Embracing and Adapting: Rick’s Auto Collision

Embracing and Adapting: Rick’s Auto Collision

For Rick’s Auto Collision Owner Rick Starbard, staying ahead of the curve is not just a luxury — it’s a necessity.

The automotive technology landscape is always changing, and staying ahead of the curve is not just a luxury — it’s a necessity. This is especially true for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), where an improper calibration can have dire consequences for a customer’s safety and a shop’s reputation. 

Rick’s Auto Collision, a collision repair facility based in Revere, Mass., knows that all too well. Owner Rick Starbard has embraced the challenges posed by ADAS with open arms, equipping his shop with calibration technology in order to be able to complete calibrations in-house, reduce cycle time, control job quality and keep more profit. 

The machine Rick’s chose is Autel’s MaxiSYS IA900WA Wheel Alignment and ADAS Calibration Frame, which facilitates both four-wheel alignment and ADAS component calibration — two things that go together today like peanut butter and jelly, since the vehicle must be aligned properly first before doing a calibration.

The MaxiSYS IA900’s software provides illustrated alignment instructions, live readings, necessary tools and adjustment locations — all of which is displayed on a 24-inch touchscreen. It covers all U.S., Asian and European vehicles manufactured from 1996 to the present.

A Long, Hard Road

For Starbard, the journey toward establishing a calibration center at his auto body shop was not quick or easy. He recalls the early days when ADAS-equipped vehicles started trickling into his shop, presenting a new set of challenges that demanded his attention.

“I started noticing customers needing ADAS calibrations in big numbers a few years ago with a lot of the Hondas,” says Starbard. “They included 360 cameras and blind spot warnings. We started subletting them to a dealer, but it got to the point where you don’t even know what’s happening there. With how quickly they did things, it kind of made me wonder what’s getting done, if anything. We had another shop a few towns over that was doing it, so we were sending vehicles there too, but there were still times we needed to go to the dealer.”

When Starbard would send vehicles over to the dealership, they would give him a timeline of three weeks or more to finish the job.

“I just started thinking, ‘I can’t sit on this thing for three weeks,’” Starbard says. “That’s when we said, ‘Well, this is becoming more common — we ought to look into it.’”

Buying the Equipment

After doing some research, including examining different ADAS machines at the 2022 SEMA Show and consulting with industry colleagues, Starbard decided to invest in the IA900. While initially skeptical, Starbard said his doubts were quickly gone after seeing it in action.

“While doing research, I said, ‘Does anyone have a system where you can do the calibrations while the car is on an alignment rack?’ The only answer I got was no,” Starbard says. “Then, probably six or nine months after that, I started hearing that Autel was coming out with that. After witnessing the system firsthand and receiving reassuring feedback from colleagues, we knew Autel was the right choice.”

By integrating ADAS calibration with an alignment rack, the process is streamlined, eliminating the need for separate, dedicated calibration bays.

Learning the System

The IA900 is designed to handle a wide range of vehicle makes and models, ensuring that Rick’s Auto Collision can service the growing number of ADAS-equipped cars on the road. The system’s interface and training resources have empowered Starbard’s team, particularly his son-in-law Shawn, to master the intricacies of ADAS calibrations.

“He’s more of a computer techie guy than a technician,” says Starbard. “He learned how to do it, so we hired him. He got his appraiser’s license to be an appraiser out in the shop. He does parts orders, and he does the pre- and post-scans and all that. So he really took to that and he has excelled at it.”

Becoming a Calibration Station

Transforming Rick’s Auto Collision into an ADAS calibration hub wasn’t as simple as acquiring the right equipment; it also required significant infrastructural changes. Starbard had to reconfigure his shop’s lifts, move garage doors and embed the alignment rack into the floor, ensuring a perfectly level surface for precise calibrations. With the equipment and the alterations they had to make, their investment was $140,000.

While it was a steep cost, Starbard says his investment has already begun to pay dividends, as Rick’s Auto Collision can now service customer vehicles without the hurdles of subletting, while also attracting a steady stream of business from other shops in the area seeking their ADAS expertise.

“We have about four shops that we do calibrations for,” he says. “The problem is, no matter what you say to these shops, no matter how you explain to them that it can be a profit center for them too, by subbing it out, they’re not doing it.”

This reluctance from some shops to embrace ADAS calibrations puzzles Starbard. He believes in the importance of staying ahead of the technological curve and providing these types of services for his customers.

“Most people don’t even realize the technology they have in their cars,” says Starbard. “I think for the most part, most shops aren’t addressing it. They’re not running a report on it; they’re changing a mirror, doing a front end and putting the radar unit back on. They’re putting the blind spot unit back on. After, if there are no lights on the dash, they’re giving it right back to the customers. But for the most part, the cars we get from other shops [for re-repairs] are because there are problems. If another shop thought they fixed something and saw no lights on the dash, that would go right back to the customer. That’s the scary part, because the customers just don’t realize it may not be okay after the fact.”

The Best Choice

Starbard said the process of owning his own equipment and changing his shop to fit ADAS calibrations was the best choice because of the amount of money he brings in and the relationship he builds with the community. 

“I don’t think we would be doing as well if we had to open up a standalone location and outfit it from ground zero with what we’re doing,” Starbard says. “We’re probably doing I’d say between $15,000 to $20,000 a month in calibrations. However, if we had to rent a building and go through all the processes and buy the equipment and everything that goes along with that, it wouldn’t be too profitable. We have the benefit of owning the building, so much of the infrastructure was already here. We have our own vehicles that we need to get done anyway, and it grows all the time — so for us, it’s worked well.”

Even though the ADAS calibrations are done under the roof of Rick’s Auto Collision, Starbard says they do them under a completely separate company to avoid troubles with insurance companies trying to pay less.

“Insurance companies will tell you if you’re doing it under the body shop, you’re not going to get paid the same, which doesn’t make any sense to me,” he says.

Summary

The partnership with Autel has not only equipped Rick’s Auto Collision with ADAS calibration equipment and more money-making opportunities but has also fostered a culture of continuous learning and improvement. For shops aspiring to take on ADAS calibrations themselves, Starbard’s advice is simple.

“Do your research and talk to other shops like mine. I think in a lot of cases, the problem with shops in our industry is that we don’t look at each other as colleagues, so they’re afraid to ask those questions. One right down the street from us just bought the same system we got, and they’re a pretty high-volume shop, but I have no problem sharing that information with them because the more professional they are, the easier it is for me to do business.”

As the collision repair industry continues to evolve, shops like Rick’s Auto Collision are a model of adaptability and forward-thinking. Starbard shows that he isn’t afraid to embrace the challenges of fast-growing technology — he just transforms that into more opportunities for his shop and customers.

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