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Body Repair

Diary of a Bad Collision Repair

Bad collision repairs are allowed to take place, pure and simple. Greed and not caring allow them to take place. And I’ve seen my fair share.

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When I was slaving through the process of writing my book, “Collision Collusion: Auto Insurers — Modern-Day Gangsters in Collision Claim Payments,” I remember thinking that I would never again write another one. However, I didn’t rule out writing an article for a trade magazine, so here I am fulfilling
that desire.

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But then I thought, what the heck am I going to write about? There have been so many articles written about the collision repair industry already. When my thoughts fell on all the bad repairs I’ve seen in my work as a licensed appraiser, it occurred to me that documenting them and trying to explain why I think they happened would truly be scintillating material. I’m going to share with you my thoughts on why there are so many hack jobs going on out there and invite you to agree or disagree with me.

It’s Allowed

Bad repairs, shoddy repairs, butchered-up repairs, unsafe repairs, hack jobs…whatever you want to call them, they don’t happen on their own. Many of you are going to think I’m nuts for what I’m about to say as to why bad repairs happen, but here goes: Bad repairs are allowed to take place, pure and simple. Greed and not caring allows bad repairs to take place.

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Insurance companies wanting more and more profits causes bad repairs to happen. The practice of hiring inexperienced adjusters, pencil-pushing auditors and unrealistic cycle time also allow bad repairs to happen. Until insurers change their ways and agree to pay to have damaged vehicles repaired correctly, the allowing of bad repairs will continue to happen.

Many shop owners and managers also allow bad repairs to happen — the ones who allow insurers to be their lords and masters. Seeking volume repairs allows bad repairs to happen. Like insurers, these shop owners and managers have inexperienced people writing their estimates. You might as well not have an estimator and just work off the insurance adjuster’s damage appraisal. Not having a tight quality control check over body technicians and painters also contributes to the proliferation of hack jobs.

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Body techs and painters allow bad repairs to happen due to several reasons. First, they’re on straight commission and therefore try to turn as many hours as possible. In some of my post-repair inspections, had the tech or painter allowed for maybe one or two hours for fine-tuning the repairs, the result would have been higher quality.

When I was a tech, what really ticked me off was when I would “guide coat” and block my work until I swore on my life that the body repairs were straight — only to see the painter’s helper run a DA sander over my work and make it wavy as hell. Neither the helper nor the painter gave a second’s thought to the time I spent working to make the repair look good. All they had thought about was turning hours. And then if the customer complained about wavy body work, guess who caught hell from the manager? You guessed it: me. The manager wouldn’t allow himself to see who really was to blame. The painter and helper were turning great hours, and the manager got his pay, too, from those hours the shop turned.

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The second reason why tech and painters allow cruddy repairs to happen is that their uncaring attitude, which spreads to other techs like a cancer. In the mid-1990s, I worked in three different new-car dealerships, and in all of them, it seemed like right there next to me or close by would be a fellow I nicknamed “Mr. Reamer.” His attitude was, “If it doesn’t fit after a pull, make it fit.” So Mr. Reamer would take his die grinder and ream out the bolt holes larger to make the parts fit. His famous saying was, “You can’t see it from my house.” Allowing this attitude of not caring subconsciously affects other techs throughout the shop and even flows into other body shops. Techs must become aware of this uncaring attitude and refuse to allow it into their sub-consciousness in order to avoid getting infected. “So what if the part is covered up by other parts? No one is going to see it” — that’s yet another utterance from the uncaring tech.

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Thorough Inspection

Don’t think for a moment that I do just a walk-around inspection when I perform a post-repair inspection. I pull splash shields and interior-and-trunk trim panels to see what the repairs look like. There are many DRP shops in North Carolina that have been forced by their insurance masters to buy vehicles back because of unsafe repairs, and the usual culprit is the uncaring attitude allowed into the shop.

In cases like these where hack jobs were performed, I would first call the shop and explain what I found so the shop could correct the problem. But the shop usually tried to talk their way out of the problem or perform lame corrective repairs. That’s when I decided to let their insurance masters handle the situation by demanding buy-backs.

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As long as the uncaring attitude prevails, all the training in the world — whether it comes from I-CAR or an OEM — won’t eliminate bad repairs. To slay the shoddy work demon, repairers will first have to change the way they think.

Quality repairs start with a thorough repair estimate — not one based on an adjuster’s damage appraisal. Quality repairs will proliferate once shop owners and managers demand them, expect them and oversee that they’re actually being performed in shops. Techs and painters will also need to demand to be paid properly without having to worry about turning hours, which means cycle time will have to be thrown out the door completely. Only then will change take place.

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Three Hack Jobs

I’m now going to share with you three hack jobs, which, I hate to say it, are not hard to find where I work in North Carolina. They come from: an independent I doubt could ever be a DRP shop for any insurer, a DRP independent and a DRP new-car dealership. None of these shops, in my opinion, should be in business.


View the photo slideshow documenting three bad repairs below.

