Debate: Do Dealership Body Shops Perform the Lowest Quality Repairs? No. - BodyShop Business

Debate: Do Dealership Body Shops Perform the Lowest Quality Repairs? No.

Bob Flanigan, manager, O'Daniel Motor Sales Body Shop, Ft. Wayne, Ind., argues that dealership shops perform quality repairs.

Read the opposing argument from Danny Wyatt, owner, Collision Investigative Services, Salisbury, N.C.

In Danny Wyatt’s neck of the woods, it may be that dealership body shops perform the poorest repairs, but in my area it’s simply not true. In fact, there are many dealer shops in Ft. Wayne that do excellent work.

I really disagree with Wyatt when he says that DRP shops allow insurers to dictate repairs. We have five DRPs and always decide the repair plan for the vehicle. The only difference in procedure is with Progressive, where one of its representatives actually stands there and writes the estimate with us.
I’ve never had to cut corners to fix a customer’s car because of a DRP, and certainly not because an insurance company told me to. We decide what needs to be repaired or replaced and what’s correct and what isn’t. I’ve never had an insurer tell me that I was going to repair a rail or straighten a core support that needed to be replaced. If that truly happens out there, I’m shocked. I guess maybe we’re just living in a different area of the country where that kind of thing just doesn’t go on. If I have a GEICO car that needs something additional, I fax a supplement request, the estimator shows up, we go over the car and they pay the difference.

I’ve also never had an insurer refuse to pay me for a certain procedure. I’ve had several battles where they weren’t giving me adequate frame time on a job, but I’ve always won. I’m the one fixing the car, and I’m the one responsible for the way it turns out. If I put something on the estimate because I had to, no one questions me. I’ve never had a DRP insurer not pay me for it or say, "You need to stop charging us for that."

In my region, shops and insurers have more of a partnership. I hear a lot of bad stories about Progressive in other parts of the country, but even their appraisers come into my shop, we tear the vehicle down, we tell them and show them what needs to be done, and they take the photos and document everything. Of course, we always discuss what kind of parts we’re going to use, but what benefits us is that Indiana has an insured-friendly parts law. If you’re the insured and the car is five years old or newer, you choose the parts used in the repair. The insurer sends you a form where you choose the parts you want, sign it and send it back. We use that as a sales tool with our customers, educating them about the law that states they have a choice.
If we’re going to suggest any kind of part, it’s going to be a brand-new OEM part because we believe the fit, finish, corrosion protection, etc., are superior to aftermarket parts. Customers who are first-party claimants or who own newer cars can also use the law to their advantage. If the claimant goes through his or her own insurer and chooses OEM parts, the insurer will pay for OEM with no fuss because they know they’ll save subrogation costs in the long run.

Controlling Quality

As far as whether a shop can be a DRP shop and still be able to produce quality repairs, I say absolutely. All my insurance partners insist that a shop must produce quality repairs to be part of their programs. After all, most of the better insurers want to retain their customers just like we do.

With the repair plan being in our control, we control the quality. At least two of the insurers I do the most DRP work for perform follow-up inspections, and I always rank right up there with quality and customer satisfaction.

We have better equipment and training than a lot of independent shops, including technical diagnostic equipment available right in our building, which is especially important when you’re working on Porsche or Audi vehicles. We also have access to OEM repair information via ALLDATA. If I need any piece of equipment, I’m only a few steps away from our service department. Plus, I have the option of sending my techs to Chrysler, Porsche, Audi and Mazda schools when new models come out. We can do all Audi repairs except aluminum frame repair on the Audi A8, and we’re currently eyeing Porsche certification. In addition, all of our technicians are ASE certified. As the dealer who sells these brands of cars, we’re supposed to be the experts on those vehicles. The owner expects us to perform well back here in the body shop because we’re taking care of new or used car buyers that we could lose if we mishandle, so we’re pushed that much harder to produce quality repairs.

DRPs Drive Business

I also disagree with Wyatt that insurers target dealer shops because they know customers place their trust in the places where they buy their vehicles.
In my area, we feel more work is steered away from dealer shops than independents. In our case, customers are being steered to other shops because they don’t know they have a choice or they don’t know we have a full-service body shop. Also, we don’t give parts or labor discounts, whereas independents are more likely to do that.

I’ve got good working relationships with the insurers whose DRPs I’m on because they know I do good work, my cycle times are good and I score well with follow-up visits. So no insurer has ever threatened to drop me.

DRPs benefit us because we get cars we might not otherwise get. With advertising, our dealership’s main focus is selling cars, so the body shop has to rely on word-of-mouth and relationships with our current customers. The independents spend a lot of money for print ads, radio ads, etc., to get their names out there. We have to rely on our current customers having accidents and knowing they have a choice and that we have a shop.

A Higher Standard

I think quality must be a regional issue. An Indiana Auto Body Association member who runs a dealer shop in my town said one customer who had been in North Carolina and got his car fixed there had all kinds of problems with it once he got back to Indiana. He ended up having to do $2,000 worth of rework on it.

I’ve seen the photos in Wyatt’s book, "Signs of a Wreck," and we’ve never turned a car out looking like any of those. I don’t see shops in our area do shoddy work. One major insurer says in the Midwest, shops in the northern Indiana area score the best on quality repairs and happy customers, so maybe I have rose-colored glasses on and things are just peachy-keen in my area.

We’ve had to redo someone’s work before, but it was a good while ago. Most of the time, the shoddy work I’ve seen has to do with a paint condition that could have been prevented if they had taken a little more time to buff the car, or ill-fitting parts where time wasn’t taken to get things realigned.

