N.M. shop owner aims to improve collision repair industry, protect vehicle owners
Albuquerque, N.M.—Scott Benavidez, AAM, knows all too well the relationship between insurers, collision repair shops, and motorists is delicate. Benavidez, owner and manager of third-generation Mr. B’s Paint & Body Shop in Albuquerque, serves as an advocate for his customers and the industry as a whole, through roles as vice president of Automotive Service Association (ASA) of Central New Mexico and ASA national Collision Division director.
Following a recent trip to the nation’s capital, Benavidez visited with Parts & People to discuss ASA’s current initiatives and the state of the collision repair industry.
FIO is essential
As the Trump Administration examines federal programs, threatens cuts, and reduces regulations, sights have been set on eliminating the Federal Insurance Office (FIO), a consumer protection agency housed in the U.S. Department of Treasury.
“At the state level, insurance commissioners help insurance companies, not motorists,” he said. “The FIO helps to look out for the local people here.”
When shop personnel battle daily with insurance companies in order to properly repair collision-damaged vehicles, especially those equipped with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), a third-party advocate is needed.
If the FIO is abolished, body shops are in “real trouble,” he said, allowing insurers to operate without the oversight and influence of a federal agency. That is extremely critical given the emergence and reality of autonomous vehicles and liability complications they will create.
Pre- and post-repair scans
Once a simple procedure, replacing a side mirror that contains lane departure warning system has now become complicated, he said. If an insurance company refuses to pay for a pre- and post-vehicle scan to ensure the system is working properly, who is responsible in the event of a future system failure?
Benavidez cited a fatal accident that involved a motorist driving a Tesla in autopilot mode that was unable to recognize the grey side of a tractor-trailer, causing the car to change lanes and crash. Even though the vehicle wasn’t previously in an accident, who is responsible, he asked.
Similarly, if ADAS fails to operate properly after a repair and causes an accident, the collision repair shop is ultimately liable, he stressed, regardless of the insurer’s position on OEM repair procedures.
“You are the expert,” he said, referring to shop personnel. “Just because the insurance company says a repair procedure isn’t necessary doesn’t make it so.” Who should the shop listen to — the insurance company, I-CAR, or the OEM?
The industry challenge now is to know the correct repair procedure.
OEM-specified welding techniques are critical to proper repairs, he said, adding his shop recently purchased a Pro Spot welder at NACE capable of performing a silicon bronze weld. A Matrix 3D measuring system was also purchased at the show to allow for quick vehicle measurements on any surface.
Benavidez says all vehicles that are worked on at Mr. B’s receive a pre- and post-repair scan. The techs use a Bosch Evolve scan tool or connect the car through wireless via AsTech II, which can remotely reprogram the car. Some systems also require recalibration, he said, in which case they rely on franchise dealerships.
Whether or not the shop performs the scan in-house or takes the car to the dealership, someone has to pay for the scan, Benavidez said. The insurance companies that approve an OEM procedure will have to charge customers a higher premium; those that don’t may be less expensive and create an unbalanced marketplace, leaving vehicle owners in the dark who typically only compare premiums.
“If FIO doesn’t step in, this can create an unhealthy environment for shops and motorists alike,” Benavidez said. “The industry is experiencing extraordinary times.”
Shop personnel must arm themselves with repair data, he said, adding that OEM repair information is currently the only way to influence insurers to fund the repair.
Talk of OEM insurers
Advancing from fantasy to reality, the emergence of autonomous vehicles is prompting talk of automakers assuming the role of insurers, Benavidez said, adding that the topic was discussed at the recent NACE show, held in conjunction with Automechanika, in Chicago this summer.
As several automakers consider a shared-vehicle business model, where consumers rent the car by the ride or if shipping logistic companies lease trucks, the model makes sense, he said.
In this scenario, FIO’s oversight would be necessary to create uniformity. Collision repair shops will, no doubt, be on the front line to repair those vehicles in the event of a collision.
Customer data protection
“In the digital age we live in, identity theft is a problem and something shops should consider,” Benavidez said.
“We have to be concerned about protecting the customer’s identity,” he said, adding that this involves having a secure shop network and internal procedures. A standard operating procedure (SOP) for Mr. B’s is to have each customer sign a waiver allowing the shop to share their personal data.
That is just one more instance to protect consumers and reduce shop liability, he added.