in our industry? The current hue and cry is about how DRP shops and non-DRP shops perform collision repair. He said that she said that he said, so there! A faultless 100-point collision repair would be a tough goal for any body shop today. Wasn’t that suspension part supposed to have an etching primer before the epoxy primer? Weren’t those six welds supposed to be STRSW and not MIG plug welds? That two-part adhesive isn’t the one recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Door gaps on the rear doors are too wide, too tight, not right, yo.

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Right But Quick

The perfect 100-point collision repair could take a really long time. And while those multiple steps and tasks may be exactly what the car manufacturer recommended, any real-world body shop has to balance the ideal repair with the time allowed. Bidding 25 hours and spending 50 hours could improve the final repair quality but torpedo the shop’s cycle time and profitability.

Skipping critical steps is never a good solution to collision repair, and both the consumer and their insurance carrier insist on a good-looking and safe result. But they want it done quickly. In my many years in our business, I’ve found that the short-cutting techs (who cause most of these incorrectly performed repair steps) are just as liable to work for a DRP shop as a non-DRP facility. They’re going to cut corners to save flag time no matter what it says about favorite insurance companies on the office walls.

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Delivering a repair that succeeds on two fronts is a real-world goal. First, the repair has to be invisible to Mr. or Mrs. Smith. From color match to panel fit to steering axis inclination, the repair should bring the vehicle back to pre-accident condition. Not so easy and possibly more critical, the second hurdle is to repair or replace all the structural components so well that they’ll perform their energy-absorbing function perfectly again in the next collision.

Controlled Collapse

There has been some heated discussion lately on our website about non-DRP shops exposing shoddy repairs by DRP shops. Some think this is nitpicking and a way to gouge insurance companies, and that saying the repair compromised the safety of the passengers is overblown. Others say no repair is perfect and, if every car were to be inspected, problems would be found every time. I suggest that most reputable shops today (the guy fixing totaled builders or sleazy used cars aside) do their very best to deliver an attractive and safe repair. Picking on your competitor’s work quality is an ancient and still popular auto body exercise: “You didn’t have those guys fix your car, did you?”

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As all the auto manufacturers strive to make both lighter and safer vehicles, the importance of replacing crushable components with both the exactly correct tensile strength and fastened in the specifically proscribed fashion is literally a matter of life and death. One concern on the use of any non-OE component is, will it meet the same specs that the manufacturer’s part did? Whether spark plugs, brake pads or front fenders, they need to first match the original part’s performance to be an acceptable alternative.

In a unicoupe (three sheet metal boxes) car, the entire point is to protect the cargo in the middle box by having the front and rear boxes collapse at specific and controlled rates. Using totally incorrect attachment methods or non-specification materials or poorly knocked-off copies could cause the passengers in the middle box grievous injury in the next collision. Sadly, we’re such a litigious society that just because you did the repair correctly the first time won’t prevent your being sued for every dime you have if there’s a subsequent injury in any car your shop repaired. If nothing else, those TV lawyer threats keep most shops today very interested in performing a correct repair every time.

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Success = Happy Customers

The secret to any small business success is in repeat customers. The local shop in your neighborhood – whether DRP fan or foe – who has been in business for many years, employs experienced and trained technicians and has lots of return customers (both insurance companies and consumers) is doing a good job fixing the vehicles. Can his or her competitor find something wrong with their repair? Well duh, there’s this, that and the other thing they didn’t do right. But I predict that Mr. and Mrs. Smith will survive their next collision in the same fine shape they did the first time. Repeat business means you’re doing most things right, including repair quality.

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The shop that puts up with redos and complaints – all caused by the one or two super productive techs who flag more hours than anyone else –is to blame, in my opinion. Those techs look like money machines in a business based on beating the flat rate every day. Any body shop, loyal direct repair partner or fierce independent that puts up with a tech who won’t meet their posted SOPs deserves their fate. Make sure everyone in your shop understands that the key goal is to fix the damage right the first time. I believe most shops do indeed deliver safe and attractive results…even if they didn’t always use the self-etch primer first.

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