Those who were around in the industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s no doubt remember what a transformative period that was. The automakers' widespread adoption of the unibody vehicle changed the collision repair industry dramatically – and not just from a technology aspect.
It led, for example, to a change in the make-up of the industry, with shops specializing in frame repairs giving way to shops equipped to repair unibodies; shops that didn't adapt quickly lost out.
It led to the development of shop management tools and an emphasis on training. During these years, former technicians owning shops (and the vendors they worked with) realized it was going to take business skills – not just technical repair skills – to survive.
And perhaps most importantly it led to the creation of I-CAR, as shops, automakers and insurers realized the repercussions if the industry didn't have the information and training it needed to repair these vehicles properly.
Vehicle technology continued to evolve in the following decades. But I argue that right now the industry is in the midst of a "unibody-like" change, where winners and losers will be determined by how well shops can adapt and get the information they need.
Challenges include new metals, materials and vehicle constructions, new sensors and safety systems, new powertrains and vehicle-specific repair requirements.
Just as unibody training and equipment separated the winners from losers in the industry 30 years ago, I believe use of automaker repair information is already starting to serve as the great divide today. No one will convince me their shop is repairing every vehicle properly and completely if use of automaker repair information isn't incorporated into their process on every job.
Experience may help you do a lot of things right, but there's no way you're not making some (and probably a growing number of) mistakes.
Without access to OEM information, for example, you probably don't know that the back-up parking sensors on some vehicles should never be painted more than once. Without checking Nissan information, you probably don't know that if you remove the center pillar trim panel on a 2008 Versa, it can't be reused.
Those not checking automaker information probably aren't aware that on many Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Kia vehicles you need to perform a zero point calibration (or check the occupant detection sensor) if any one of a number of conditions occur. One of those conditions: After the vehicle has been in an accident.
Anyone welding certain BMWs may not know, if they aren't checking the automaker's information, that welding on their vehicles has to be done with a different gas mixture than is used on most other cars.
There are many of these sorts of examples. So let me say this clearly and emphatically: I do not believe that a shop can properly repair a vehicle today if they do not access and use OEM repair information.
The first bit of good news is that the information is available. Some of the automaker technical information websites, such as Hyundai's (www.hyundaitechinfo.com) and Kia's (www.kiatechinfo.com) are free. Others carry a fee. You can access them all through www.OEMonestop.com.
The second bit of good news is there are other options for accessing the information, through an ALLDATA subscription (I'm a huge fan) or through the increasing integration of the information in the estimating systems. Accessing that data should be part of your process of blueprinting repairs.
And the last bit of good news: These subscriptions can easily pay for themselves. When you know that certain fasteners are one-time-use only, for example, you know you need to include them on your estimate, parts order and invoice. When you know a procedure is required – and have the OEM repair information to prove it – you can get paid for what needs to be done and that you are doing.
The unibody vehicle changed this industry. Shops that didn't evolve quickly, didn't survive. The same is true with access to automaker repair information today. If you don't have it, you're already falling behind and on your way to becoming a dinosaur.
Mike Anderson, a former shop owner, currently operates COLLISIONADVICE.COM, a training and consulting firm. He also acts as a facilitator for DuPont Performance Services' Business Council 20-groups.
If you have a business issue or question you'd like Mike to address, email him. mike@CollisionAdvice.com