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RFINA One Year Out

The first posting on RFINA was in July of 2016, with brief comments supporting the views given by Mary Barra of GM in an article from The 2016 World Economic Forum. 

The statements made by Ms. Barra are as relevant now as they were a year ago, and even more so because we are one year further along in vehicle technology evolution.

At this one year mark of the RFINA project it may be of value to go back over the other articles posted over that time to check their current relevancy and validity. Progress made, or not, on the issues will also merit comment.

This week the NACE/Automechanika Conference in Chicago will bring together leaders in the collision repair industry and I expect that new and current statements and announcements will be coming out of that conference.

It will be more effective to wait until after the conference for a review of RFINA to date and the one year review will start in August.

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A Quieter Phase of Getting the Work Done

I have not posted anything for over a month for two related reasons. There seems to have been less Next Accident Ready related news and we have been busy in our own operation incorporating new procedures while remembering that we have to keep fixing cars and generating revenue.

Neither of these, the lack of news or the focus on day to day operations suggests backsliding or giving up on anyone’s part.  In an operating environment, whether a single local operation or a very large national organization, changes cannot be continuous and piled on top of each other. Change happens in steps and after a number of steps there needs to be a period of ‘level ground’ operation to allow these changes to be to be fully understood and integrated into operations with minor or major revisions as this is done. After some period of level operation, perhaps extending weeks or months the next series of change steps can be taken.

In 2015 there was a flurry of activity (and tension) around structural repairs. In 2016 and the first months of 2017 there was a significantly more stressful period of activity and discussion around electronic scanning and calibration. The 2016/2017 period was more stressful partially because the electronic issue was harder to understand. But it was also more stressful because this came up right on top of the structural repair changes. The industry had not had a chance to settle into a new equilibrium before the next round of changes hit.  Now after two big and separate issues there is a collective need to allow the changes to settle in and become understood.

We are now at a stage where a measurable number of operators in the industry recognize that this work needs to be done and are in implementation stage. There is less tension and disagreement than there was last year, so the work is being done more quietly without much controversy or noise. But this is new work and all participants need a period of time to work through many variables and scenarios to develop a workable model. In the coming months these new procedures will have made a significant move toward mainstream acceptance as requirements for proper repair.

This is not to pretend that we have solved the problem of new technology and all cars will be properly repaired from now. We are only just over a year into a five year transition and many more changes will be needed. But the period of relative calm now is a very good sign. Two years ago there were things that were new with a capital N or in all caps. The industry has worked through this New and the lessons learned will mean that next year’s changes will be lower case new and will be managed with much less tension.

Those who have had their head in the sand to this point will however be faced with a mandatory all caps NEW if they wait until next year to poke their heads up.

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Scanning; White Noise and Progress

Last week, on March 29th, CCIF presented an all-day session in Toronto about vehicle electronic code scanning.

A statement in the introductory comments caught my attention; to paraphrase ‘everyone in the industry is interested in and motivated by the need to get the vehicle back to the same operational state as it was in before the accident.’ Pre-accident in all operations is a subtle but real change from the overly simplistic catchall of pre-accident condition. The wording suggests that changes in repair procedures are being recognized and accepted as required.

It was then said that one of the factors blocking movement toward the goal of pre-accident in all operations was ‘white noise’.

An interpretation on this comment could be that everything is new, everything is changing rapidly and there are many commentators speaking from different points of interest. There is validity in many of the comments and positions being taken, but they are not all of the same validity and integrity and collectively the result is white noise. Many steps will be needed to get to the right place; an understanding that we are still surrounded by a lot of noise is one of these steps.

The scanning seminar itself was a very good example of a step toward quieting the noise. Only a year ago the discussion was about whether or not scanning procedures were needed. At this session in March of 2017 there was essentially no discussion or debate about whether or not these procedures were required. Instead the questions were about how best to do the needed work.

Answers did not jump out, certainly not ‘The Answer’ but the acceptance of the questions as legitimate was a big step in itself.

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Something New and Who are You Going to Call

In the past few weeks and months I have been seeing a slowdown in the amount of new information related to Next Accident Ready repair. At the same time there does seems to be a lot supporting or collaborating the information and concepts that were being discussed last year. This tells me that those who were working actively with the principles of Next accident Readiness last year will be ahead of the curve as it becomes fully understood and accepted by all parties.