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Lisa’s 1998 Chrysler Sebring Two-Door (Photo 1). In March 2009, a woman named Lisa contacted me to discuss the ongoing battle between with her insurer and a body shop over the repairs made to her vehicle. The vehicle was damaged in the right quarter panel from a July 2007 accident (Photo 1). When Lisa filed a collision claim with her insurance agent, a woman working in the insurance agent’s office recommended her husband’s shop. Not knowing any better, Lisa had the Sebring towed to the recommended shop, and the nightmares began.

The shop didn’t save Lisa her the deductible. She was told by others that her Sebring was a total loss, and it sincerely was. The shop’s estimate didn’t reach the total-loss threshold, and the repairs began in June 2007. Once completed, a myriad of problems ensued. The rear tires wore severely, so Lisa brought it back to the shop several times for corrective repairs. The shop eventually refused to do anything further.

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Lisa’s insurer claimed in writing that it paid for proper repairs, so it knew it had problems and was hoping Lisa would just go away. Guess what? She didn’t go away, and neither did I.

The vehicle’s National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) value at the time of the loss was $5,075, and the 75 percent total loss threshold was $3,806.75. It wasn’t hard for even a rookie insurance adjuster to see that the Sebring was a total. As far as I knew, this shop didn’t have any DRP relationships, but I could have been wrong.

Check out the photos of this ’98 Sebring along with the estimate and re-repair estimates. I’ll leave it up to you to be the judge and jury. What if North Carolina required that body shops be licensed? Couldn’t this shop lose its privilege to do repairs, or at least be forced to pay a hefty fine? If it was up to you to decide whether the shop should be fined or lose its license, what would you pick? I have to wonder what other cars coming out of this shop look like.

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This was one of the worst repairs I’ve ever encountered. Pictures are worth a thousand words, as they say. Notice the bold black line and red arrow that point to the area of impact.

On page one of the estimate, it stated to replace the right rear complete quarter panel. The time determined for replacing the panel was 28 hours. According to one information provider, it takes 16.8 hours to replace a complete quarter panel before adding other repair procedures. The shop’s estimate failed to state anything about the damage to the inner quarter panel, rear package tray and wheelhouse.
This so-called body shop replaced the right quarter panel as a partial clip that included the outer and inner wheelhouse along with the right rear frame rail and a section of the floor pan and rear body panel.

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Here’s a close-up of the inner crossmember under the package tray (Photos 2-3). Do you see anything missing?

After seeing the condition of the rear package tray, I removed the rear passenger seats and trunk trim. The following photos are of the rear body panel, trunk floor pan, rear passenger seat floor pan section and the floor pan in front of the rear passenger seat. In the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy followed the yellow brick road to Oz. Follow between the two white lines to see where the shop did its sectioning and the fine quality welds that hold this Sebring together. (Photo 4). If you look close enough, you may see where the shop came up short in measuring its cut area.

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The shop continued the cut for removal and installation of the floor pan just above the fuel tank (Photo 5).

The cut continues along the floor pan, then cuts right toward the rocker panel (Photo 6).

The cut continues along the inner and outer rocker panel (Photo 7).

Now to the underside of this ’98 Sebring. Follow between the white lines to see where the shop cut the floor pan and floor pan crossmember. The shop also cut through a supporting cross-member of the floor pan near the fuel tank, fuel lines and brake lines. Check out the missing section of the crossmember (Photo 8) and follow to the underside of the rear passenger floor pan (Photo 9), trunk floor pan and rear body panel (Photo 10).

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How do you like those overhead welds and the corrosion protection that was applied (Photo 11)? Oops, my bad. The use and application of corrosion protection materials wasn’t on the estimate.

Can you imagine the time that would need to be spent disc grinding to smooth out the cobb-gobbling welds? I guess the painter didn’t see any need to paint the underside of the bumper cover. Besides, who looks underneath their car anyway? If the shop charged for time and materials for smoothing out the welds, it would put this Sebring in total loss territory. I wonder if this shop owner and the techs have any kind of I-CAR or ASE training to know any better?

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After seeing these so-called repairs, you’re probably wondering why both right and left rear tires are wearing on the inside (Photos 12-13), right? Just kidding. I bet this shop never measured this Sebring, much less put it on a frame machine.

In this repair scenario, do you think the adjuster and the shop owner might have had a little something going on? Let’s not forget that the owner’s wife worked for the insurer. And by the way, this insurer has no DRP shops.

I’m now going to show you the re-repair estimates of three other shops, only one of which had any sense about it when dealing with this Sebring. I’ll let you figure out which shop it was.

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Randy’s 2006 Mazda Miata. This vehicle was repaired by an independent DRP shop. Randy called me one day inquiring about getting a diminished value assessment on his 2006 Mazda Miata that was damaged in the rear (Photo 14). When he brought the car in, the outside looked pretty good, but when I popped open the trunk lid and started looking inside, looking “pretty good” went to looking “sorta ugly.” I removed the trunk trim panels, and it got even uglier. I called the insurance company to request a re-inspection of its DRP shop’s work, and when the re-inspector looked inside the trunk and underneath, he totaled Randy’s pride and joy.

