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IIHS Safety Ratings and Repairs

IIHS is the acronym for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  This is an American organization founded in 1959 by insurance companies interested in understanding all aspects of highway safety. With their business built on insuring cars and drivers it makes sense that they have a greater understanding of accidents, damage and injury.

This link gives a good background on the IIHS and how it has evolved

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.

Manufacturers pay a lot of attention and will make design changes to address the issues that prevented them from getting top scores. You will be safer in a 2016 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 2017 because none of the manufacturers move backwards on safety.

The car may be somewhat 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 the real world of 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 not yet measured.

John  Huetter of Repairer Driven  News goes into this discussion in more depth and importantly attributes the blame for  the current inadequate repair model equally to both  repairers and insurers.

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.

The first company to honestly address the issue of rating and insuring 5 Star cars and then accepting and paying for repairs that leave the car at a 3 Star level has yet to step forward. It is a big problem, but there are lots of very smart people on staff at insurance companies. They will figure it out but it will take time.  There’s that 5 year timeline again

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Next Accident Ready? How do You Know?

Unfortunately, the short glib answer is ‘you don’t’.

There are many repair facilities working with or toward Next Accident Ready repair principles and it is these industry participants that will be able to provide the right repair now. But there are far more that are not yet working with these principles and the problem is that to a lay person these facilities are not differentiated by appearance or presentation from those that do strive for Next Accident Readiness.

Last week 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 ‘there really are no questions you can 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?

Are your technicians trained in the use of a resistance spot welder, silicone bronze MIG brazing, and high strength steel MIG Welding?

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?

Most people would sound like they were reading from a script with these questions.

Perhaps a question that could 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 a thoughtful and confident, with perhaps an offer of a look at some of the equipment and/or the offer of a copy of the repair documentation after the repair is completed. If the answer is ‘sure we’ve fixed lots of these cars before’ that may not be as confidence inspiring.

In the past one or two years, more progressive repairers have become actively involved in training and certification. If the repair shop has current certificates and staff training designations posted this is another sign of a facility that is paying attention to rapidly changing repair requirements.

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Regulation and the Collision Repair Industry

In November I posted a discussion about the money in the collision repair industry; just as in every other industry money is what makes it all go around. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, it is a very big part of what our society is based on. But as we all know, if there are no checks on the behavior motivated by money the system gets very out of balance. This is where government regulation steps in to control behavior.

Very Little Regulation to Date

The collision repair industry has to date largely avoided attracting the attention of regulators. The main reason why this lack of regulation exists is the public has not needed the protection. On the cost side, a very fragmented industry meant that competition kept the prices down and on the safety side cars evolved in a manageable way for 50 years. This manageable evolution meant that learned skills and work habits could be used for many years with minor tweaks and updated versions of familiar equipment.  Every now and then something quite new came along, but it was all manageable without a need for a real change in operating methods. Problems were created, but as I have mentioned before (Nov 23, 2016 Standards and Regulation for Vehicle Repair) these were more anecdotal than systemic.

Why We May Not Have Needed Regulation in the Past

Poor repairs did compromise the car, but two significant factors kept these compromised cars from being very real problems. Considering post repair safety, or Next Accident Readiness, a car made primarily from mild steel did not change too much in strength and safety after that metal was repaired with heat or pulling. Looked at more darkly, that car wasn’t very safe as designed so the bar was not high.

On the causing accidents side; the control system of the car was 98% the driver and the driver was not affected by the repair.

Why We May Need It Soon

Today’s cars are much safer but their sophisticated design and structural materials demand very specific and accurate repair or replacement methods, otherwise their strength and safety are very much affected.

We are well on our way to the control system being 100% built into the car with the ‘driver’ just along for the ride. Repairs with these cars will have a direct effect on the control system and have to be absolutely accurate, every time. Remember that we will not get from 2% to 100% on a specific date in the future, we will get there on a curve and we are further along this curve now than the industry recognizes.

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 very 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.

The people who bought these cars were higher income more often than not and had an expectation that if they had purchased an expensive asset that they would get top level service in the repair and maintenance of that asset. If the MB sanctioned repair facility told them that these parts and these procedures were needed then that was what they wanted and they let the insurance companies know that. The insurance companies knew that they could not easily fight a determined owner armed with the logic of a proper repair (and also a lawyer) and with so few of these cars on the road the additional costs of these repairs could be made to fit into their business model.

We are now in 2017 and we have a problem. 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 in the same way that MB could. They are working hard to find a way, but with the very large number of vehicles involved the problems are far more complex than they were for MB 10 or 15 years ago.

