Aperture refinishing embraced to restore pre-loss condition
Before Marc Gabbard, owner of GSR Quality Collision Repair in Yakima, Wash., turned his focus to collision repair, his main business was restorations and building high-end street rods and customs.
“As we decided to phase out of that and into collision repair, I wanted to focus on the highest quality work we could deliver, just as we were doing with the restorations and street rods,” he said.
For quarter panel refinishing, that attention to detail included going above and beyond the industry’s customary practice of taping off the door aperture, which leaves either a visible hard tape line, or a tapered edge that will not be as durable as the factory finish if a skilled technician uses masking and solvent-blending “tricks.” Either method, he said, is a compromise that does not restore the vehicle to pre-loss condition and can contribute to a loss in value.
Gabbard acknowledges the practice has met with skepticism not just from insurance adjusters but from fellow repairers, some of whom consider it to be an intrusive repair, with door removal — and often glass-cutout — necessary.
“We hear from a lot of guys, I’ve done this for years, and I’ve never had a comeback,” Gabbard said. That’s great. Maybe you’ve never had a comeback, and maybe you never will. But when we’re talking about making a vehicle owner whole in the repair process and what is owed to them under the terms of their policy, putting them at risk without explaining it to them for our financial benefit is not the way to do things.”
The added cost can be as little as a few hundred dollars for a few hours of refinish labor and some materials. Some vehicles, with no roof molding and “ditch” for the paint to stop, require not only the customary “up-and-over” refinishing to avoid a solvent blend in the sail panel but also both apertures to be refinished.
For vehicles on which the clear can be applied to two mils underneath a molding, less R&I is required while retaining a quality repair that meets paint companies warranty requirements, Gabbard said. But the cost can rise quickly for some vehicles for which this is not possible, such as a late-model Explorer, which has one-time-use parts — such as quarter glass and windshield trim — that cost more than $1,000.
But it’s a mistake to assume even self-pay customers will opt for the less-expensive option, Gabbard said, and he lets the customer make an informed decision, pointing to a fleet account that chooses aperture refinishing on its 15-year-old Tauruses when a quarter panel is repaired. And for a vehicle in which an aperture refinishing would push the vehicle over the total-loss threshold, a customer may choose to retain the vehicle with the understanding there is a risk to its value and durability that comes with a taped-off aperture.
“For so long, [our industry has] treated the customer like they’re ignorant and don’t know anything about their vehicle,” he said. “We take care of the vehicle, and what we’ve been looking out for is our own wallet.”
Get the customer involved
Brad Buck, owner of The Collision Company in Kirksville, Mo., started aperture refinishing a few years ago.
Getting paid for aperture refinishing often requires the involvement of the customer, who visits the shop once the damage report is completed so that Buck can explain each line item with them before they sign an authorization to repair. Pushing for the procedure requires a firm belief that it’s the best type of repair, even if it is sometimes viewed as a more “intrusive” repair.
Buck explains to his customers that it’s common for most of his local competition “to mask this off and do a different type of repair, which may leave a tape line, or you may have warranty issues later,” with most customers agreeing the aperture refinish is the best repair.
“The problem with the best repair is that’s typically not what the insurance company is going to reimburse the customer for,” he said. “So you’d better be prepared for how you are going to help the customer get this resolved. When they see you’re making phone calls and sending emails and trying to get the insurance company to do the right thing, then they are a lot more obligated to help you.”
Educate the adjuster
Don Richardson, who owns and operates Pike Collision in Petersburg, Ind., and was an insurance adjuster for 11 years, said adjusters in his rural market have been more receptive to the practice when he takes the time to educate them and is not confrontational. One example, he said, was an estimate written in the field for a Ford Focus quarter panel repair, but with nothing figured for the doorjambs. Richardson tore down the car, wrote a thorough estimate, and called the adjuster — new to Richardson’s shop — to have him come to the shop so he could go over the damage and estimate with him, explaining his estimate was all procedures needed to restore its pre-loss condition, offering to show him the “P” pages prescribing the labor operations and photos of previous jobs where Richardson had performed them.
“So I opened the door and showed him the damage went into the jamb just a little bit. I said, ‘As you see, there’s no stopping point on this panel until we get all the way up front. I know shops will try to cut that clear in, but I’m not going to do it here. I give a lifetime guarantee with my repair, and to do it, this is what I have to do.’ And he rewrote his estimate to match mine, to the penny.”