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Evolution of auto body repair: Changes, challenges and what’s next

Thursday, December 28, 2017 - 08:00
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Collision repair always seems to have a “hot topic.” Two years ago, everyone was talking about aluminum. Last year, it was scanning. Now, it’s all about the make-up of vehicles and increased advancement in telematics.

My brother, Johnny, and I own an auto body shop just south of San Francisco. The way that we run our shop has significantly changed and, as the technology evolves, it’s more important than ever that we stay one step ahead.

Recruit a team that is both qualified and technical

With an emphasis on research and knowing the exact anatomy of a vehicle – which can include automatic parking; parking sensor; front-rear-passenger side or 360-degree cameras; millimeter wave sensors; adaptive cruise control; blind spot safety warning; convenience keys; door chimes, lane assist down to pressure warnings; back-up cameras and sensors – you need to be thoroughly acquainted with a vehicle before you can disassemble it.

On a regular basis, my shop receives a wide range of vehicles. For example, a customer will bring in a 2017 Honda Accord, loaded, with sensors on the rear bumpers and a camera on the right-hand mirror. Then, another customer will drop off a brand new Subaru with a multi-purpose camera in the windshield. Next comes in a German vehicle with another set of sensors, completely different than the Honda and Subaru.

The hunt is on for information as each model needs to be individually researched. You can start with the vehicle identification number but, more often than not, it’s not enough. It’s going to require a phone call to the parts vendor to have them go through the options. There could be rain sensors on the wipers or something behind the grill that you may not know about. Each vehicle needs to be thoroughly researched as part of the standard routine. It completely changes the qualifications of your estimators and even your technicians. The repair planner or back-end estimator has to properly research all the required repair steps involved and provide that information to repair team.

Develop a process and write everything down

Document any extra steps that might be required to ensure accuracy of the repair. Will you need to disconnect the battery? If that’s the case, a test drive could be needed to recalibrate the windshield-mounted cameras that detect the street lanes.  The best way to keep procedures consistent is to construct a playbook. Write the steps down from the start of the repair – the research – down to handing the keys back to the customer. It is vital to reference the OEM procedures.

A vehicle is a safety device designed to take you from point A to point B. Once you touch that vehicle, you are invested in this repair. There’s no excuse for something going wrong.

Become involved in the industry

The question remains: “Are collision shops prepared for the changes ahead?” We stand united here and the best thing we can do as shop owners is to become involved in the industry and remain updated on all changes as they are released. The best way to do this is through association meetings, I-CAR training and by pursuing relevant certifications.

There’s also a technological awareness to acknowledge from a broad scope. Model specific, there needs to be a defined methodology to help plan a vehicle’s repair. Shop owners should be privy to the resources available on the makers’ websites,, I-CAR’s Repairability Technical Support Portal and ALLDATA — just to name a few. You can get the data you need from these sites to efficiently repair the vehicle.

Enforce stringent quality control

When it comes to the safety of your customers, there’s no such thing as being too careful. Recently, we hired a trained technician from a general repair background who is educated and proficient at trouble-shooting. He’s really been a huge asset to our quality control because he offers a different perspective. As cars become more complex, it’s important that everything is consistent from both a mechanical and electronical standpoint.

Embrace Technology

Soon telematics will hugely impact the way that we service a car and how we bring in new customers. When a person is in accident, it’s the car maker that plugs in directly to the driver: “We have a certified repair shop located 2 miles from here and we can arrange for a tow. Would you like for us to do that at no charge?” Before the insurance companies or anyone else, it’s the OEM that makes first contact.

The bottom line is that car makers have a vested interested in ensuring the vehicles are repaired correctly and they influence who can have access to the necessary parts. As the industry becomes more sophisticated, I think it’s moving in the direction of specialization. There is so much information out there and a strong emphasis on the various certifications. If we are not ready to take it all in and embrace the changes, it’s going to be tough to survive.

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