If you’re doing late-model collision repairs and using aftermarket parts, you’re on the losing end of the repair. Writer’s note: Before I go on, I need to mention that I’ve omitted the names of the people who spurred me to write this article.
That said, if in fact A/M parts fit (as I understand that they should, at least until yesterday), they’d be a great thing for everyone involved. A/M parts cost insurance companies less and would reduce consumer premiums if the cost savings were passed on. They’d also keep more work inside our shops, rather than in the back lots waiting for the big loaders to pick them up for salvage.
And for everyone’s information, I do use A/M parts – if they fit. Unfortunately, we’re finding that they don’t fit properly, so we’re returning 52 percent of our purchases back to Keystone (oops, I guess I forgot to omit that name, sorry).
The people in this industry who know me me know that I track and measure everything, including the associated costs of returning A/M parts. And as I review these reports, I’m seeing what it costs me to build a vehicle – and what it costs me to use A/M parts.
I bolt on all the parts, headlamps and bumpers, everything as if it’s already painted and is being assembled for delivery. But when the A/M parts don’t fit, I have to take everything back apart and put the vehicle on hold. I then reorder parts, wait for the arrival of new parts and return the old ones.
I think it’s appropriate to pass these costs onto my A/M vender with an administrative charge and fit time costs when I need to do this (52 percent of the time), but I haven’t calculated the delay costs … yet. But I have called and asked them to come to my shop with all the parts on vehicles to see the fit. I explained that you need to go back to your venders with this information to help them make the parts fit better.
My vender, Larry Mihalick with Keystone of Windber, Pa. (whoops, forgot to omit that name, too) took the time to come down and look. He even tried to make the parts fit himself, with no luck. It was the first and last time he’d make the 30-minute trip to one of my shops to look into the problem.
As you all know, covering your tail is big in our industry. And although I’ve never worked in any other industry, I’m sure it’s the same for most businesses. So to do this, we’ll build the vehicle, call the insurer and wait for their representative to show up and look at the fit. We also often ask them to bring their toolbox with them to see if they can improve the fit. Some have attempted but were unable to do it any better.
Then they tell us that A/M venders have assured them that these parts will fit. They also tell us that this is crazy. Finally, they just say to order OEM.
But the delays in processing vehicles, the car rental costs, the scheduling nightmare it creates and other associated costs are incredible. This is without considering insurance company costs for their staff to do the paperwork.
And when you’re as meticulous as I am about scheduling and as conscientious as we are about our cycle time, touch time and CSI, you start realizing the tremendous cost, not only to your shop, but to our industry as a whole.
Last week Larry Mihalick and his supervisor, Dennis Jones, again both of Keystone (darn, I did it again) visited one of my stores in Duncansville, Pa. They wanted to talk to me, but unfortunately I was out of town. They met with my bride of 20 years, Paula, who works with me at Professionals Auto Body. They explained to Paula that they wanted to discuss all our returns, and Paula explained that they needed to talk to me directly – but that all we wanted is for the parts to fit.
Yesterday I called Dennis. He explained that we were returning an excessive amount of parts. Last year, he said his sales with me were about $10,000 and with what I was returning, they weren’t profitable. Talk about self-centered! Now it was obvious to me that Dennis had made this phone call numerous times and that he doesn’t know his numbers as I do.
First, with ordering parts from five locations and for four plants, he’d probably see more returns from me than from a smaller, single-location shop. Also, before I return parts, the insurance company has generally verified my shop’s assessment of the part’s fit.
I currently have a Nissan in a stall on a machine with all his parts fitted on it, and they don’t come close to fitting. I asked him to come and look at it. When he said it would take a couple days to get to the shop, I said that’s not a problem since I’m waiting for the OE parts and it’ll take a couple days to get them. He then declined to come look at his own parts so we could show him what our issues were.
I asked Dennis why the A/M companies are telling insurance companies that the parts fit like OEM. Are you ready for this? I’m sure my ignorance is in play here. He told me that he doesn’t tell insurance companies that. I explained that’s what I’m constantly hearing from the insurers. So I asked, "What is it that you tell them?"
He said, "We tell them that it’s a cost-effective alternative."
According to him, they don’t tell anyone they’ll fit, just that they’re a cost-effective alternative. Stupid me, why would I think that it’s important for parts to fit?
"Dennis," I asked, "what do you want me to do if they don’t fit?"
He said, "Can’t you make them fit? Other shops do. If you’re letting your technician’s make the decisions whether they fit or not, the technician won’t make them fit."
Again, it was obvious that Dennis didn’t do his homework on me. I had to enlighten him a bit as I explained that our techs are quality conscious. Techs know they have to cover their tails, as do we owners and managers. I also explained to Dennis that techs don’t make those decisions and that he may be used to that happening in other shops, but not mine. A manager and the insurance company representative are the decision makers.
I also explained that altering his parts to force them to fit would be nothing but liability problems waiting to happen. In addition, Dennis was only about $90,000 off of my actual purchases for last year based on a purchase report from our accounting system. For someone not using A/M parts, that represents sizeable purchases to most venders.
How long did it take for A/M headlamps to be abolished from our estimating databases by way of the insurance companies? (Estimating databases – don’t get me started on them. I’ll save that for another time.)
I wish our industry would stop letting these inefficient procedures be part of our processes. But as long as shops don’t push these delay costs back on the venders, nothing is going to change.
Why should shops continue to be the dumping grounds for testing A/M parts? We have businesses to run. A/M vendors need to start running their businesses with the end users in mind.
Writer Ron Perretta operates five Professionals Auto Body locations in the East. He also works as a shop consultantand has been one of PPG’s MVP consultants/instructors for the last six years.