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Quality Is Not Subjective

So what if the guy down the road will do the repair the wrong
way for less money? Don’t fall into the “locally acceptable quality” trap.

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So what if the guy down the road will do the repair the wrong
way for less money? Don’t fall into the “locally acceptable quality” trap. If your repair fails, you — the repair “expert” — will be the one held responsible.

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by Randy Trahan

“Quality” is a term that’s used in the collision repair business as often as the word “bondo.” And like the word “bondo,” it’s often used inappropriately, with far too much regularity, and it doesn’t accurately describe the thing that’s being purported.

When thinking about a definition for what “quality” means in our business, I’m reminded of a quote about another subject: “I don’t know what art is, but I know it when I see it.”
Not exactly a concrete definition.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “quality” as:

a: degree of excellence :GRADE (the quality of competing air service);

b: superiority in kind (merchandise of quality)

The problem with trying to define “quality” in our day-to-day dealings is that even if there is a precise definition, it’s open to interpretation by almost all who participate in the repair process — the vehicle owner, the estimator, the insurance adjustor, the body technicians, etc.
The “quality” issue is even further complicated by what I characterize as “locally acceptable quality.” This ridiculously common misconception is that the level of repair quality in a particular geographical region is dictated by what the “acceptable” quality level is in that area. This phenomena is easy to see with many consolidators or multi-shop operations.

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It’s a sad truth that many parts of the country are perceived, sometimes rightfully so, as having lower acceptable quality levels than other parts of the country. Why? It may be attributed to work ethic, availability of training, lack of new technicians entering the workforce or what’s always been deemed “acceptable.” Whatever the reason or excuse, it’s time the industry quit accepting it as, “just the way it is.”

The danger of falling into the “trick bag” of accepting poorly repaired vehicles is easy to see. Shop owners are taking a huge liability risk in allowing an insurance adjustor or representative to mandate a repair plan or method that doesn’t conform to vehicle manufacturer guidelines or the guidelines taught by I-CAR. If the repair fails and injury occurs as a result of a repair that a collision facility knew to be incorrect, the shop (the repair “expert”) is the one that will most likely be held responsible — not the insurance company.

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It’s just not worth it. But how do we change it?

Dealing with Insurance Pressure
Dealing with the pressure that some insurers
place on shops can be a daunting task. The foundation for handling this issue centers around a shop owner’s core principles or, as Dave Dunn defines it, their “unchangeables.” This is the idea that there are certain guiding principles that a shop owner or manager has chosen for himself that aren’t subject to alteration based on situational rationalization.

For example, if an owner has chosen “quality repairs” as one of the unchangeables for his shop, then it’s an absolute.

But this still doesn’t answer the question about how he deals with the pressure or the fact that someone down the road will do poor quality work — but it does guarantee that the manager won’t be swayed or have his integrity compromised.

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A manager may deal with the pressure by saying, “OK, I’ll do the repair and I won’t skimp on the quality. The adjustor has only given me six hours to replace the quarter panel after the glass R&I time is figured and told me to horizontally cut it at the wrong location. I’ll have my tech put it in at the correct location, which may take two additional hours that I’m not getting compensated for, but it will be done right.”

It’s always preferable to get paid properly for an operation but sometimes not always practical. The additional two hours can be thought of as a marketing cost (ensuring that the customer will be satisfied) or an uncompensated value-add. But I wouldn’t get in the habit of making this type of concession.

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I personally don’t choose to “throw things in,” and I usually get paid for almost everything I need. But I’m also not some “Vive La Revolution” shop manager who’s unrealistic about compromise. I grew up in the DRP arena and have negotiated more contracts than most.

But keep in mind that, sometimes, an adjustor will actually have more respect for you if you don’t cave in. Offer quality repairs, efficiently managed cycle times, great customer service and integrity, and it’ll be difficult for any good insurance company not to use your facility based on price. Mix in factory guidelines or recommendations, I-CAR guidelines and the law, and you make it very difficult for them to ask you to make ridiculous, unsafe repairs.

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Dealing with Consumers and Techs
If a customer tells you that there’s no need to repair that collapsed rail, think long and hard about whether you really need this customer’s business. Anyone who’s willing to skimp on safety-related repairs on their own vehicle to save a buck is the same type of person who will sue you into bankruptcy if there’s ever a problem with this vehicle later.

It’s also worth mentioning that on Thursday (or Friday) morning, make sure that when you say to a technician, “This thing’s got to go Friday!” that the tech doesn’t hear, “Fix it fast, cut corners and get it out the door!”

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If you have a technician whose abilities you question, get him the proper training and document that he’s taken it. Do everything possible to ensure that he’s been given every opportunity to know how to make a quality repair. Watch him, especially on structural or mechanical repairs, and make sure that you’re willing to risk your reputation and business on the repairs that he’s making.

