Tuesday, 31 October 2006 17:00

SCRS state affiliate groups meet

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In October, the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) gathered representatives from more than a dozen of its affiliate associations across the country to exchange ideas and information on their groups' accomplishments and key issues. 

The goal, according to SCRS Executive Director Dan Risley, was to strengthen communication among SCRS' national leadership and the affiliate groups.

The event, which was held at I-CAR's new headquarters west of Chicago, also included presentations by automakers and other representatives that generally focused on emerging vehicle and repair technologies. I-CAR and the National Auto Body Council (NABC) provided updates on recent activities to the association executives and board presidents, and Illinois attorney Pat McGuire offered a presentation on issues related to differences between first- and third-party insurance claims.

But the bulk of the two-day meeting was devoted to presentations by each SCRS affiliate group. Each group was asked to bring to the meeting a list of the top three issues facing the association and its members. National SCRS Chairman Tom Moreland said he was surprised that several issues - including some he had not heard a lot about at national industry events - rose to the top of nearly every affiliate group's list.

"We're not just going to assemble that information into some spreadsheet," Moreland told the affiliate group representatives at the event. "You have my commitment that [the national SCRS] board will take the top ones and try to find out what we can do from a national level about them."

State association legislative efforts

Much of the discussion at the event centered around state association legislative efforts - some successful, others not.

Jim Siegfried, president of the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP) of Minnesota, for example, said the 600-member association had successfully lobbied for a new state law that allows air bag replacement costs to be excluded from total loss evaluations. If the cost to repair a vehicle other than airbag replacement costs is below the total loss threshold, the car can be repaired without the title being branded.

"At our shop, we've had at least a handful of cars in the last year that this has saved," said Siegfried, co-owner of Crystal Lake Automotive, a collision and mechanical repair shop in Lakeville, Minnesota.

Risley pointed out that the results of similar legislation enacted in Missouri in 2004 are a little mixed. That's why SCRS affiliates considering this or other legislation should contact their counterparts in other states to learn what has worked and what hasn't, Risley said.

Siegfried said AASP-Minnesota has a $25,000-a-year lobbyist on retainer, and the association's other recent legislative victory was passage of a bill requires insurers to use a specific word track designed to reduce steering of consumers to particular collision repair shops.

The legislation, which went into effect in August of 2005, requires insurers to tell vehicle-owners, "Minnesota law gives you the right to choose a repair shop to fix your vehicle. Your policy will cover the reasonable costs to repair your vehicle to pre-accident condition no matter where you have your vehicle repairs made."

Vehicle owners, Siegfried said, are then supposed to be asked if they have chosen a repair shop or if they would like a referral.

"After an insured has indicated they have selected a repair shop, the insurer must cease all efforts to influence the insurer's or claimant's choice of repair shop," Siegfried said.

The difficulty, he said, has been in enforcing the regulation, although the association conducts surveys of consumers in an effort to determine if insurers are using the word track.

Siegfried said another recent Minnesota law, which was backed by credit unions, prohibits a shop from charging for more than 15 days of storage for a vehicle unless any lienholder on that vehicle has been notified that storage is accruing.

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Potential lack of enforcement

Max Yates, president of the Montana Collision Repair Specialists, said that much like AASP-Minnesota, his group is concerned about a potential lack of enforcement for legislation it pushed for successfully. As of October of 2005, insurers with direct repair programs in Montana are required to open those programs to any shop that meets the program's criteria. Some insurers, such as Allstate and Farmers, have complied, Yates said; others appear to be "dragging their feet."

"The problem we have now is we don't know how sharp the teeth [in the law] are," Yates said.

Similarly, recent legislation in Virginia prohibiting third-party administrators from conducting "desk reviews" or audits of claims without physically inspecting a vehicle has not eliminated the problem. Torchy Chandler, chairman of the 120-member Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA), said the group has had better luck helping enact legislation that allows Virginia shops to collect sales tax on paint and materials; previously, shops paid the tax when purchasing these items, but weren't allowed to collect sales tax from customers.

Jim Thompson, chairman of the three-year-old Iowa Collision Repair Association, said his group would be contacting WMABA because Iowa shops face a similar situation with regard to paying but not collecting sales tax. He said the state's Department of Revenue supports the shops' call for a change - which will enable the state to collect more sales tax based on the retail prices charged - but that it requires a change by the legislature, which could be a challenge, given the 65-member association's limited finances.

Unsuccessful efforts

Two groups, the WMABA and the Wisconsin Auto Collision Technicians Association, Ltd. (WACTAL), said recent efforts to pass anti-steering or "consumer choice" bills in Maryland and Wisconsin, respectively, were unsuccessful. Sue Peterson, the executive director of WACTAL, said the group plans to try again in 2007, and is currently holding informal meetings between shops and legislators, as well as planning a legislative lobbying day at the state capitol next February.

"I think our effort to address the steering issue really helped in gaining some new members, because they could actually see that our organization is doing something." Peterson said, adding that a recent direct mail campaign asking shops to join resulted in the addition of 11 new WACTAL members.

Increasing association membership

Indeed, increasing association membership and participation was another focus of discussion at the SCRS event. Ray Fisher of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) of Michigan said five "Gold Seal Certified" auto recyclers in his state offer shops coupons based on their purchases that can cover some or even all the cost of the shops' dues to belong to ASA-Michigan.

As in Wisconsin, the Massachusetts Auto Body Association (MABA) recently sent a letter to every shop in that state explaining why they should belong to the association. The $600 cost of the mailing was picked up by an industry vendor who was highlighted as the sponsor. Steve Regan, a communication consultant for MABA, said the group gained 12 new members, and plans to conduct similar sponsored mailings quarterly.

Regan said MABA is also assisting with a Collision Industry Conference effort to collect and compare insurer-written initial estimates on vehicle to the final repair bills for those vehicles.

"We're going to take this information, bring it to the media, and show individuals that unless they take their car to a body shop, they are not getting full value on their claim," Regan said. "This helps gets cars into shops."

Regan said MABA is also pursuing lawsuits and other efforts to ensure the state's Department of Insurance and Attorney General enforce anti-steering and other existing state regulations.

Other associations represented at the SCRS event included the Oregon-based Northwest Automotive Trades Association, the Georgia Collision Industry Association, the Indiana Auto Body Association, the Jacksonville (Fla.) Collision Repair Educational Foundation, the Oklahoma Auto Body Association, and SCRS of Missouri and Kansas.

SCRS' Moreland and Risley said surveys of attendees at the first-of-its-kind event were generally very positive, and that the national association plans to hold similar gatherings for its 34 state and regional affiliates on a regular basis.

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

 

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