It’s shocking that shops would accept the exposure shoddy repairs would bring them, especially in the litigious society we live in today. I would be afraid, especially as a dealer, that I would get my pants sued off.

How are independents keeping up with all this changing technology? If they’re so much better than us, what are they doing to stay on top of this? How are they getting better than dealers if they don’t have access to training or repair processes?

Maybe my shop has built better relationships with insurers. I’ve had insurance company reps tell me I forgot to do this or forgot to charge them for that and ask why didn’t I do that. I guess I’m fortunate to be working in Northern Indiana.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re all human. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m sure there are cars that come out of my shop that Wyatt, if he looked at them close enough, could probably find something I could have done better. I’m sure he could do that in any part of the country he wants. But I’ve never turned out a car that looks like those in his "Signs of a Wreck" book.

Because I’m a dealer, I’m held to a higher standard. The customer has to come in the building and get the impression you do good work. I’ve built a reputation with insurers that I do quality repairs and I’m not a thief. If I charge for something, it’s because I had to do it to the vehicle. It’s an integrity thing more than anything. That’s a good way to be because if I call an insurer and tell them who I am and what I need, they don’t question me. It’s never a question of, "Oh, this guy is just trying to put one over on me or get some extra money out of me." They know if I call and ask for it, I have to have it.
I’ve had customers tell me they came into my shop and got an estimate, but they also got an estimate from the insurer and it was $900 less than mine. I think they use that as a tool to save money on claims. If I get the customer to my shop, I ask him or her, "Are you going to fix the car?" After teardown, I call the appraiser and he rewrites the estimate, no questions asked.

Are insurers lowballing estimates in the field? Absolutely. I think insurers teach appraisers to do that: "If you’re not absolutely certain it needs it, don’t write it. Don’t guess." Even if they can see the frame is pushed over to the side and it needs set up and measure and pull and square, they won’t write it. I’m sure that happens all the time, no matter what part of the country you’re in.

Cooperation, Not Conspiracy

I’m not a co-conspirator with any insurer. If the car comes in and it’s an insurer-written appraisal and it needs something else, I’ll tell them.
An appraiser wrote to straighten the quarter on a ’98 Jeep Cherokee I’m currently working on. But after we got the flare and the back bumper off, we realized there was no way we were going to straighten the quarter. I called them and said, hey, it needs a quarter. Of course, I had to provide documentation in parts invoices and digital photos, but the appraiser never disagreed. He was reluctant but I told him, "I’m sorry, you have to replace it." He’s doing a supplement on it right now.

We do a lot of documentation. With technology the way it is today, it’s so much easier to do this. I can scan invoices and take photos and e-mail them to an office somewhere in Naperville, Ill., and they can see that I did put a quarter on the car and have an invoice to support it, and they get my supplement and pay it. If insurers and the ones doing the appraisals have excellent documentation, it makes their job that much easier. I’ve also done alignment printouts and have shown them that the suspension is bent because we have such a bad caster or camber problem. Same way with frame.

Increasing Costs

We’ve seen our profit margin on paint and materials steadily drop for many years now. The paint and materials factor has not kept up with the increased costs. Paint companies raised prices and shops stayed level. Until we all start asking for more, we’ll continue to make less. There’s always some whore out there willing to do it cheaper. But here is our industry’s biggest problem:  When insurers set the rates, they call it the "market rate." If repairers were to get together and set the market rate, the insurers would call it an "anti-trust violation."

When I write a sheet on a car in our shop, our tech tears the vehicle down and writes a repair plan and what we need in frame and what we’re going to replace/repair. That’s determined by my tech and me or my appraiser. Very seldom do I find there’s no supplement needed for an estimate from an insurer whose DRP I’m not on. I’ve never had trouble calling appraisers and telling them what the vehicle needs and why, and if they give me any flack about it, I say come on over and check out the car and I’ll show it to you. At that point, I win the argument.

We write a lot of supplements, even on DRP vehicles. The parts prices change so fast you can’t keep up with them. But you’re going to run into something. But the No. 1 problem we face is steering. Either customers don’t know they have a choice or don’t know I’m here.

Integrity Trumps All

Bad repairs probably result from a lack of integrity. Somebody physically has to decide to cut that corner. I find it hard to believe the tech is doing it by himself. If he cuts corners, is he benefiting because the manager said to do it or because he was told, "We’ll straighten the part and return the part for credit and I’ll split it with you"? There has to be some sort of collusion going on between the person who does the bills and the person fixing the car, and that could be going on at a dealer or an independent.

The only way to find out about a bad repair is if a customer complains or the insurer does a random reinspection. There is one insurer I know that does random reinspections, and if there’s a problem with the vehicle, they talk to the owner and we get with the owner and resolve the situation.

A reinspector told me recently that we had a piece of dirt in a quarter panel. The customer waited till his next oil change, brought it to my attention and said, ‘I didn’t think it was that bad but the appraiser told me I should have it looked at.’ So we buffed it out and the owner was a happy camper.

In the end, repair quality depends on the quality of people performing the repairs, not who owns the shop. I’m a dealership shop and able to perform the highest quality repairs for consumers and also work well with insurers, but I’m not part of a conspiracy to rip off insureds. Plus, the training and technology I have access to thanks to being a dealer gives me an edge over independents.

Read the opposing argument from Danny Wyatt, owner, Collision Investigative Services, Salisbury, N.C.

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