Collision repairs without OEM procedures have become a thing of past

Repair recommendations and requirements can differ from each manufacturer

Atlanta—One after another, speakers at a recent roundtable discussion rattled off examples of vehicles with model-specific repair requirements from the automakers: from a mainstream vehicle on which MIG brazing must be used rather than spot welding, to Mercedes-Benz rivets that when installed properly display the automaker’s logo on the rivet head.

Panelist Steve Marks, industry technical support manager for I-CAR, was among those cautioning repairers against repairing any vehicle without first checking for the latest OEM repair procedures.

“I won’t say that it’s not possible, but it should never be done,” Marks said at the event, sponsored by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS., in Atlanta this spring.

He said knowing how to repair one automaker’s aluminum vehicle, for example, doesn’t mean a technician knows how a different automaker wants its vehicles repaired.

“There are situations and recommendations and requirements from one manufacturer that do not apply to another,” Marks said.

Mark Allen, a collision programs and workshop equipment specialist for Audi of America, concurred.

“On our cars, we do not suggest any pulling on heat-treated aluminum,” Allen said. “It’s not acceptable. It will cause cracks. I’m not going to tell you how to fix a Mercedes or a Ford. They can tell you what their procedures are. Heating it to 500 degrees might work OK on some other automakers’ aluminum, but I have to tell you on Audi aluminum, you don’t do that. So know your materials. Look at the manufacturer repair procedures.”

Changes happening quickly

Panelist Ken Boylan, research and specifications manager for Chief Automotive Technologies, said automaker changes are coming too quickly to presume that one model has much in common with another. He cites a new A-pillar design one automaker is working on.

“It’s made out of folded metal,” Boylan said. “The reason for that is the A-pillar is a blind spot for the driver, so the smaller that A-pillar is, the better the visibility. However, when that vehicle gets hit and the forces of the accident go up through that A-pillar, because it’s a folded metal, it expands to twice its size and twice its rigidity. Those are the kind of technologies we’re going to be seeing on vehicles.”

He said laser welding is another example of where an untrained technician without OEM repair information can botch repairs.

“It looks like the perfect spot to cut something, but no one recommends cutting where that laser weld was,” Boylan said. “With laser welding joining two pieces of metal, that weld can go only a quarter of the way through the bottom piece, halfway through, or three-quarters of the way through even a very thin piece of steel. We haven’t seen anything like that when it comes to precision on a vehicle.”

Boylan said he has done some expert witness work and has seen shops pay the price for their lack of necessary OEM repair information and training. In a recent case, he said, a shop improperly sectioned the high-strength steel A- and B-pillars on a BMW.

“That was a $40,000 repair on an $80,000 car, and the shop ended up having to buy the car back,” Boylan said. “Why? Because they sectioned it in the wrong place using the wrong procedure. If you don’t have the manufacturer’s recommended procedures and the ability to do it, I tell people don’t do it. You don’t have to take every job in.”

Health and safety concerns

Panelist Dave Gruskos, president of Reliable Automotive Equipment, said another key reason to follow OEM repair recommendations — for not only procedures but also training, equipment, and even your facility — is the health and safety of employees. He cited the example of using a rivet gun on Boron steel.

“You might be putting 8,000 or 9,000 pounds of pressure on a 6-mm tip,” Gruskos said. “Should the tip break, it’s now a projectile. So people need to be trained properly and have the proper safety equipment.”

The smoke and fumes created from drilling or welding complex steels or adhesives can also be unhealthy, requiring specific types of fume extraction and filtering, Gruskos said.

I-CAR’s Marks said all those kinds of concerns have helped much of the industry move away from an attitude of, “I’ve been fixing cars for 30 years and I don’t need any stinkin’ procedures.”

“We’ve gone from that into finally having the realization that because of specialized materials and construction, and the differences between manufacturers, we absolutely need OEM information,” Marks said.

Access to information

Collision shops have a variety of sources for OEM repair information. Each of the automakers operates information websites (which can be accessed through www.OEM1stop.com), and each of the Big Three estimating system providers offers access to OEM information, as do subscription services such as AllData.

One of the newest sources for such OEM procedures – or at least information on where to find them – is free to users: I-CAR’s Repairability Technical Support Portal (https://rts.i-car.com). Can’t seem to find sectioning procedures for a particular vehicle, for example? The information may already be posted at the portal, but if it isn’t, the Ask I-CAR feature allows users to email or call I-CAR with a technical question for which they haven’t been able to find an answer.

“We will tell them if there is a procedure available or not, and if the information is publicly available, we will supply it to them,” Marks said.

If the procedure is not available, I-CAR will attempt to get information from the automaker. If the procedure is available but only through the fee-based website operated by the automaker, Marks said, I-CAR will refer the person asking the question to that site.

By posting all responses to the website in a searchable database, Marks said, I-CAR hopes to answer many questions without someone needing to use the phone or email.

In the first six months after the portal was launched, I-CAR said it received 75,000 hits and 914 Ask I-CAR inquiries.

“Apparently we’re filling a need,” I-CAR CEO John Van Alstyne said. “There’s demand for this information and we’re happy to see that.”

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Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.