Letters to the Editor - BodyShop Business

Letters to the Editor

In Better Hands … Without Allstate. Thursday, Oct. 10
Hi Georgina!
I think the October Issue might cause some excitement. I’ve had four phone calls in three days regarding the Allstate article [Oct., pg. 86]. Three of them told me the EXACT same thing happened to them. Two were from different states and one from Louisiana. How interesting.
Ronnie de St. Germain
Banner Chevrolet Inc.
New Orleans, La.

One day later…
Friday, Oct. 11
I’m getting phone calls and e-mails from all over the country saying they could have signed their name to the article. … I’m starting to wonder what’s really going on with Allstate. For this to happen exactly the same way across the country, it had to be detailed by the top brass at Allstate.
Ronnie de St. Germain

We also parted ways with Allstate, just last month, after 12 years as a PRO Shop. Our story is almost identical to that of Ronnie de St. Germain’s! I chuckled while I read at all the similarities. After considerable review and consideration, we requested that Allstate remove our name from their list of PRO Shops. It was a major decision, but the relief was felt immediately throughout the shop. It was amazing how much tension the program had created! It was good to hear that we’re not alone in taking this step.
Carrie Lucas, co-owner
International Autocraft
Sacramento, Calif.

Dear Georgina,
I couldn’t help but feel that someone was writing a story about my shop when I read the e-mails associated with the article, “In Better Hands Without Allstate.” We experienced very similar happenings during the same time frame as did Banner Chevrolet.
This article made me reflect upon my career with Allstate and recall my training at Allstate’s Tech-Cor in Chicago, as well as remarks made to me by my superiors. Constantly through my two-week training session, it was said that Allstate strives to provide “consistent practices” in their claim-handling process. This is no more evident than what was written in those e-mails.
Because I had the same negative experiences with my PRO D/E, I also ended my shop’s 15-plus-year relationship with Allstate. I must congratulate [Allstate], however, on their being consistent up and down the entire East Coast. I was presented with all the same reports as was Banner Chevrolet, along with the constant harassment of judgment times for repairs and what our D/E considered “alternative repair methods.” Thing is, there’s only one way to repair a vehicle to its pre-existing state: The RIGHT way.
I once had a manager at Allstate make the comment that you can go in to a McDonald’s anywhere in the United States and a Big Mac will taste the same. That’s the kind of consistency Allstate wants in their claim handling.
In one respect, I understand the reasoning. However, it shouldn’t be achieved at the cost of bad feelings and the loss of 15- to 20-year relationships with trustworthy repair facilities that were saving Allstate hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. In my local area alone, I could list 10 shops that have dropped Allstate from their DRP list.
I’m informed now that Allstate requires a minimum parts discount of 5 percent on foreign and domestic parts to be on their program, along with many other concessions. I believe this kind of requirement borders on unfair trade practices. For these and other reasons, I won’t reactivate my PRO Shop status.
We’re still repairing a fair amount of Allstate insured vehicles, and I must say, at a higher gross profit and with a lot less hassle. The most unfortunate player in this game is the Allstate customer, and by the looks of Allstate’s stock performance, they had better start thinking about customer satisfaction once again.
David M. Rowe, body shop mgr.
Johnson Ford Inc.
Kingston, N.Y.

All About October
I received with pleasure the October BSB a week ago but had no time to go through it until yesterday. Your no-holds-barred truth approach has always been refreshing. This edition was the best! “Image Is Everything,” “Why I Dumped Allstate,” “Maintain Profits,” your editorial and even this month’s “Letters” just reaffirmed the fact that the “rest of us” must counter the FEW who foul the waters in which we all swim.
Ken Olson, owner
Kern Valley Body Works
Bakersfield, Calif.

Image Is Everything
I just read your very informative article regarding body shop image [October, pg. 68]. Thank you for giving me tons of ideas to make our shop image a top priority.
My husband and I have owned a collision repair shop for the last four years. We both enjoy the business, but sometimes we get extremely slow. I always knew the cause for this is our shop appearance. I’ve drilled this into his head on many occasions, but until he read this article, he [didn’t] see what I was talking about.
We presently don’t have a large shop. In fact, we have two different locations for the shop and the office. Our office is beautiful, thanks to my interior design expertise. I designed it with lovely office furniture, and I always keep it clean. I’m what you call a neat freak, so I could never sit in filth.
But the shop looks like a dump to me. To be honest, we’re one of those shops with the parts in the yard, old cars parked and garbage from all over the neighborhood piling up. I constantly tell him to change the appearance – but to no avail. He always says he doesn’t have the time, or gives me some other excuse. Either way, nothing is done about it quick enough for me.
After reading this article, I’ll make sure we start on a new foot to change our image, especially since we’re on a extremely busy highway. We’re the only shop in our town that’s on the stretch of highway, so I’m sure it must be the image that people are perceiving to make them not stop by as often. All the other shops in our town are located on less busy streets, but they all have an upstanding image, so they get all the work. And in the town we live in, none of our neighborhood shops are anywhere the size of the ones you show in the magazine. Since we’re in New York, we don’t have space like most states.
So I thank you again for opening up his eyes, and please wish me luck on getting him to change our image quickly.
Thank you,
Keith & Towanda Virgil, owners
First-Call Collision, Inc.
Freeport, N.Y.