What Is a Quality Repair?
If repair quality isn’t subjective, what constitutes a quality repair and what are the guidelines? The answer to this question should be simpler, but here goes …

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I don’t agree with the phrase, “repair to pre-accident condition” because it’s not an accurate description of the end result of most repairs. I do, however, agree with making every effort to make repairs that are consistent with guidelines set forth by vehicle manufacturers and sources such as Tech-Cor or I-CAR.

There are many places to go to gather the appropriate repair information. Vehicle manufacturers now have Web sites that list acceptable repair procedures. Some of these are free, while some can be fairly expensive to access. Tech-Cor lists a number of these sites on its Web site at www.tech-cor.net under the “Other Resources” section. I-CAR (www.i-car.com) also has the Uniform Procedures for Collision Repair (UPCR) section on its Web site that lists many of the most common repair procedures. The information is informative and easy to follow.

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A good basic guideline on what quality is acceptable can often be found by participating in a skills test, such as I-CAR’s Welding Qualification Test. After completing the preparations class, a participant is made familiar with the factors that constitute an acceptable weld. In taking the qualification test, a tech can really get a feel for whether he can properly perform a quality weld.

The best way to ensure your techs are achieving an acceptable quality level is to train them. Every chance you get.

Another way to answer the question, “What is a quality repair?” is to determine whether the repair being made is consistent with the basic principles of autobody repair. Am I welding in an area that I shouldn’t be? Am I making a pull to a component that shouldn’t be pulled? Is the preparation that I’m making to a panel adequate? Will the repair that I’m making last? Can I guarantee this repair? Would I want my mother to drive or ride in this vehicle after the repair? (Notice, I didn’t say mother-in-law.) Am I repairing this vehicle improperly because of outside pressures to do so?

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And lastly, is this the right thing to do?

No More Inconsistencies
I was motivated to write this
article because I was once a regional quality-assurance manager for 16 facilities — so quality is very important to me. And I got tired of hearing that the guy down the road would do it the wrong way for less. Many of those guys down the road are no longer there (some of them are at the unemployment office, some at the county jail).

If even one shop owner reads this article and says, “Damn it, he’s right! I’m tired as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” and stops compromising himself, then it’s worth the time it took to write the article.

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I firmly believe repair quality is inconsistent, not because we don’t know what the quality should be, but because we’ve allowed ourselves to be led into the “locally acceptable quality” trap. But in today’s litigious society, there’s too much to lose in playing that old game. Every year, shop owners go out of business as a direct or indirect result of inconsistent quality.

Know this: The insurance adjustor who tells you to take a shortcut will not be in your corner when you’re on the witness stand. The technician who speeds up a job by doing an inadequate repair because he’s already flagged out on a job and now he’s “working it for free” will not be with you in bankruptcy court.

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Just do the right thing.

If you don’t know what the right thing is, find out.

The relationship of the insurer/vehicle owner and the repair shop is like a bacon-and-egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

So before you walk over to the slop trough, make sure you know why they’re fattening you up.

Writer Randy Trahan is the director of collision and reconditioning training at Manheim, which includes paint and body instruction and training, as well as condition report writing, estimating, NAAA frame instruction and soft skills training associated with both the collision and reconditioning divisions of Manheim. He also runs the Manheim Technical Center and manages the three instructors attached to it.

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The definition of quality is open to interpretation by almost all who participate in the repair process. Here’s what I mean:

Vehicle Owner — Consumers are often oblivious to quality issues and have no real idea of what constitutes a quality repair. Others have unrealistic expectations regarding the repairs (i.e. repairing a vehicle to a point better than it was before an accident). But as vehicle owners become more educated, safety is an overwhelming concern, as it should be, and a quality repair is being demanded more often.

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Estimator — When writing an estimate, the estimator may choose one of many definitions or levels of quality based on the circumstances. Some of the factors may include whether the repairs are customer pay or insurance related, the vehicle’s age or condition and the expectations of the customer, insurance personnel or technicians.

Insurance Adjustor — Whether they like to admit it or not, the cost of repairs often dictates the level of quality that they’re willing to accept. I was an adjustor for 12 years, and the training was often very limited. Many insurance people are uninformed as to the quality requirements that are mandated by the OEMs and don’t do their homework to get all of the possible information regarding a repair. If you mix an uninformed adjustor with what seems, to him, to be an expensive repair, you often get pressure to cut corners. And the DRP relationship gives insurance companies additional clout to manage the quality repair process.

Body Technicians — Most of the techs I’ve worked with are very professional and take repair quality seriously. However, I’ve also seen the dark side of the repair industry. Poorly trained technicians who’ve been “doing this crap 25 years and welding frames together before you were out of grade school.” They weren’t trained properly back then and haven’t taken the opportunity to update their skills. And it’s not uncommon for techs to succumb to flagging or deadline pressure. Every time they hear, “It’s got to go Friday!” they make repair quality decisions.

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