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. Without doing any background research, it is easy to imagine that if only Honda, Toyota, Ford and GM wanted to get to this level (and they do along with all of the other manufacturers) they would have a very difficult (impossible) task to find and train the people needed. The current insurance company model is also not designed for MB level repairs on every car on the road.

or Why We May Not

The repair side industry could reorganize itself to be able to properly repair the cars of today, with truly qualified technicians working with appropriate equipment and to standards that are accepted and expected across the industry. The insurance side of the industry could also restructure to accept and expect only correct repairs. It is possible that the manufacturers will have enough control over the repair of their vehicles that they will be strong influencers of these needed changes. If these things can be seen to be starting to happen then only a very light regulatory framework may be needed.

If the coming year or two do not show signs of real change then regulators may need to be much more involved in the needed transition.

My guess is that the current regulation in the aircraft industry will become the model for the advanced collision repair industry of the near future.

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End of Year Post

On Time, Clean and Tidy, Polite Staff, Great Communication  =  A Happy Owner

Below Average Severity (Cost)  =  A Happy Bill Payer

Efficient Repairs and a Good Profit Margin = A Happy Operations Manager

10s All Around!

Is the Car Safe and Next Accident Ready?  We Don’t Actually Measure that One

This site was started in July of this year based on the theme of vehicle owners being left out of the discussion of how their cars would be repaired now and in the near future. Very rapidly changing repair requirements were colliding with very entrenched out-of-date cultures within both the repair and insurance sides of the industry

What is Being Measured ?

One hot topic of the past few months has been the measurement of results, commonly referred to in the collision repair industry as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs.) In the insurer repairer world, the relationship is based almost completely on these numbers with the most important being customer satisfaction and anything that affects cost.

This July ,2016  article by John Huetter in RDN includes a very interesting video link that has since resurfaced in a number of other articles. Going back to my irreverent heading for this post ‘10s all around’ but something was definitely not right.

Who is Measuring Quality?

Quality of repair scores are based on the vehicle owner’s response. The problem is that the vehicle owner is not qualified to answer questions about safe and correct repairs. They only see the clean shiny painted result and have no way of knowing how the structural repairs, which are not easily visible in the completed vehicle, were done. They also do not realize that their car is being repaired in an unregulated environment with many different participants looking for a profit

Repairs will not get less complex and the answer will not be for consumers to become educated about the technical aspects of vehicle repair. The industry will have to mature to the point where the ability to perform safe repairs on modern vehicles becomes the minimum entry point for participants.

Finishing with my constant theme. We will get there but we are not there yet


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Certification – Another View a Week Later

I posted an article last week about Ford Certification and collision facility certification overall. That post led to further investigation and in keeping with the rapidly changing environment a rethinking of my position on certification.

The Canadian business and regulatory environment is very different from that in America, but there is a significant similarity in that both countries   regulate vehicle design and safety at the federal level with only licensing and minor functionality regulation at the state and provincial level. In both countries, the repair requirements of these federally regulated vehicles should therefore be the same across the country.

An ongoing theme in previous posts has been the complexity of today’s vehicles. Another theme, almost as strong, has been the challenges to good repair practice presented by the many profit seekers in the repair process.

This profit seeking behavior also has an effect on certification; either overtly, such as a for profit certification program, or more subtly, such as an equipment or service provider influencing decisions at a regional level.

While all participants in the repair industry are working toward making a fair profit, there are places where it is better for all if profit takes a back seat, with regulation and accreditation being an excellent example.

In Canada, the national nonprofit accreditation program CCIAP is perhaps the best chance for a program designed for overall industry health rather than specific profit. As a national program, it has a balanced national board that can consider and evaluate views and positions from across the country, keeping in mind that cars in Newfoundland are the same as the cars sold in BC and repairs have to be done the same way in all regions.

I will present one view here myself. Accreditation should focus on the correct and safe repair of vehicles preformed in a safe environment for the workers in the industry. This would include equipment, training, environmental concerns and individual employee licensing.

Issues of customer satisfaction and business style should be left to the marketplace. Customer satisfaction is not a valid measure of safety, as unsafe repairs are often completely invisible to the vehicle owner. The objective of accreditation is not 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 is free to participate in the market with whatever style they chose.


The repair industry is still unregulated, but complexity of vehicle design will require this lack of regulation to end. When it does end, regulation will come at a federal level, as does design regulation now. If these future regulators (who are not that many years in the future) see an accreditation program with national reach and acceptance, it is easy to imagine that the first steps before reinventing the wheel will be to engage the managers of that program in discussion about moving to mandatory accreditation and licensing.

There are many programs of industry self-regulation supported by enabling legislation and a unified voluntary start will ensure that the collision repair industry will stay strong and independent.