Should a Shop Charge When It Buys Technical Reference Material? - BodyShop Business
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Should a Shop Charge When It Buys Technical Reference Material?

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Bob MacCargar, owner
C&G Paint, Body and RV
Swansboro, N.C.
Opinion: No

We’re supposed to be professionals. When you go someplace else and have something repaired, they don’t charge you for an instruction sheet to repair your item. You’re supposed to know how to repair your item and be educated on repairing that item.

There are so many things I feel that we should be charging for and getting that I don’t think we should be charging the insurance companies so we can be educated enough to repair a vehicle. That’s the bottom line – there are more important things to be fighting to get paid for than something like educational material.

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We don’t charge them when we go to I-CAR, and they don’t charge us when they send their appraisers to I-CAR. I don’t see that as a viable means of getting reimbursed.

If you’re going to charge for it, then sure, why not try and make a profit on it as well. But I don’t see that that would be viable. For instance, something I’ve fought for for years has been body shop materials, and I’ve actually gotten some companies to pay me a little bit. But I feel that body shop materials are an absolute must to charge for, and I feel that we should be able to charge for them and make a profit on them, just like we’re supposed to on our paint materials…

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Getting back to educational materials, it would be like trying to charge an insurance company for sending a painter to the PPG school because you had to put him up in a hotel, and then want to charge a profit on top of it. I don’t feel that we’re going in the right direction in trying to charge for educational material.

Whenever we need mechanical work, we all know that dealers get the prime per hour in the automotive industry and that they’ll charge you for a washer. Have you ever had a plumber or electrician come to your house? If you look at a plumber’s or electrician’s invoice, they charge for every piece of material that they use; they invoice right down to every washer and o-ring – you name it, it’s on there. But never do you see “instructions for putting in a Mohen faucet.”

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I think we need to be educated, and it’s our responsibility to be educated. I also think it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re charging for things that we should be getting paid for.

You’re supposed to know your trade and then you’re supposed to charge enough per hour to pay for it, like lawyers. Lawyers have to go through an awful lot of schooling, and they charge a lot of money for it. Doctors do the same thing. They don’t charge you for the ongoing education they have to go through with reference materials. How they charge you for that is not as a line item on their estimate or their billing to you, but they charge you in their hourly rate. I think our job – and our focus – needs to be in increasing our hourly rates to be able to charge for the materials that we use to repair a vehicle.

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We should know how to repair a vehicle properly, and to want to charge someone so that we can learn how to do it is picking a battle that I don’t think we can win…

I don’t feel we have the right to charge for education. If you decide to go into a trade, you’re supposed to know what you’re doing.


David Williams, owner
Safe Collision Repairs
Wheelersburg, Ohio
Opinion: Yes

In my opinion, a shop should charge for everything and anything that it needs to repair a customer’s car as nearly as possible to pre-loss condition, assuming the goal is to indemnify the claim and repair damage to the car. It’s not a healthy business practice to absorb these costs unless the dollar figure per hour would be adjusted to accommodate this expenditure.

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Many times, body shops have to send a car out to get an airbag reset or something of that nature, and shops that are routinely charging $36, $40 an hour, whatever the figure might be, sublet out to dealerships that are charging $70, $80 or $100 per hour. The dealerships don’t charge for the reference material, but with a dollar figure of $70, $80 or $90 an hour, they certainly can afford to cover that cost. So body shops in that case are essentially buying the expertise of these dealerships, so why not just charge a higher rate or charge that as a line item? Buy that information and have it on hand for the next car. Turn it into a profit center.

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Shops are in business to make money, just as insurers are, and as long as the charge is reasonable and the research materials are necessary, then an insurer has an obligation to pay those charges. Or, at the very least, reimburse money that the consumer spent for it.

[The cost shouldn’t have to be shouldered by shops as part of their ongoing education] – not at the current labor rate that most shops charge. I think it would be fair for shops to either raise the labor rate to accommodate this and have that information on hand or charge it as a line item on each individual repair bill and mark it up to include profit…

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I think as we get further into the future, you’re going to find that body shops specialize more than they have in the past. For instance, now we have Mercedes-Benz shops, and I think it’s reasonable to believe that those shops have the latest Mercedes information. So it might be to a consumer’s benefit to choose a Mercedes-Benz shop that already has that information as opposed to going to a “do-it-all” shop that would maybe charge the same labor rate but would charge a line item for research material…

Anything you work on time and time again, you get pretty good at. Also, if you have that information on hand for that particular model and you’ve repaired it time and time again, you’d spend less time each time, which would translate into more profit…

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The information is becoming more available with the Internet. Technical reference material that used to be really hard to get is now available at the click of a button…

Back in the day there wasn’t a tremendous amount of manufacturer-specific information. You could buy frame repair information, but it wasn’t manufacturer specific. But as manufacturers started using different steels, all of a sudden, the one-size-fits-all type of approach wasn’t appropriate.

It’s not reasonable for a shop owner, manager or anyone else to believe that technicians can probably repair cars without access to the latest manufacturer-specific repair information. If you look at other occupations, like the legal field for example, lawyers routinely charge for the purchase of reference information, as well as the time spent to gather and study it. So I don’t think our occupation is any different outside of the fact that we work on cars.

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