Oliver Woelfel says conducting weld tests prior to welding on a vehicle is an important step in the process.Jason Scharton says even if a shop can’t pull apart pieces that have been welded or weld-bonded together as a test prior to repairs, they can be cut apart for visual inspection.

Survey reveals some shops may not be performing necessary repair steps

Shops get paid for procedures others either don’t do or don’t charge for

Las Vegas—Speakers at a Society of Collision Repair panel discussion on automaker joining techniques, during SEMA in November, made a strong case for the importance of doing test welds prior to a technician’s welding on a vehicle.

“Make 100 percent sure you’re using the right wire, the right welding machine, the right application, whether you’ve removed the coating if you have to — all those things,” Oliver Woelfel, president of Advanced Collision Repair Solutions, said. “Look for the penetration, look for the heat ring around it. Some of the manufacturers in Europe are saying the heat ring or the discoloration of the metal around the weld can only be x number of millimeters.”

Jason Scharton, business development manager for 3M Automotive OEM, agreed. “It’s important to do that test weld to make sure the settings are right,” he said. “You can see that it looks good, then cut it in half to see that you have good penetration. It’s still a very important best practice to be doing those test welds for machine setup.”

Recommendations such as those are part of what concerns industry trainer and consultant Mike Anderson of Collision Advice when he looks at the findings of one of the quarterly “Who Pays For What?” surveys he is conducting. Of 20 different “not-included” repair operations covered in one such survey, “set up and perform destructive test welds” was one of the procedures for which shops most often said they “never asked” to be paid. In fact, only 6 percent of shops said they are “always” paid for the operation, while 81.3 percent said they “never” ask to be paid for it.

That makes Anderson question whether shops are even doing the vitally important procedure.

“A proper weld involves so many factors – such as the correct type of welder, at the correct settings, with the correct wire, and the correct gas mixture – that it is nearly impossible to tell if the settings are correct without first performing destructive test welds,” Anderson said. “In fact, many OEMs require it in their repair procedures. Toyota, for example, states that weld strength ‘must be validated [by] performing destructive testing.’”

Anderson said he has seen repaired cars with welds that could be popped loose simply by prying them with a screwdriver.

“That is a scary situation that could have been avoided if the welder settings were first verified by completing a destructive test weld,” he said. “Obviously, you should never charge for something you aren’t doing, but this crucial step needs to be done. The future safety of the car owner may well depend on it.”

Similarly, Anderson’s survey focusing on frame and mechanical operations found that just under 61 percent of shops said they are paid “always” or “most of the time” for removing coatings from pinchwelds prior to mounting the vehicle on a frame machine.

“In my opinion, that 61 percent should be 100 percent,” Anderson said. “I have not found any vehicle manufacturer or any frame equipment company that says it’s okay to secure a fixture clamp to pinchwelds without first removing all undercoating and seam sealer. If this isn’t done, it increases the likelihood that the vehicle can slip when you are pulling it, causing further damage or adversely impacting the accuracy of the measurements. So those coatings need to be removed in order to perform a proper and safe repair.”

The survey found that State Farm and USAA appear to understand the need for removing coatings from pinchwelds better than other insurers; more than 80 percent of their DRP shops report being paid “always” or “most of the time” to perform the procedure, compared to less than 55 percent of Progressive and Geico DRP shops.

“I would encourage anyone who is not being paid for this to research it through the OEMs, I-CAR, or frame equipment companies to ask if it is okay to mount a fixture clamp over a pinchweld covered with undercoating or seam sealer,” Anderson said. “They will find that the answer is a clear ‘No.’ Shops need to understand that their technicians must be doing this.”

Anderson has conducted three “Who Pays For What?” surveys, covering refinishing procedures, frame and mechanical procedures and, most recently, aluminum rates and sublet markup. The fourth survey will be conducted in January.

Each of the surveys is generating responses from an average of more than 800 shops. Anderson said he believes that makes it the most comprehensive look at shop billing and insurer payment practices ever conducted. Shops that complete a survey receive the results at no charge; others can get more information about the results of the first three surveys at www.CollisionAdvice.com/survey.

In addition to asking about individual repair operations, the surveys have revealed a variety of other interesting information. For example:

• Decades after standards enabled the export and sharing of electronic estimate data regardless of the estimating system used, more than a third of collision repair facilities still use more than one estimating system. Just 5.5 percent of shops reported having three estimating systems installed, but 30.2 percent said they use two different systems.

• There are some inexplicable regional differences in billing and reimbursement practices. For instance, 41.6 percent of shops on the West Coast say they are “always” paid for protecting disconnected air-conditioning lines (to prevent entry of moisture and contaminants), while only 6.8 percent of shops in the South say they are “always” paid for the same operation. There is little to explain that kind of difference for a repair operation that is commonly done in both the collision and mechanical repair industries, Anderson said.

• Of the 46 different “not-included” repair operations covered in the first two surveys, there is only one — in one U.S. region —  that no shop indicated it charges for. Some shops across the country (primarily in the colder Northeast) add an energy surcharge for paint booth fuel; however, none of the responding shops in the Southern region say they charge for that.

“But other than that, the surveys found that for 45 of the ‘not-included’ procedures, shops in every region in the country are getting paid by insurers,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to look at these survey findings and believe that you’re ‘the only one.’”

Parts & People

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.