Question answered by: Bob Winfrey
If you’ve been in the auto body repair business for more than six months, you’ve undoubtedly been asked to install a used structural component of some kind. I’ve been doing this for so long that I’m sure I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of LKQ, used and recycled parts on estimates.
The first thing you should note is that these parts are coming off vehicles that suffered enough damage to be taken off the road. That statement in itself should be enough to squash any argument from a manager or insurance representative about using them, but no, it’s all about saving money.
The structures of today’s modern vehicles are designed to absorb the energy from a serious crash. I’ve seen cars that were hit hard enough in the front to push the cowl back and buckle the roof and the quarter panels. So, when repairing cars like those or any others, the integrity of their structure should not be compromised.
If It Doesn’t Fit…
Have you ever run into the mysterious non-fitting used quarter panel? You put your wreck on the frame machine and pull and measure to get your panels fitting reasonably well. You unclamp it, put it back in your bay and remove the beaten quarter panel. Your part arrives and, lo and behold, the salvage yard was generous and sectioned the rear quarter down the middle of the trunk floor and in the middle of the rocker panel! Then, to make sure you have plenty of fun, it sent a nice chunk of roof with it, too! I can honestly say this is were the work begins. After your heart stops racing and you regain the color back in your face, you ask yourself, “How am I going to tackle this monstrosity?”
You locate the estimate to make sure you aren’t seeing things. Lo and behold, the insurance company gave you a whole two hours to trim that half a car they sent to an outer panel you can use! I’ve been in those shoes many times and I’ve never been able to trim that panel down to a usable section in less than half a day. Even if you get the adjuster or shop estimator to give you four hours, you might as well write that off as a loss. Look at it logically: You first have to remove whatever components are in your way (seat belts, taillights, energy absorbers, moldings, trim, etc.) Then, you have to locate all the attaching welds (under the caulking, paint and undercoating), drill all the spot welds and mark and cut your sections, factory seams or other things (roof, rocker, trunk gutter and rear body panel). Finally, you have to remove the piece of tin from the structure without damaging it. Or, if you’re unluckier still, the insurer wants you to section the floor and the two wheelhouses.
The insurer even got the time for this menagerie from “the database.” If you have access to “the database,” you’ll find that it pays less than a new panel to install this salvage yard one-quarter car. Say what? All this extra work for less than a new panel? Was it a fly-by estimate? Or did the adjuster stop his car and take a picture? After 30 years in this business, I know the P-pages won’t even help much in a situation like this. I have complained, quoted the P-pages, showed them the time for a new panel, threatened to quit and even loaded up my tools once or twice. And I still didn’t get what time I had in it.
I opened my own shop in the 1990s and was contemplating this very dilemma one day when it dawned on me. (You’re all going to relate to this well.) The last adjuster who asked me to install a used quarter panel got this message loud and clear. The inner structure is two to four times thicker than the panel you’re trying to remove, undamaged. I told Mr. Adjuster that removing the outer panel is like trying to take the top off a soda can without damaging the sides. It’s technically impossible. I asked for an additional half of the quarter replacement time, i.e. 16.0 hours replacement time and 8.0 hours to remove salvage section and trim; all the R & I time for components left on the used part; time to remove all the paint and prime the bare metal with epoxy; and a return visit to see how much repair time was necessary to smooth out all the hammer marks from chiseling the part off (mud time). His response was, “Geez, it would be cheaper for me to put a new panel on.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. That wipes out all the glee over the cost savings, and no productivity is lost. Remember this lesson (times two!) when you’re asked to clip a car.
Is installing used parts a factory-approved repair method? Not by any manufacturer I’ve read bulletins on. The use of LKQ and aftermarket parts will void your factory warranty period, no questions asked.
Are used parts structurally safe, you ask? That depends on how much LKQ panel you install and where you cut it. Is it the same as a factory installed new part? Well, did you heat it to remove it? Beat the edges off with an air chisel? Grind once to remove paint to weld? Grind again to remove excess weld? All these factors weaken the panel and make the section weaker than the factory installed quarter panel – radiator supports, aprons, front clips, rear clips and especially unisides. The euphoria you experience due to the cost savings goes away quickly when you assume responsibility for a repair that’s possibly unsafe. Ask yourself, “Would I let my family ride in this vehicle for the next few years?” If you even think maybe, then it’s not safe enough.
My feeling is that installing a used part on a vehicle makes that vehicle not as structurally sound as intended by the manufacturer. When you annihilate the edges by removing the piece, slip with the chisel and chunk a corner off between welds or lose the end of a part with the long run of a chisel blade, you’re weakening the part. Fill the missing pieces with weld and filler and it isn’t going to be as strong, period. Adjusters tell me all the time that other shops do it. Well, that doesn’t mean anything to me because they’re at my facility, not Frankie’s Body Shop and Barbeque.
I’ve yet to see any crash data on used clips, side hits, unisides and quarter sections. I-CAR and Tech Core recommend and supposedly test these types of repairs, but they don’t seem to be very public with their data. All the wreck replacement front and rear clips I’ve seen that were later crashed in the sides or rear either tore in half or didn’t leave the occupants in very likely condition of living through the accident.
I just want everyone to understand that the repair shop and ultimately the technician performing the repairs are liable for any and all death and injury resulting from these types of repairs. Most garagekeeper’s policies won’t cover direct negligence or ignorance. I can also assure you that the insurance company recommending this repair or any repair for that matter won’t be on your side in court. They don’t fix cars, they just pay claims!
Writer Bob Winfrey is owner of All Precision Collision Repair in Marshville, N.C.