You Can Make Vehicles Right Again - BodyShop Business

You Can Make Vehicles Right Again

I read the very interesting and informative articles in BodyShop Business each month and have often had thoughts of writing to you concerning them but didn’t. But I can no longer refrain from commenting on information about whether a vehicle can be repaired to pre-accident condition. I think of the old adage I’ve often heard, "Every man is the best judge of the value of his own merchandise." If [a shop owner] says he can’t restore a vehicle to pre-accident condition, I’d be inclined to take his word for it. He’s in the best position to know, but it doesn’t follow that the rest of the shops need to accept his evaluation for their own work.

We operate a small to medium size shop, depending on the area you come from. We have a total of seven employees counting the owner, seven bays and all the modern equipment available to the industry. But modern equipment means nothing if management doesn’t have the ethics of honesty, frugality, industry and (yes) perfection.

Our customers tell us that they cannot see where our repairs start and where they stop. Many times after they’ve driven their cars for a while, they’ll come back to tell us their car runs just as good as before and they can’t detect any difference in the handling. In other cases, they tell us the car runs better than it did when it was new from the factory. (The reason for the latter being that the alignment is often not set to the optimum at the factory and the dealer fails to correct it before delivery.)

We take the attitude that if we’re not satisfied with the quality of the repair, the customer won’t get the vehicle until we’ve done what’s necessary to satisfy us. If for any reason the customer has a complaint about something we missed or failed to correct, the vehicle stays until it can be corrected to the owner’s satisfaction. If for any reason a customer brings a vehicle back with a complaint after a repair, we leave no stones unturned to correct the problem. They won’t get an opportunity to complain a second time.

The No. 1 complaint of customers about other shops is that, after they waited an extra week past the promised date for delivery, they had to take the vehicle back to the shop several times to get details corrected that should’ve been taken care of before they picked up the car the first time. Finally, they gave up in desperation because the shop foreman became nasty with them.

Shame on us as an industry when the public has been allowed to develop the attitude that the car will never be right again after it’s been in an accident and repaired. If a vehicle is so severally damaged that a safe and satisfactory repair cannot be made economically and profitably, it’s the duty of the shop manager to gently but firmly decline the job and to explain to the customer or the adjuster why he doesn’t think it’s advisable to repair this particular vehicle.

Sometimes a customer will take his car to another shop after we decline a job and will tell us that so and so was willing to repair his car for him. Fine, but we have the satisfaction of knowing that we did what we thought was best for all parties concerned.

It’s not always easy to explain to a customer why we can’t repair his automobile profitably or safely, but if the repair isn’t good for the customer and isn’t good for us as a repair shop, then it’s better not to take it on; no one benefits from such a repair.

As you may have suspected by now, our No. 1 problem is too much work for the size of our shop and the number of employees, but we like it that way. We’re large enough to do any repair that comes along and small enough to be efficient and give customers the personal attention that’s so important to develop a good rapport with them.

Yes, we struggle with the aftermarket parts problem just like everyone else does and we deal with the same insurance companies that other shops do. But we take the attitude that our customers are the ones who decide which shop they want to take their cars to for repairs, not the insurance companies. Our customers are the ones who’ll decide on the quality of the finished repair and whether they’ll ever come back to our shop. Our satisfied customer base is the most valued possession we have.

We have a good relationship with all of the insurance companies and their adjusters. Sure, we disagree with their estimates sometimes, just as they disagree with ours. This is where the process of negotiation comes to play. At least half of our insurance estimates include supplements, and then we’re careful to authenticate all supplements with photos, actual time for repairs and invoices for parts used. Mostly, we get what we ask for — sometimes more, sometimes less, but it averages out in the long run.

I, the owner and manager, am 62 years old and have been in this business and have run my own shop since 1965. Yes, I’d do it again if I had to start over. I love my work, the contact with our customers and the many friends I’ve made through the years with both customers and insurance adjusters. Do I have any enemies among them? I don’t think so. If an adjuster seems impossible, we take the attitude of letting the other shops educate him. Why should we make an enemy? Usually adjusters learn quickly or the company moves them out of our area.

Yes, we think the vehicles that leave our shop have been repaired to pre-accident condition. Diminished value becomes a moot issue when the customer cannot tell where our repairs started or stopped. If there’s a call for diminished value, we as a shop haven’t done our work to the best of our ability and we should be the one [held accountable for it]. If we feel the insurance adjuster hasn’t allowed enough to do a satisfactory repair, we tell him so and refuse to take the job. Many times, we’ve refused to do a job as the adjuster has written it, and the adjuster has come back and either totaled the car or re-wrote the estimate so the vehicle could be repaired.

Harold E. Martin, owner
Harold’s Body Shop
Hagerstown, Md.

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