In our collision repair industry a few phrases have been used and abused to the point of almost becoming a standing joke. The most classic is the phrase, “you’re the only one.” It’s been typically used by insurance representatives when negotiating with repairers indicating that they are the only ones charging for any given procedure, typically implying that all other repairers do the operation for free as a cost of doing business or consider it included in something else, even though the estimating p-pages indicate that it is a non-included item. Of course repairers came to realize that in many cases they are NOT the only one charging for it and that the insurer is simply using the phrase in a deceptive way to avoid paying for the operation. In fact, the phrase became such a common point of discussion that some years ago at a major trade event many repairers were wearing buttons that said, “I’m the only one!”
I fear we may have a similar phrase coming into prominence and that it may too be lacking in credibility in its recent use. The phrase is “case-by-case basis.” Many articles have been written about the adherence to Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) repair procedures, including their position statements, and there have been many recent panel discussions on the topic at industry events like NACE Automechanika Chicago and CIC. I am sensing that there is an echo chamber effect of insurers stating that they are looking at approving of the procedures, especially pre- and post-repair scans, on a “case-by-case basis.” Of course the approval of the procedure typically includes approval of payment for it. Before you think this is an insurer-only issue, it must be acknowledged that some repairers are taking a similar approach regarding the procedures as well. Many are also commonly using the phrase, “We are still gathering information.” Let’s take a closer look at the issue.
Some internet sources define the phrase as considering each case individually rather than considering several cases together as a whole or free from external control and constraint; "an independent mind’" "a series of independent judgments;" "fiercely independent individualism." Another said, “Used to describe decisions that are made separately, each according to the facts of the particular situation.”
Of course when using the phrase “case-by-case basis” regarding whether or not to consider the viability of an auto OEM procedure, there is a clear implication of questioning the necessity of the procedure, which can also imply there is a questioning of the motives of the OEM. It can even call into question the integrity of the OEM.
Let’s consider some common examples. One major manufacturer directs our industry to not repair aluminum wheels, but instead to only replace damaged ones with new original equipment (OE) replacement wheels. Another has stated we shouldn’t perform paintless dent repairs. Many OEMs say that we should only use new parts. If anyone in a position of determining repair methodology were to consider questioning these OEM directives on a “case-by-case basis,” how would one do it? Presumably one could look at wheels, perhaps including measurement of how much straightening and welding and machining would be required to consider the structural difference in the wheel. One could look at past history of similar repairs and consider information from professional wheel repairers. There are methods to check for cracks and run out. In terms of PDR work, one could inspect the backside of panels to consider corrosion protection issues and look for exterior paint damage. Alternative parts decisions include consideration of used part condition or certification of aftermarket parts or past experience or perhaps even a fit test. At the very least, a casual inspection of alternative parts allows one to assist in making judgments before installing the part.
You cannot deny that in these common examples use of the OEM procedure offers a dependable and predictable solution, though it may be more costly. Using information as I described, one could also argue that the alternative methods may offer a reasonable repair solution that could offer similar appearance and function as the OEM procedure for less expense. We all know these alternatives are used commonly with presumably good success. We can use our knowledge of the alternative repair methodology, our knowledge of similar situations, and the specific circumstances to make a “case-by-case basis” decision on how to proceed. I am not saying our decision will necessarily be the best one, and may be not even a good one, but if nothing else we have information to base our decision on.
Now let’s approach the case of deviating from an OEM scan procedure. Many OEMs mandate a pre- and post-repair scan for ALL collision repairs. Some give a date range, such as 2004 or newer. Some don’t, implying that all vehicles of their brand should be scanned regardless of age. However, we know that OBDII was mandated in 1996 so our ability to scan those older than that is limited and in practicality we see very few collision repairs on vehicles that old, so let’s consider newer vehicles. (In 2016, according to CCC, 65.8 percent of collision estimates were written on vehicles 6 years old or newer.) So, can we look at an age exception to deviate from the OEM procedure? If so, at what age? On a 2007 or 2010 or 2013, can you look at it and say with certainty that neither the collision nor the repair process will without doubt NOT cause a diagnostic trouble code (DTC), sometimes referred to as fault codes, to be triggered? Do you have some history or experience or other resource for your judgment to allow you to know that there is no need to scan even though the OEM says you should? How about severity? On a light hit, do you know for certain there will be no DTCs? Many of us in the field are finding circumstances where a simple door trim panel R&I or a bumper R&I will trip fault codes, some indicating a need to re-initiate modules to restart their communication with each other. Some issues from a door trim removal can include sound-system issues, lack of heated steering wheel function, or lack of sun roof function. None of us would have expected such issues in years past. What past experience can we rely on to make exceptions?