At a 2016 industry panel in Vancouver a representative of one of the large banner programs referred to ‘common sense’ when he said that electronic scanning a vehicle for a scratch on the door was not necessary. This person had limited technical background, but the moderator of the panel did not challenge the comment. The repair of that scratch using proper paint procedures requires removing the door handle, which means that the trim panel has to be removed and for this a number of electronic components have to be unplugged, possibly including the side airbag. The final step in a correct repair is an electronic systems scan to verify that everything is connected correctly and the main control module has recognized this reconnection.
The next year at another conference an insurance rep was going on at length on the concept of ‘case by case’, which seemed to have taken over from ‘common sense’ as the theme for that year.
Both common sense and case by case are only valid if the person using the concepts has the background knowledge to apply to each case or situation. In the two examples above the people speaking were not qualified to apply either common sense or case by case.
The question may be why they did; and a good guess at the answer is money. The banner program rep was signaling to insurance companies that he was ready work with them to save money and the insurance rep was signaling that they were putting a lot of weight on saving money in repairs and that they would decide on which OEM procedures to work with and which to ignore.
One of the themes of the overall collision repair industry that now always comes up at conferences is ‘we are all working together for the good of our mutual customer, the vehicle owner’
I have called out this theme as disingenuous before, but here is another look at why it can be viewed as insincere or even outside the rules.
There is no denying that there is tension between the different players within the any industry. Everyone would rather have more than less and if the supply is finite then the only way to get more is for someone else to get less. There is nothing dishonest or sinister about that, it is a big part of how business works. But the tension between parties and the competition to get as much as possible is a reality and does not quite fit with ‘we are all in this together for the good of our mutual customer.’
Importantly one significant party that does not have a voice in the discussion is the collective vehicle owner, while it is that collective vehicle owner supplying the finite resources. Whether this is by paying for a repair directly, or more commonly by paying an insurance company to cover future repairs it is only the vehicle owner paying.
If the parties in the repair industry are competing for their share of the money that is coming only from the vehicle owner, it certainly starts to look suspicious if they pretend that ‘we are working together for the good of the vehicle owner’ without including that vehicle owner in the discussion.
Fortunately, and counterintuitively, despite the fact that people like to start conferences with the ‘we are all in this together’ phrase this is not how the industry works. Without the real involvement of the vehicle owners the result is arguably better for the consumer if each active party is looking after their own interests than if these industry parties were working together to split the pie while leaving the vehicle owner out of the conversation.
…but, of course we all want the cars fixed right.
…. but, you have to do the correct repair.
For the last two or three years every industry discussion about the challenges and costs of modern vehicle repair ends with a variation of the phrase ‘but of course we need correct repairs’. This is said with a tone that suggests ‘I have met my obligations because I have mentioned that correct repairs are needed.’
This phrase is always aimed at the repairer and is most often used by anyone who has an opinion on repair procedures and repair cost but has no hands-on responsibility for that real world repair. Insurers really like it and industry commentators, speakers and trainers always close with it.
With this phrase and no further investment, the speaker imagines or hopes that they have made a contribution toward the safe repair and all responsibility falls on the repairer.
The changes of the last 5 years and those coming at us rapidly are significant more for their wide application than for their technology. Many of the features which are seen as ‘new’ were being used by manufacturers such as Mercedes Benz in the mid to late 2000s. But with only a few manufacturers using this advanced technology on a small percentage of the overall vehicle fleet, it was possible for these manufacturers to control the repair process and ensure that the technicians working on the cars were properly trained.
Now every manufacturer is using very sophisticated technology and materials in even their least expensive cars and with so many of these cars on the road they are not yet able to control the repair process.
MB had to train maybe several hundred or at most a few thousand technicians and facility managers to work in their rigorous system. The industry was large enough that this relatively small number of motivated people could be found despite the stubborn industry culture of resistance to learning and training. It is easy to imagine that even if only three or four of the mainline manufacturers wanted to get to this level, they would have a difficult impossible task to find and train the people needed.
These manufacturers are saying the right things about the standards required for correct repairs, but the reality is that the industry is not ready and only a small percentage of these cars are being correctly repaired.
This 2016 (no longer that new) Honda Civic is an excellent and affordable car that many people will buy and use for everything from city commuting to regular highway travel. It is a car that your family will use. It also looks a lot like a 2015 Civic which is structurally a completely different car.
To meet the equally important objectives of efficiency and safety Honda applied their significant engineering capabilities to make the structure of the car from, aluminum, plastic composites and 5 different strengths of steel.
Following are photos of a cutaway demonstration car, which were taken in person at a trade show in Toronto in January 2016. Each colour is a different grade of steel, each with its own requirements for repair or replacement. To maintain the designed safety features of the car the integrity of each section must be maintained.
The car that the technician will be repairing will not be colour coded and it is easy to see that a correct repair to pre-accident condition cannot be done without very complete supporting information and direction.
The well-trained technician will know how to repair or replace any of these components, but if he is not given good information about the construction and material types, he will not know what he should be doing.
‘Position Statements’ are written by vehicle manufacturers to summarize and highlight certain aspects of their repair procedures. They are not being written and published to reveal new information; they are reiteration and reinforcement of information that is already in the company’s service and repair information manuals and bulletins. They serve a purpose by gathering information from not easily found locations, summarizing it and putting it forward in a clear format.
