Dealership collision shop banks OEM certifications, repair procedures
Lakewood, Colo.— If Allen Martinez had a chance to address fellow shop managers and owners at an industry meeting, he’d have a two-part message calling for unity.
“I think we all need to be on the same page as far as repair procedures,” said Martinez, manager of Prestige Imports Collision Center, in Lakewood, Colo. “We also need to be paid for the things we need to do to repair the car correctly per OEM standards. As we’ve learned from the lawsuit in Texas, the insurance companies aren’t going to be the ones that get pinched. It’s going to be the repairer. I think collectively we need to say, ‘The car tells us what we need to do to repair it correctly, and that’s what we’re going to do. We have a duty and requirement to protect the people inside these cars.’”
Martinez oversees a staff of 27 employees, operating out of a 16,000-square-foot main facility and a 10,000-square-foot facility added three blocks away primarily as an aluminum repair facility. In addition to being certified by Porsche and Audi, vehicle brands the company sells at its nearby dealership, the shop is certified by Bentley, Tesla, Volkswagen, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Honda/Acura.
“The blueprint we run here is: We are an OEM-certified facility,” Martinez said. “We want to work cooperatively with the insurance companies, but we’re here to protect our guests’ interests and repair their cars the way the manufacturer recommends. So obviously we don’t believe in aftermarket parts or reconditioning wheels, that type of thing.”
Though he’s been with the company less than two years, he’s worked to change certain aspects of the culture at the shop.
“I came here with the mindset of giving the technicians the tools they need to be successful,” he said.
That includes some improvements to the facility itself, with better heating in the shop and lighting upgrades in the paint mixing room.
“We’ve broadened our equipment path as well,” Martinez said. “We had Celettes and Car Bench equipment when I got here, but we added the Car-o-Liner with the Evo universal anchoring and fixturing to improve cycle time. We’ve probably spent $250,000 on the latest aluminum equipment, including the Miracle System aluminum repair tool, and a cold metal transfer Fronius 320i welder that a lot of shops don’t have in their possession yet.”
Martinez is working toward adding more computers in the production area to give technicians more direct access to repair orders, OEM information, etc. Paint shop improvements are in the works as well. The shop will continue to spray BASF’s Spies Hecker paint line purchased through Capital Paint & Refinish, but Martinez said he plans to replace the older of the shop’s two Garmat booths with a new Garmat booth with a Greentech gas catalytic infrared drying system to accelerate cure times.
“I’ve gone and seen the product in action, and it’s going to be what we’re looking for,” he said.
Dealership management has been supportive of making the investment needed.
“The general manager, Jeff Silverberg, has been very open to giving us the leeway that we need to do all the things that we need to do, between training and tooling,” he said.
He doesn’t think insurance companies fully appreciate the investment that training in particular – including OEM and maintaining I-CAR Gold Class Professionals status – requires.
“To certify the two Jaguar Land Rover technicians we have, we spent about $20,000 just on training, including 10 days of travel costs,” Martinez said. “But technicians need continuing education to repair cars properly. There are other types of costs as well. The Honda certification program is different than the others, but just a spool of the required welding wire for those vehicles is $890. That might not seem like much, but you add up all these items, and it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars to run an OEM-certified facility.”
He said that in addition to improving productivity and keeping up with changing automaker certification requirements, the upgrades support his management philosophy.
“I had someone tell me one time that I used to manage too much with my heart and not enough with my head,” Martinez said. “So I made a conscious decision when I came here to try to balance the two. I want to make sure the technicians understand that they are valued, but they also will be held accountable for what they do. I tell the technicians here all the time: ‘I’m going to give you every tool that you need, so there’s no excuses for you not to perform.’”
Martinez believes it will become increasingly difficult for independent shops to succeed without specialization and OEM certifications, particularly as consumers have more access to information online.
“They want to know that their car is being repaired by a technician who has worked on that type of car before,” he said. “If I get in an accident with my $60,000 or $80,000 vehicle, I want to make sure that car is going to perform as it did before. It’s not that independents or MSOs can’t repair those types of cars. But how many of them do they see? We work on 60 Audi A4s a month, or 20 Porsche 911s, or 20 Land Rovers. There are things that are unique to those types of cars that most technicians aren’t familiar with.”
Although the shop primarily repairs the vehicle lines for which it is certified, it’s not uncommon to see Ford F-150 pickups or other automakers’ vehicles in for repairs. He stresses that all customers’ vehicles are treated equally.
“It doesn’t matter if they spent $25,000 on a Honda, or $100,000 on a Land Rover; they’re all entitled to have their car repaired correctly using the OEM standards and guidelines. We’d be doing a disservice or an injustice to the consumer if we’re not doing that.”