I was reading your article on repair facility appearances, and I just have a few [things to] add. The way I started in this career was the old way: My father made me sit and watch him work from the age of five to the age of eight. Then he said to me, “You try to repair a car.” I wanted so bad to use the air tools to repair a vehicle because these tools looked fun, but my father said to me, “First you have to master the hand tools, then you can use the air tools.”
So for the next couple of years, I sanded and repaired using hand tools. My father may have not been the best body shop owner, but he was a great man with family honor to go through family hardships and still come out ahead to provide for his family.
I was always told by my father if I wanted to run this business someday, I had to know more than my employees. So in turn, he taught me to be a worker [rather] than a boss. As I look back, I think he was smart in this way of thinking, so today I can always see both sides of the worker-employer relationship.
É Now we’ve been in business for more than 65 years. My family doesn’t own five houses, planes, boats, trains or any other ridiculous addition to prove we’re superior to anyone. We make an honest living paying our bills with money to spare. And one thing I always say to any appraiser – and so did my father – pay us only what we need to do the job, no less and no more. At least we never have to look over our shoulders and can sleep well at night.
Also, in reference to these other large or multi-owned shops, how many are run by the owners? How many of the owners deal directly with the customer and explain the claim process? Not many, if you ask me. They probably have managers running their shops.
Also, in reference to making millions of dollars, how much do they really net? You know, we might make that much in gross and have to pay tax, but what’s left at the end of the year? My grandfather always said that overhead will put you out of business. YouÊknow, having aÊpretty facade isn’t everything; running a business like a business owner is. Do good work and stand behind it, and you’ll always have work. É I was brought up the old-fashioned way, and let me tell you, I think pride in your work and in yourself is all anyone ever needs in life.
Joe Carioti, owner
McBride Auto Body
West Paterson, N.J.

Recycled Air Bags: Do They Work?
The recent article on recycled air bags [October, pg. 78] by Tom Brandt had a lot to say about recycled air bags and their use in collision repairs. I disagree with the basic theme of Mr. Brandt’s article, which seems to be that if shops follow the OEM’s advice and use only new air bags in repairs, everything will be fine. The OEMs have long had policies that require vehicles only be repaired using their (expensive) service parts. Air bags are no different in this respect. A key difference, however, between air bags and other collision parts sold by the OEMs is that there’s almost no competition for them in the air bag field. New air bags are a near monopoly, and a very lucrative one at that. Restricted supply is central to understanding the high prices charged for air bags by OEMs.
If shops followed OEM polices on use of their service parts to the letter, it’s fair to say that many, many shops wouldn’t be in business today. There are special circumstances surrounding air bags, and it’s very important for shops to be very familiar with them. Using new service air bags is simply not an option for many repairs, especially cars five years and older. Losing jobs because of air bag totals is a serious issue for many shops struggling to maintain volume. Contrary to the position taken by Mr. Brandt, there is a safe alternative to new dealer air bags. But first, I’d like to go through some important air bag basics.
An air bag is a safety device that’s necessary for OEMs to meet specific safety performance requirements as part of the NHSTA effort to minimize injury to vehicle occupants during accidents. Because air bags are specific to each vehicle and must perform for the entire lifetime of a vehicle, they’re developed to meet a stringent set of engineering criteria including shock, vibration temperature variations and other environmental conditions. These development tests assure the manufacturers that the air bag will survive almost all conditions to which it will be subjected and still be available to do the job of protecting the occupant during an accident. Evidence of the rugged design is confirmed by the fact that in accidents in which the air bag doesn’t deploy, the OEMs do not require air bag replacement regardless of the vehicle experience. Thus, one draws the conclusion that when a vehicle is taken out of service with undeployed air bags, the air bags are usually still capable of providing occupant protection. “Usually” is the operative word. In our experience (testing recycled air bags on a daily basis), approximately 5 percent of salvage bags will not meet the original, stringent criteria they were designed to meet. The challenge, then, is to weed out those 5 percent that aren’t capable (flood damage, electrical connector issues are common problems). This is possible through testing (the same tests, by the way, that were used to certify the air bags before factory installation). The remaining 95 percent will meet original standards, allowing the shop to install the bags with confidence. …
An air bag is a “dumb” device. It’s designed to remain in a dormant state until the controller calls upon it to deploy in an accident situation. When a device such as the air bag is removed from an “end of life” vehicle, it’s referred to as a salvage air bag when, in fact, it’s still an OEM air bag since it hasn’t functioned. You can think of it the same way you think of any part that you’re servicing in the vehicle. It’s still an OEM-engineered and developed part even though it’s been in service.
A central part of Mr. Brandt’s argument is that the OEM is somehow responsible for any liability that may occur when new bags are used. The reality isn’t so black and white. When you purchase a new OEM service air bag module, do you get a written guarantee or warranty? Do you get specific liability protection? I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve never seen a document that indicates the OEMs assume all liability for the service parts you purchase. To the contrary, the installation is still the basis of liability for any shop. Today, the plaintiff sues everyone involved with products related to their situation and lets the court sort out the facts and who’s at fault. Therefore, the reality is everything you do in your shop is open to a liability interpretation. Any mistake can be used against you in court. If you install an OEM air bag incorrectly, do you think the OEM will defend you?
The real concern should be that many shops are already using salvage bags without any warranty or any assurance that these units will even work. How can the shop owner have confidence in these units? The answer is testing to which Mr. T. Brandt referred. A comprehensive testing procedure developed for recycled air bags including testing for water immersion can assure that the air bag is certified to be equivalent to the OEM service part. Air Bag Testing Technology has developed and patented such a process. The ATT patented process for certifying air bags includes a specific test for past water immersion or water saturation. This will eliminate all air bags that have been immersed in water such as flood vehicles and improperly stored modules that have experienced water saturation. It’s not necessary to deploy an air bag to confirm it’ll work.
The testing process used by ATT provides a certified air bag for use in a specific vehicle. As Mr. Brandt correctly stated, care is necessary to match carefully the correct air bag to the proper vehicle by use of the vehicle VIN. ATT requires the donor VIN as a prerequisite for processing an air bag through its testing process. Additionally, proper part number matching is available through such industry sources as Mitchell.
Finally, there’s always been the concern that OEM salvage air bags and OEM service parts would somehow perform differently in occupant protection situations. How can you compare them? To answer this question, ATT tested air bags from both groups, identifying their performance. More than 70 tests were run to compare the performance of new OEM replacement parts verses tested recycled OEM air bags that were five to eight years old. The performance tests confirmed that the tested salvage and the new service OEM air bags performed identically. This data is available to anyone wishing to review those results in detail at airbagtesting.com. Therefore, a tested and certified recycled air bag will be capable of providing the necessary occupant restraint functions within the vehicle in which it’s installed. An untested salvage air bag, on the other hand, may or may not operate correctly.
Jim Augustitus, v.p, engineering
ATT Inc.

