Wednesday, 30 June 2004 17:00

Concerns about shop certification raised at CIC

Automaker efforts to limit repairs of some of their vehicles to shops that participate in the OEM's shop certification program drew some fire from attendees at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC). 

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Nantau

The discussion came during a session that focused largely on how the automakers get technical repair information to the industry. Most of the companies pointed to their repair information websites and manuals, although Steve Nantau of Ford Motor Company said his company was looking at issuing more press releases with specific repair information and perhaps including more instruction sheets with parts.

"I really think OEConnection is the answer in the long run, where you can get specific repair information that comes with your parts order," Nantau said, referring to the electronic parts ordering system backed by the Big Three automakers.
 

Certification programs

But the automakers on the panel were also asked about their collision repair shop certification programs. The programs vary widely among the OEMs. Toyota and Lexus, for example, certify only dealership body shops, although Toyota's Roger Foss said Toyota is working on requirements for independent shops to join the program, a process likely to begin by late next year.

Audi launched its certification program in 1996, which for now involves only repairs made to its all-aluminum A8 model, in 25 markets in North America. A statement from Audi read at CIC indicated the company is in the early stages of establishing a broader collision repair certification program for both dealer and independent shops.

About half of those A8-certified locations can conduct full structural repairs on the vehicle, while the rest are limited to cosmetic repairs. Audi said it will soon certify 8-10 facilities - including some from those doing only cosmetic repairs - to conduct structural repairs.

All technician training for the program is being done by I-CAR at its technical center in Wisconsin, a fact that raised the ire of Sheila Loftus of the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Auto Body Association, a founding member of I-CAR.

"You're using I-CAR resources to favor dealer networks as opposed to independent repairers," Loftus said to I-CAR's Rick Tuuri, who was moderating the panel discussion. "There's a 'barrier to entry' to get that training."

Tuuri, I-CAR's director of business development and field operations, said that I-CAR classes remain open to everyone in the industry, but that some manufacturers like Audi have outsourced development of their collision repair training to I-CAR.

"An I-CAR training program is, was and always will be available to the industry," Tuuri said. "This is not an I-CAR program that's only available to the manufacturer. This is I-CAR developing training or repair procedures specific to a make and model for a manufacturer."

Automakers limit sale of certain parts

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Sherry
But a bigger concern for some shop owners at CIC was the fact that some automakers limit sale of certain replacement parts to its certified shops, a practice those shops say borders on restraint of trade.
Bob Sherry, supervisor of collision and wholesale parts for Mercedes-Benz, said his company now has 62 certified collision repair facilities - both dealership and independent shops - in the Unite
"However there is a flag process that if one of, I think, six structural items for the CL is ordered, it sets off a chain of events and our field team is notified," Sherry said. "At which time they would speak to the customer and recommend that the car be repaired at a trained and authorized facility."
Bill Larkin, service equipment and technical publications manager for Jaguar and Land Rover, said his company has a similar process for the sale of certain structural parts to shops that are not among its 200 certified Jaguar shops.
d States for its CL model and plans to add 40 more by year's end. He said the company doesn't restrict sales of any parts to just those shops.
California Autobody Association President Kelly Swenson, owner of Carty's Collision Center in Ontario, California, blasted this type of program, saying it may actually decrease the chances that proper repairs are made.

"I think you're going to get shops that are afraid to order those parts because they don't want the car taken out of their facility or steered away from them, so maybe they end up repairing the car improperly just because of the way you are setting up your system," Swenson said. "So you're actually shooting yourselves in the foot and doing the industry and your customer a disservice because you're steering work away from the shops that are trying to do the right thing. So I'd ask you to please reevaluate and make your training much more available."

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 Swenson
"However there is a flag process that if one of, I think, six structural items for the CL is ordered, it sets off a chain of events and our field team is notified," Sherry said. "At which time they would speak to the customer and recommend that the car be repaired at a trained and authorized facility."
Bill Larkin, service equipment and technical publications manager for Jaguar and Land Rover, said his company has a similar process for the sale of certain structural parts to shops that are not among its 200 certified Jaguar shops.
The automakers were also asked if they were concerned that limiting the number of shops certified to do the repairs would make the vehicles less insurable. But both Mercedes and Jaguar say they provide towing of the vehicle to the nearest certified facility.
 

Same job, different equipment

Gary Wano, an Oklahoma shop owner, said another downside of the programs is that although the aluminum repair work may be similar among auto makes, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz each requires different brands of tools and equipment to become certified.

The automakers defended their certification programs, saying the uncommon repair practices the vehicles require - and the investment the vehicle- owners have made in the cars - justify efforts to make sure repairs are made by shops with the needed tools and training.

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Other news and discussions at CIC
 

• March Taylor, a Hawaii shop owner and co-chairman of the CIC Estimating Committee, said a recent increase in the problem of fisheyes on the edges of bumper covers painted in shops is likely due to release agent from the unprimed insides of the covers being transferred to the outside edges as the parts are being handled.

• Marty Keller, executive director of the California-based Automotive Repair Coalition, said his organization has a goal of deregulating the automotive aftermarket in that state by 2011. Keller, whose group includes major automotive chains as well as the state's automotive and autobody associations, said California's Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) is unnecessary given the decline in consumer complaints over the past decade.

• The CIC Information Technology Committee reported that rekeying estimates that shops could be receiving electronically from insurers is costing the industry an estimated $17 million or more each year. Based on a survey of 44 shop owners at a previous CIC meeting, the committee believes that about 28 percent of the 9 million auto claims require rekeying of estimates, which takes an average of 21 to 33 minutes per estimate. Assuming a wage of $20 per hour for the shop employees rekeying the estimates, "that basically says there are 2.52 million estimates that are rekeyed each year by body shops, costing a minimum of $17.64 million," Cindy Schnier, co-chairman of the committee, said. For more information, see the committee's presentation notes at www.ciclink.com.

• Employment law attorney Cory King provided information related to workers' compensation, disability and family leave claims. He said employers can help protect themselves against Americans with Disabilities claims, for example, by making sure job descriptions are accurate and include such "intangible job functions" as the abilities to: appear for work on time, follow directions from supervisors, interact successfully with co-workers, understand and follow posted work rules and procedures, and accept constructive criticism.

• The National Auto Body Council (NABC) raised $1,500 at CIC by selling American flag pins to attendees. The money will be donated to a children's hospital in Washington, D.C. The NABC is asking those attending CIC in Chicago August 4-5 to bring old cell phones that will be donated to non-profit groups that make them available to battered women for 911- emergency calls.

John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore., who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988.
 
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