Like many collision repair facility owners today, I too grew up in a family-owned body shop. My father was a man of honor and believed in serving his community members by doing things the “right way.” The right way was whatever he thought best to serve all involved, including his customers, technicians, suppliers and insurers.
Short and Sweet
Back in the day, repair estimates were short and sweet. An estimate for a significant right front collision repair would often be written by hand in minutes on a blank page from a tablet (a real paper tablet) and might read something like:
- Repair and Refinish Right Front – 450.00
- Bumper – 45.00
- Head Lamp – 14.00
- Fender Mldg. – 8.00
- Hubcap – 7.50
- Alignment – 12.00
- Tax: 536.50 x 4% = 21.46
- Total: $557.96
Life was much simpler, and in many ways, so was collision repair. Unlike today’s highly sophisticated, low-tolerance, unibody/monocoque-designed vehicles, body-over-frame design (and various thicknesses of shims and spacers and enlarged bolt openings) allowed significant tolerances and room to adjust bolt-on panels to make them look like they were properly aligned – even if they weren’t.
Collision Repair Today
Today, even a minor collision event may call for over 100 lines of repair-related entries and takes substantially more time to prepare, even for the most skilled writer.
Many of today’s collision repair professionals understand that highly advanced technologies require a much greater investment in equipment, training, administrative time and resources to avoid the many significant liabilities repairers are subjected to. If repairs are not performed properly per the manufacturer’s recommendations/requirements, it’s the repairer who will be accountable for failure-related property damages, injuries or worse. I’m aware of many instances where repairers were forced to buy vehicles they repaired improperly.
I’m aware of many instances where repairers were forced to buy vehicles that they repaired improperly.
The old verse from the Gospel of Luke (12:48) that goes something like, “To whom much has been given, much is to be expected,” applies to collision repairers who are entrusted with a customer’s vehicle. In relation to collision repair, the more difficult the repair, the more damages that can be overlooked or repaired insufficiently and/or improperly.
And while vehicle technologies advance, the repairer’s responsibilities and liabilities increase, and the ongoing requirements for special equipment (and their costs) become greater. Yet all too often, the repairer’s rates and allowances remain unchanged, as do old habits, simply because “That’s the way it’s always been done.”
This increase in responsibility and liabilities is forcing today’s collision repair professional to make significant adjustments to their business practices. The collision repair industry is no longer your father’s body repair industry, and the old way of conducting business will no longer cut it in the current and future repair environments.
Today, providing free estimates can put a shop out of business!
Unlike the past, where one’s knowledge, training and experience determined how a damaged vehicle would be repaired, today it’s the vehicle’s original manufacturer that dictates how a repair is to be performed to attain the only acceptable level of repair to the best of reasonable human ability in safety, function, appearance and value. Anything short of this is unacceptable.
As such, today’s repairer faces many new challenges to remain compliant and avoid the many potential threats that lie in wait while trying their best to make a fair and reasonable profit. Of course, with change comes the need to alter what used to be standard practices. Accomplishing this requires a new mindset.
A New Mindset
In the past, repairers offered “free estimates” as a way to bring prospective customers to their door so they could meet and greet them and try to earn their business. But today, providing free estimates can put a shop out of business!
Today, preparing a comprehensive damage analysis and assessment of repair costs takes hours of inspection, dismantling, pre-repair scanning of the vehicle’s onboard systems, OEM research and the cost to access OEM online portals to determine what will be necessary to meet the manufacturer’s recommendations/requirements for optimum fit, finish and performance.
All too often, the repairer’s rates and allowances remain unchanged, as do old habits, simply because “That’s the way it’s always been done.”
Offering free estimates should be changed to providing your potential customers a “free consultation” to enable the repairer to meet, greet and educate the consumer on the processes that will be required to perform a proper and warranted repair. This is where today’s expert’s knowledge, training and experience will play a major role in earning the prospective customer’s trust and confidence by demonstrating honesty, integrity and a sincere professional empathy for others in their time of need.
Of course, there will be those who will continue to underwrite their estimates out of ignorance, or with the mindset to “seize the keys” and deal with the additional costs later via a supplement – just as there will be those who offer to save deductibles and bypass needed parts, processes and quality materials to make a profit on the job, regardless of the harm and potential problems and costs their customer will likely incur down the road. In today’s business climate, with post-repair inspections and a more sophisticated consumer, these shops will need to get with the program and become compliant with the new way of performing proper repairs and conducting business…or be put out of business.
Many repairers have seen the horrific repairs uncovered by quality repairers. In the many post-repair inspections my company (Auto Damage Experts) performs, we still see far too many shoddy repairs from independents, MSOs, DRPs and new car dealer shops which place unwary consumers and their loved ones in harm’s way. The problem stems from one or more of the following:
- The repairer’s knowledge has not progressed to a point where they know how to perform a proper repair on today’s automobiles.
- The repairer does not even care about the customer’s welfare once the vehicles are “over the curb.”
- The intimidated repairer fails to inform their customer so as to avoid a conflict and attempts to make do with only what a stingy insurer states they will pay.
- The repairers are unethical individuals who take unfair advantage of their customers for personal gain.
As an industry consultant and post-repair inspector, one consistent issue I find is the lack of entries in damage/repair assessments. After review, I find consistent oversights and/or omitted entries including:
- No pre- or post-repair scan
- No research charge for OEM repair procedures
- No pre-washing of the vehicle (the first requirement to offer a refinish material warranty)
- No pre-clean of surfaces to be refinished (second step to offer a refinish material warranty)
- Only one “cover” when at least three or four would be
- required (body, prime, refinish, etc.)
- No inspection of occupant restraint systems
- No road testing of the repaired vehicle (as needed for function and calibration)
- No fill, block and feather to ready body work for primer application
- No wet-sand and polish to bring finish to OEM appearance and texture
Depending on the sustained damages, there are dozens more omitted procedures I could list. These omissions are costing many quality repairers across the country tens of thousands of dollars per year in sales and profits.
Today’s repairers need to step up and out of the box they have been in for far too long. Quality repairers have a duty to advise their customers on what procedures are necessary and provide them and the insurer the information to support their professional and expert opinions, They also need to advise them of the potential outcome if such parts, processes and materials are not utilized in the repair.
Like any other professional (i.e. doctor, attorney, dentist, accountant, etc.) who is placed in a position of trust as the customer’s advocate, they have a moral, ethical and legal duty as the customer’s fiduciary to inform and edify them as to what is best for them. Collision repairers are required to perform the highest level of repair, one which not only restores the vehicle and its value but also restores the customer and their family’s peace of mind.