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OEM Repair Procedures: The New Normal

Due to sophisticated electronics and exotic materials in vehicles today, following OEM repair procedures should become a way of life for repairers.

Jason Stahl has 27 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 15 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

If collision repair facilities are not yet familiar with OEM repair procedures or their importance, they most certainly are aware of the John Eagle case and the multi-million-dollar verdict a Texas jury rendered against the collision repair facility that repaired a Honda Fit contrary to Honda’s explicit repair procedures – that caused devastating burns and health problems for an unsuspecting husband and wife when the vehicle was involved in a later accident. John Eagle and OEM repair procedures go hand in hand.

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Nearly a decade ago, in a seminal moment in collision repair history, the three major trade associations – the Society of Collision Repair Specialists, the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers and the Automotive Service Association – joined hands at the Collision Industry Conference in declaring that OEM repair procedures would be the “standard” in an industry that did not have any standards. That declaration fell on deaf ears for many repairers until the John Eagle case.

Vehicle Sophistication

The fact of the matter is that following OEM repair procedures has always been important, but increasing vehicle sophistication has made it even more so.

“Following OE procedures has always been important, but they are becoming more important each year as technology is evolving,” said Scott Kaboos, national assistant manager, Collision Repair Training and Technology, American Honda Motor Co. “Twenty years ago, most vehicles were made of mild steel, and repair methods that worked on one manufacturer’s vehicle could transfer to others.

“With the inclusion of high-strength steels in the early 2000s and then the addition of ultra-high-strength steels later that decade, following OE procedures has become critical. Now, as we see ADAS technology being integrated into the vehicle, every repair can affect the safety of the vehicle, its occupants and others sharing the road.”

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Some repairers will argue there is not a published repair procedure for every repair they come across and that, in the “real world,” they have to do what is necessary to fix the car, even if that means improvising. But that will not hold up in a court of law. With enough research, repairers can find the info they need.

“There are uncommon repairs that may not have model-specific repair procedures, such as replacing floor panels or inner quarter panels on many of our vehicles,” Kaboos said. “In those situations, Honda has published a ‘Welding and Sectioning Guide’ as well as a ‘Steel Usage and Repairability’ chart. Between these two documents and the model-specific general information which describes each panel’s strength and thickness, a proper repair plan can usually be developed.”

Collision repairers, with their decades of experience, may believe they are the experts, but in fact it is the automaker who is the foremost authority on their vehicle and how to repair it.

“Who else would know the critical build information better than the company that designed the vehicle?” Kaboos asked. “The OE procedures are also tested with the same crash simulation software used when the vehicle was designed so comparative analysis can be easily performed. Many procedures are also physically crash tested for validation.”

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Added Ford Senior Damageability Engineer Gerry Bonanni, “Automakers are the first and final authority on their vehicles. Engineers spend years developing new models, and repairability is a key consideration during that process, with the requirements of various parts, materials and safety systems taken into account to achieve the safest repairs. Ford repair procedures are put to the test using genuine Ford parts, which are manufactured to strict specifications and have undergone their own extensive testing, both in the lab and on the road. Following OE repair procedures is the only way to have confidence that a collision-damaged vehicle will perform as intended.”

A Way of Life

Ron Perretta, owner of Professionals Auto Body in Altoona, Pa., said looking up OEM repair procedures is a way of life now for today’s collision repairer.

“It’s a thing of collision repair life today,” Perretta said. “It has to be done if the goal is to bring the vehicle back to its pre-loss condition. If repair procedures are not researched, the vehicle will not be adequately repaired to pre-loss and the consumer will have to deal with many issues from a non-OEM repair.”

For Michael Giarrizzo, president and CEO of DCR Systems in Mentor, Ohio, looking up OEM repair procedures and writing the most accurate repair plan per the OE guidelines “sets the tone” for the entire repair process.

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“Having the correct parts ordered, including all required procedures per the manufacturer, ultimately gets transformed to work instruction for our team,” Giarrizzo said. “Additionally, we get a clear direction for any post-repair work required per the OE such as calibrations, reinitializations and operation tests. Looking up OE procedures is also a great culture training tool for new team members.”

Perretta has numerous sources his team turns to in order to find OEM repair procedures.

“The first thing is going to the OEM sites. It’s always the first option,” he said. “The Database Enhancement Gateway or DEG is another outlet often used, along with I-CAR, which has a big library of information.”

Giarrizzo’s team looks for any published OEM position statements or general procedures, and if there are none available, they reach out to VeriFacts, VECO and I-CAR for direction on what the best practice is to repair the vehicle properly and safely.

Liability

The No. 1 reason to perform repairs according to OEM procedures is liability, said Barrett Smith, president of Auto Damage Experts.

“Should something ever go wrong and damages or injuries result, the repairer and their staff could be found liable if they failed to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to the letter,” Smith said. “Furthermore, if the repairer is found to be responsible for the failure to achieve the maximum amount of value due to improperly performed and/or insufficient repair quality, they could become financially responsible for the diminution in value they have caused through their failure of restoring the vehicle’s value to the best of reasonable human ability.”

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In the end, the repairer must imagine themselves in a court of law and how they might defend themselves.

“One must ask, should a situation occur where someone is badly injured or, God forbid, killed, when you’re standing in front of a judge and a jury of your peers and you’re asked, ‘Why didn’t you and your staff follow the manufacturer’s recommendations?’ what will you say? Better yet, what could you possibly say that would help you to defend yourself, your staff and your company?”

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