One could think that these position statements are written to educate the repair industry about a particularly important aspect of repair, but the reality is that they are written to minimize arguments between progressive repairers and insurance adjusters.
A valid interpretation of a position statement would be
‘that thing on line 12 on page 47; we really mean it and you do have to do it for a complete repair.’
Unfortunately, this did not work as hoped because insurance companies decided that only those repair procedures rewritten in positon statements had to be followed. In response to this at least one manufacturer has stopped writing position statements and has instead pointed to their overall repair instructions and said that they all have to be followed.
A significant component of repair facility certification by non-OEM aligned certifying bodies (CCIAP is the national example in Canada) is customer service and the appearance of customer areas. Pictures of the customer washroom are always asked for.
This is missing the point in 2021. These organizations should be verifying the important things that car owners cannot see or be expected to understand. They can all see the office and decide if they like it, none of them can see the spot welder and know what the gun pressure is. The certification should be verifying the ability to perform correct repairs and leave judgement of customer satisfaction and business style to the marketplace. It is unlikely that a facility that can meet the requirements for safe repairs will have a scruffy looking front office and impolite staff. If they do the potential customer can see that and will probably not do business there. Or maybe it will not bother them, and they will stay.
There is also the 2021 reality of Online Reviews. This is where potential customers will look for insight on how other people feel about the facility. Customer service, in all its aspects will be well covered in these reviews.
The objective of accreditation should not be to standardize the overall experience to the customer, but to provide a safe repair. With demonstrated ability to provide that safe repair as a base the business owner should be free to participate in the market with whatever style they chose.
OEM certifications are not the same as a non-aligned certifying organization and these OEM certifications often have a strong overlay of marketing in these programs. Just as a manufacturer will have service and appearance standards for their dealerships, they may have these types of standards for their certified repair facilities.
Last year I was talking to a knowledgeable car owner about RFINA repairs, and she understood quickly what I was saying. She then asked ‘How do I know I am getting the right repairs, what questions can I ask?
I thought for a few seconds and could only answer that there really are no direct questions she could ask, because the questions themselves require a knowledge of repair procedures.
There will not be many car owners who would be able to ask:
Does your shop have electronic 3 dimensional measuring and a solid 4 point anchoring system with the capability for a 5th or 6th anchor point if needed?’
Do you have a damage report writer who can tell your technician exactly what metals are used in the structure of my car and what repair or replace procedures have to be followed?
Do you have access to OEM grade scan equipment that will allow you to perform a pre-repair systems diagnostic scan as part of the damage report and then a post repair scan to ensure that all systems are fully functional?
Do you have a very good professional relationship with my insurance company that will allow them to authorize all needed repair procedures and parts?
A question that can be asked is:
‘Are you confident that your equipment and staff will allow you to repair this damage in a way that returns my car to true pre-accident safety’.
The answer should be thoughtful and confident, with an explanation of some of the key points that need to be addressed with that car and that damage. There may be an offer of a quick tour or a few images of the repair in process.
If the answer is ‘sure we’ve fixed lots of these cars before’ that may not be as confidence inspiring
If the repair shop has current certifications and staff training designations posted this is another sign of a facility that is paying attention to rapidly changing repair requirements.
Economists recognize that there is a lot more to finance than just numbers and many of their principles apply to a very broad range of circumstances and behaviour.
In the fall of 2019 I happened across a New York Times article written by Al Gore. In this article he used a theme or maxim called Dornbusch’s Law in the context of climate change
Rudi Dornbusch was an economist who worked at several prestigious American universities from the 70s to the early 2000s. Students of international macroeconomics are fond of quoting “Dornbusch’s Law.”
It is not a rigorous statement and there are many similar versions, all called ‘Dornbusch’s law.
One of the clearest is;
“Crises take longer to arrive than you can possibly imagine, but when they do come, they happen faster than you can possibly imagine”.
Rudi Dornbusch was referring to international macro-economic crises, but it applies more broadly. Al Gore was correct to use it in reference to climate change and it is equally valid in the current world of automotive collision repair.
IIHS is the acronym for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
This is an American organization focused on highway safety founded in 1959 by a group of insurance companies.
One of the most publicly visible areas of IIHS work is their crash safety rating system, which is developed based on crash tests in their own testing facility. This rating has real world implications, with a 5 Star IIHS rating used by manufacturers as a selling feature and by insurers as a guide to setting insurance rates.
You will be safer in a 2020 vehicle than you would be in a 2010 or 2005 vehicle in the same type of hit. You will probably be safer still in the 2021 because none of the manufacturers move backwards on safety.
The car may be more expensive to repair, but you will not care much about that if you walk away from the accident with no injury. Your insurance company should be ready to pay an extra $2,000 or $3,000 or even $10,000 to repair your car if tens or even hundreds of thousands in injury costs are saved.
5 Stars to 3
The insurance company should be ready to pay; but then we run into measurement and reward in a compartmentalized business. The insurance adjuster, and the entire claims department, is judged by the amount of money paid out; lower claim costs are viewed as a good thing and the in-depth quality of repairs is still, in 2020, not measured.
When these insurance companies are working with a repair industry that values throughput and volume it is not surprising that 5 star rated cars are leaving the repair shop with their rating compromised.
In the unregulated world that we work in the insurance companies are probably the best positioned to insist on a proper repair but the huge emphasis on cost is preventing them from doing this.
There is an irony here; the same company that from one department contributes to the IIHS is from another department rewarding repairs that take that 5 Star car to a 3