Deery Collision Center meets technology challenge with OEM certifications
Burlington, Iowa—In his five years at Deery Collision Center, Manager Justin Clubb has seen technology rapidly increase to the point that even a once-simple mirror replacement may now require recalibration. It’s why he’s pursued OEM certifications and their training requirements: to ensure his technicians are ready to tackle the latest models from the two local dealerships served by the shop.
“That’s why we’re doing all of this training: to stay on top of these repair requirements and to show customers we’re committed to the safety and quality of their vehicles,” Clubb said.
The two dealerships include Deery Brothers of West Burlington, with GM, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota, and Brad Deery Honda, also in West Burlington. The stores are part of the Deery Automotive Group, the largest retailer in Iowa, with 13 dealerships and four collision repair centers in central and eastern Iowa.
In June 2017, the 14-bay shop became certified through the Assured Performance program for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Hyundai, Kia, and Nissan. Clubb said the shop had been certified by Honda through its ProFirst program, but after some staffing changes, it lost its I-CAR Gold Class status, which it is slated to regain at the end of May. Clubb plans to reapply for the ProFirst program at that time. GM, once part of the Assured Performance program, will return with its own certification program by early fourth quarter 2018, “and as soon as they do, we’ll jump right on that.”
It’s a marketing advantage for the shop, Clubb said, with the nearest OEM-certified shop in the Quad Cities area about an hour and a half away, and it serves mostly a 35-mile radius in southeast Iowa and west central Illinois.
The costs for certification have been mostly in upgraded tools and equipment, such as a Pro Spot SP-5 Smart MIG welder that cost more than $10,000, and training, mostly from I-CAR, which includes online and classroom training, which in Clubb’s market requires technicians to drive about an hour and a half to Scott Community College, in Bettendorf, or Kirkwood Community College, in Cedar Rapids.
“I pay for their training and for their supper, rental car, and drive time — everything,” Clubb said. “They might leave here at 3:30 p.m. and not get back until midnight.”
Including staffing changes, which required additional training for new hires, Clubb figures he spent, on average, more than $5,000 each year. His staff includes one painter, three body technicians, and one apprentice employee, who details, manages parts, and is going to school at nearby Southeastern Community College to be a body technician, an arrangement Clubb hopes to continue for future new hires.
“We’re trying to work on the technician shortage by exposing them to a school-learning environment, while applying that learning to a real-life setting,” he said.
Much of the costs for the Assured Performance program have been recovered through rebates ordering OEM parts through CollisionLink, Clubb said.
“And using CollisionLink helps us price-match some of the aftermarket parts the insurance companies would like us to use,” he said. “It benefits the customer, it benefits the shop, and it benefits the technicians.”
The shop has five DRPs, but it recently dropped one longtime program after the insurer refused to pay for repair procedures the OEM deemed necessary, Clubb said.
Pre- and post-repair scans are essential
With rare exception, such as a headlight replacement on an older vehicle, the shop performs pre- and post-repair scans with the asTech device, which remotely connects to asTech technicians using an OEM scan tool. And although he gets some pushback, Clubb said he’s usually able to get the insurance company to pay the $169.95 asTech list price, at a 25-percent profit for him, and an hour for a technician’s setup and monitoring time.
“You’re going to have to fight your battles, but it’s just one of those things you have to stand your ground on,” he said. “When it comes to the vehicle occupants’ safety and when the OEMs say, ‘This has to be done,’ we do it.”
Other equipment added within the past several years includes a Chassis Liner frame machine and a Chief Laser Lock measuring system.
“Mr. Deery isn’t afraid to spend money on tools and equipment,” Clubb said. “He’s always said, ‘We have to make sure we have the right tools and equipment to do the job.’”
However, the costs of training, equipment, and information access required to repair newer technology are not easily absorbed by a small independent shop, which he doesn’t see being viable in the future, as even a windshield replacement requires a recalibration if the vehicle has a lane-departure warning system.
The recent $42 million John Eagle lawsuit, in which a shop was found negligent in deviating from Honda’s recommended repair method of welding on a roof panel that later buckled in a crash, may serve as a wake-up call to the industry.
“I think it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes to how the car should be repaired,” he said. “Hopefully, some of the insurance companies are catching on to that, as well.”