Should Shops Drug Test Their Employees?
Dear Georgina,
I’m an avid reader of your magazine and enjoy it greatly. I’ve been in the collision repair industry for more than 25 years as both a painter and repair technician. I’d like to make some comments regarding the article on drug testing [Point/CounterPoint, Oct., pg. 28].
While the issue of employees using or being under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol at the workplace is probably a problem, I don’t think it’s the major problem in the autobody industry. I believe the major problem is the exposure to the chemicals inherent to the job, which possibly cause all the same problems that alcohol or illegal drugs can cause and may even be the source for illegal drug or alcohol-abuse problems.
It’s my opinion that almost all body shop technicians are “high” at work from the moment they first set foot in a body shop. The air quality in most shops is horrendous – filled with an incredible mix of chemicals and vapors. I was told several years ago by an occupational health doctor that the solvents used in this business will mimic alcohol within the human body. This would have the effect of making employees “drunk,” along with the alcohol side effects of dehydration, depression and a desire for more “alcohol.” The desire for more alcohol combined with dehydration could cause one to drink alcohol in large volumes in order to satisfy both needs (quench thirst and need for alcohol). The depression from the shop chemicals could also cause an employee to use cocaine. …
Drugs are just chemicals that affect people in ways that society has deemed undesirable. Some drugs (chemical combinations) have been made illegal; some have not. Huffing, the spraying of paint into a plastic bag and inhaling the contents, is illegal, while filling an entire room with paint and inhaling the contents is not.
Looking at drug abuse by body shop employees might be an important issue, but I believe that looking at drug (chemical) abuse of employees is the bigger issue. Arguments can be made that there’s safety equipment available that will prevent these problems, but in the real world, they aren’t applied, nor are they affordable by either the shop or the employee.
My problem with drug testing is that it’s not all-encompassing. Test employees for chemical exposure. This is an industry-wide problem that’s gone ignored for too long. A
Thank you,
Michael Kiely
Hemlock, N.Y.

Recycled Bumper Cover ConcernsAttn: Body Shop Managers:
In doing my research with several shops, managers and employees, everyone seems to agree that every recycled bumper cover has problems. Covers aren’t sanded properly and primed over. They have pin holes, and DA marks all over. This has been going on forever. It’s a problem that cannot be corrected. When I call to complain about poor quality, they tell me I’m the only one complaining. My solution to the problem is to not allow any recyclers to take damaged covers from our shops. Cut them in half to make them not recyclable. Why should we give our covers to recyclers and then buy them back? Poor quality recycled covers are a cost to the shops when we have to spend time to re-repair every one. If you’re a shop that says you don’t have a problem with these covers, you’ve just told me what kind of quality you’re putting out.
If there are no covers to be recycled or bumpers to be rechromed, in three to six months, we can have this problem corrected. In my experience, this problem exists with all recyclers I’ve used, not just any particular one.
Please share this information with other and all shops. Call the insurance companies with this problem. “No more cores” is a simple solution!
Denny Knebel, owner
Knebel’s Auto Body Center, Inc.
Highland, Ill.

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