I do get information from sources other the John Huetter at RDN, but his daily articles are my first look every day. Today, March 17, he has written a very interesting piece about OEM parts and a major Australian insurance group.

FCAI praises ‘strong signal’ on OEM parts from major Australian insurer IAG

The one sentence synopsis is that OEM parts seem to be good for everyone involved.

In the something new department, there was a short quote attributed to the insurer IAG that included ’….repairers will benefit from strong technical support.’

This is an example of what seems like an incidental comment causing a flash of understanding.  Cars are getting far more complex and we have to check repair procedures on each repair, but if there is some ambiguity or uncertainty who do we call?

If you have bought the part on the aftermarket good luck with any call. If you have bought all the aftermarket parts you could and only one or two technical parts from the OEM that you will maybe get a response from the OEM. If you consistently buy all, or at least most, parts from that OEM they will take your call and offer support.

The car will be repaired and calibrated properly, your customer will be happier and safer and, while maybe not right away, in the longer term the insurer will be happier was well.

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The Information Needed to Get Past ‘No’

At the CCIF meeting in Toronto in January of this year Mike Anderson moderated a panel of OEM and insurance reps to discuss electronic scanning. During the course of the discussion Mike made a point with a quote he attributed to another insurance rep in another conversation. “No doesn’t mean no. It means I need more information.”

But the manufacturers are putting out lots of information, so why is it being met with ‘No’; what more information could be needed?

Two examples of long standing OEM information are useful here.

Many manufacturers state that ALL repairs have to be done with new OEM parts and the industry does not takes that position seriously. An honest repairer and insurer will recognize that many electronic parts are best replaced with new, used bearings are not a good idea and most welded panels are also best replaced with new OEM parts. Neither the repairer or insurer, or especially the self-paying owner will have any trouble with using a clean part such as a hood or front headlight from a 2014 car to complete the repair of the same 2014 model.  Aftermarket parts are a different story, but when the manufacturer states that no used OEM parts cannot be used no one pays much attention.

Wheels are another example of an information problem. All or most manufacturers state that alloy wheels cannot be repaired or repainted and have to be replaced with new. The manufacturers have had this position for years and the repair industry has been repairing and repainting wheels for 30 or 40 years with no issues. An alloy wheel ‘repaired’ on the floor with a bit of heat from a torch and a few hits with a hammer is not a safe repair. An aluminum wheel can be repaired safely by a qualified technician using accurate gauges and a known amount of slowly applied hydraulic pressure at a specific heat. $200 for that safe repair compares well to $675 for a new wheel.

Now the manufacturers are putting out clear position statements on how electronics have to be managed during repairs on their vehicles. They may be correct in these statements, but those paying have to be thinking ‘is this real or is this another new parts all the time or wheel repair thing?’

A negotiating tactic that was used by labour unions quite often in the 70s and 80s was ‘work to rule.’ This meant that everything was done by the rules and was usually the last step before a strike was called.  Following rules to the letter caused a significant reduction in productivity.

This not mean that the rules were silly and getting in the way of production, What it did mean is that a knowledgeable work force could safely work to the spirit of the rules and still meet good production levels. That work force, in cooperation with good management, would know when to apply the rules strictly and when they could be relaxed. New employees or a new situation would require a much stricter adherence to rules, but as the process became better understood efficiencies could be found that increased productivity without decreasing safety or quality.

Vehicle electronics are very new and very rapidly changing and we do not have the knowledgeable work force that can interpret the rules to combine efficiency with the needed safety. In this case it would be best to follow the rules but there is a tremendous resistance to the costs involved. Repairers’ costs include equipment, training and productivity as new techniques are learned and implemented. Insurers’ costs are very easy to see dollars. No one wants to lose competitive position by being the first to take on these costs.  However, the current situation of the OEMs sticking to their firm rules and the rest of the industry applying ad hoc interpretations is neither safe nor sustainable.

The current challenge is cultural as well as highly technical. The culture of the manufacturers is to stay firm to their requirements, the culture on the repair and paying side is to use alternatives to absolute adherence every time. There is work to be done to get to an understanding that allows the very high volume of high-tech vehicles to be properly repaired. That will take honest discussion and also movement on the part of all participants.

Once again; we will get there but we are not there yet. The five years I first brought up in July 2016 is now down to 4 ½ and we will probably need all of that.