OEM repair procedures can change ‘overnight,’ techs must remain diligent in training
Altoona, Iowa—Wayne Krause doesn’t fix collision-damaged vehicles for a living, but he’s well aware of the importance of checking OEM repair procedures every time on every vehicle.
As manager of editorial content at Mitchell International, Krause said Mitchell labor times are based on OEM procedures, which he reviews as labor times for a new vehicle being developed. He’s seen many instances of those procedures changing, so technicians can’t presume that they know the procedures for a type of vehicle they’ve repaired before.
“I’ll come in, open up my procedures for that front door I was working on the day before, and start re-reading the OEM procedures and think, ‘What the hell just happened?’ They changed overnight,” Krause said. “They are constantly updating their information on these newer vehicles and newer technology. So current data is paramount in our industry right now.”
Krause was speaking as part of a panel discussion at the Midwest Autobody Trade Show, in Altoona, Iowa, in early February. Panel moderator Lou DiLisio added that checking OEM procedures should be done before a vehicle is even assigned to a technician.
“If we don’t know the procedures that are required to repair that vehicle, how do we know whether or not the technician is capable of doing it,” DiLisio said.
Panelist Tom McGee, of Spanesi Americas, said there’s too much variation now in vehicle materials and joining technologies to assume repair methods are consistent from vehicle to vehicle. He said that within a one-foot square area on a Chevrolet Bolt, for example, there is 1,300-megapascal steel, MIG welds, resistance spot welds, silicon bronze welds and adhesive.
“If you don’t know what the material [and joining methods] are, you can’t figure out even what equipment you need.”
Pre- and post-repair scanning of vehicles
Panelists also emphasized the need to follow automaker procedures related to pre- and post-repair scanning of vehicles. Ford, for example, will soon begin offering drivers of many of its 2000-2016 vehicles a “SmartLink” device that, similar to the smartphone app being offered by Hyundai, will allow drivers to locate or remote start the vehicle – and have access to diagnostic trouble code-triggered alerts. Those alerts may include trouble codes caused by an accident.
“If a shop isn’t scanning the car, they don’t even know what the customer, the owner of that vehicle, knows,” panelist Lisa Brown, of Collision Diagnostic Services, said. “When you return the vehicle back to the customer, are they going to see something you didn’t know because you didn’t check it before it left?”
The panelists noted that scanning is required to ensure the increasing number of vehicle safety systems will function properly for the driver. Mark Olson, of Vehicle Collision Experts, said he recently had to explain to his brother in law that his 2017 vehicle wasn’t allowing him to change lanes because he hadn’t activated the turn signal to indicate — to the vehicle’s lane-departure system, as well as to other drivers — that he wasn’t unintentionally changing lanes.
“When people rely on that kind of stuff, if it doesn’t work [after a repair] and they change lanes into somebody, where’s the liability?” Olson said.
OEM training is paramount
He said training has to go hand in hand with the OEM repair processes. He recommends getting the training required by OEM shop certification programs, even if the shop isn’t getting certified. He pointed to Honda’s requirement for using a particular type of welding wire.
“One of the biggest problems is that technicians don’t even know to ask for that,” Olson said. “Access to this information is super easy. It’s not like the stuff is not out there. It’s an online I-CAR class. If you’re fixing Hondas, you should be taking their classes whether you’re certified or not.”
McGee agreed that just having the right equipment in the shop isn’t enough without adequate training.
“You’re spending thousands and thousands of dollars to buy the equipment that’s required to meet these certifications,” he said. “So I would encourage you as you’re selecting vendors that you make sure they are capable of providing your current staff, as well as your future staff, the proper equipment training. Most of the equipment I see that’s not being used in shops is because the technician who was trained on it left and nobody else knows how to use it.”
Proper repairs are moral imperative
The panel was asked how shops can ensure they are adequately compensated for following OEM repair procedures. Several panelists noted the need for documenting the steps taken. Krause said that Mike Anderson’s “Who Pays for What?” surveys frequently indicate that large percentages of shops are not asking to be paid for procedures for which other shops are being paid for regularly.
But Olson also said shops can’t use compensation issues as an excuse for not doing a proper and complete repair.
“We’ve got to do it,” Olson said. “If we get paid for it, great. If we don’t, that’s a whole other business conversation. Fixing the car is the right thing; let’s deal with dollars after that. We can’t sacrifice a life, can’t compromise the quality of the repair, for economics.”
Aluminum repairs a niche service
Also during the trade show, John Yoswick, of CRASH Network, discussed a number of trends within the industry, including the increased use of aluminum by the automakers. He cited aluminum industry estimates that of the approximately 2.8 million aluminum-intensive vehicles (such as the Ford F-150 or Audi 8) currently on U.S. roads, about 114,000 of them will likely need collision repair this year. If there are about 4,600 “aluminum-ready” collision repair shops, that equates to an average of just 25 jobs per shop this year.
Yoswick said that is expected to increase in the coming years, but even by 2020, there likely will still be an average of fewer than 40 aluminum-intensive repair jobs per shop annually. He said those estimates are important for shops to keep in mind as they determine what labor rate to charge for aluminum repair work in order to earn an adequate return on their investment in becoming aluminum-ready.