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The shop couldn’t understand what was so wrong with the repairs. Rather than showing the complete estimate, I’ll just show you the repairs that were made to Randy’s Miata.

This Miata got hit just above the left rear frame rail, and the estimate stated to replace the quarter panel with a like, kind and quality left quarter panel (trim-out time 3.0 hours), like, kind and quality trunk lid and like, kind and quality rear bumper assembly. The only repair time noted was to the driver’s door (2.0 hours), rear body panel (3.0 hours), package tray (1.0 hours) and rear floor pan (4.0 hours). There was time for set-up and measure (2.0 hours), and pull time was 3.0 hours.

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I found more damage to the package tray that’s hidden by the bracket that secures the wiring harness in place (Photo 15). Check out those plug-welds — I know no one is perfect, but there’s no excuse for this mess.

The left inner wheelhouse support, along with the inner wheelhouse, was damaged, yet it wasn’t on the repair estimate (Photo 16). I would’ve used arrows or circles to point out the damaged areas, but frankly, they would’ve just gotten lost among all the other arrows and circles.

As for the repair time of 3.0 hours for the rear body panel, the damage I found that wasn’t repaired is inside the white circles (Photos 17-18). I found myself asking, “Why didn’t they paint over the bare welds?” Check out the neatly finished welds that are painted over, indicated by the white arrows. I like how the seam sealer was applied, too.

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Regarding the underside of the floor pan, the area within the white circle is still damaged (Photos 19-20). When are techs going to learn that undercoating won’t repair the damaged part, much less hide the mess they leave behind?

I had to wonder why the tech didn’t get the quarter panel and outer wheelhouse mating flanges to fit better (Photo 21). The entire quarter panel fitted like this around the mating flanges. How much rust do you think was already developing between the mating flanges? I see that a few strands of welding wire were left behind, too.

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The DRP re-inspector and I were both curious about the LKQ rear bumper assembly, so I removed the cover and, lo and behold, discovered that the shop forgot to replace the damaged rear bumper reinforcement (Photos 22-23)! It deviated from the estimate and installed an aftermarket bumper cover and reinstalled the damaged bumper reinforcement. Needless to say, that didn’t go over too well with the DRP reinspector. In fact, nothing about this independent DRP shop’s repairs pleased the DRP reinspector.

It’s my understanding that this shop purchased a new welder a few months after repairing this vehicle. Beside paying for the welder, it has bought an $18,000 Miata. I hope they learn how to properly use that welder.

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So what do you think of the repairs made to Randy’s Miata based on the photos? Cycle time kills shops, but even if there were no cycle time requirements, I don’t think it would have made any difference in this case.

Sharon’s 2005 Ford Excursion. Sharon and her husband came to me to get a diminished value assessment of a front-end impact (Photo 24).

The repairs had originally been performed by a Ford dealer that was a DRP shop for the insurer paying the claim. When Sharon pulled into the shop, I noticed that the front tires looked a little squirrely. I asked her how the Excursion was steering, and she told me flat-out that it steered like heck. Notice the difference in the right to left side of the tires to the bumper (Photos 25-26).

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When I started looking at the frame, I found a buckle in it at the steering box and marked it with a green marker (Photo 27).

As I was looking underneath, I found what looked to be a missing rivet on the engine crossmember (Photo 28).

I also found a little frame damage on the right side that the shop seemed to miss when realigning the frame back to factory specs (Photo 29).

When I removed the fenders, I found damage on the left upper rail that wasn’t even on the repair estimate to repair or replace (Photo 30).

Oops! It looks like the shop forgot to repair the radiator support even though it was paid to do it.

Given the condition of the frame and the shoddy repairs, I could see why the Excursion steered horribly. The vehicle should have been a total loss after figuring in the cost of replacing the frame.

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Head Scratcher

I just don’t understand the shops that crank out this kind of work. They should get it through their hard heads that real people, not crash dummies, drive the wrecks they repair. Just because a repairer can’t see it from his or her house doesn’t give him or her the right to perform a moronic repair on someone’s automobile. Repair the damage correctly, and if it totals, it totals.

Why take on the liability of hacking up customers’ automobiles for the sake of money and looking out for insurance companies so they can save a few thousand dollars? Life is precious, and many repairers are putting insurers and themselves before the  valuable lives that ride in the automobiles they repair.

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Repairers should change their ways now and allow themselves to be aware of what is most important in the repair of a vehicle: the consumer. The money will come, Mr. Reamer will no longer have a job, and insurers will have to pay up for correct repairs. Then post-repair inspectors like myself will be off their backs.

So there you have it: bad repairs, unsafe repairs, butchered repairs, hacked-up repairs or whatever else you want to call them. They come from ignorant body shops, from small to large, independents to DRPs. Is your shop putting out repairs like these?

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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.collisioncollusions.com or www.csiofnc.com). He can be reached at [email protected].

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