ABN: What have you learned about the job that you didn’t know initially within your first two months in the position?
PD: As Deputy Chief, my focus was the administration of the Smog Check Program. Since my appointment as Chief, I have learned more about BAR’s other programs and objectives that are aimed at ensuring a fair and competitive automotive repair marketplace for California consumers. I’ve also learned that we have a great number of qualified and professional people her at the BAR that are committed to promoting consumer protection and the automotive repair industry. I’m honored to work with these individuals and appreciate their dedication to maintaining BAR’s mission and values. Lastly, I’ve learned that although our stakeholders come from varying perspectives, we all share in the same objective –to provide consumers with quality automotive repair services.
ABN: In this position, you’re overseeing 600 people; an annual operating budget of approximately $200 million and a statewide network of 12 field offices. It’s an enormous responsibility, so where do you begin? Are you planning on making significant changes and if so, what will they be?
PD: I was involved in the development of BAR’s current Strategic Plan, which identifies our organization’s goals and objectives for the next four years. This plan provides an effective framework that I will follow to oversee and uphold the services and programs we provide and to make any necessary improvements or changes. I believe in the old adage if it ain't broke, don’t fix it. We have a solid plan to follow and we will make adjustments as necessary to reflect the interests of consumers and other stakeholders. I also believe in surrounding yourself with good people and hiring dedicated staff to get the job done right. I used this approach when appointing Dan Povey as Deputy Chief of Field Operations and Enforcement and will do the same to fill the vacancies for Deputy Chief of Smog Check Operations and Deputy Chief of Consumer Assistance, Licensing and Administrative Support Programs.
ABN: When I talk to body shops in California, they feel like many illegal operators stay off your radar and thereby continue to do shady work. How would you respond to this claim?
PD: This issue is something we continue to address, but we can’t do it alone. We encourage any shop that suspects unlicensed activity to contact their local BAR field office and report their concerns so we can investigate these issues.
ABN: Midnight Body Shops who aren’t licensed and operating under the radar still seem to exist in considerable numbers, according to body shop owners I’ve polled. How has the BAR dealt with shady shops and how can they be stopped?
PD: BAR utilizes two enforcement paths for unregistered shops. First, regulations for issuing citations took effect in October 2011, and BAR regularly issues citations to unlicensed facilities under this authority. Second, BAR continuously fosters relationships with district attorneys throughout the state in an effort to create support for criminal and civil filings against unlicensed facilities.
In addition, BAR is exploring an industry suggestion to require in regulation that providers of automotive repair services publish their registration numbering all advertisements. This will further enhance BAR’s ability to identify those who are engaged in unlicensed activity.
ABN: When you’re encountering shops breaking the law, how are they normally doing it? And is it true that most of your consumer complaints deal with mechanical (rather than collision) issues?
PD: The most common auto body violation is failure to provide the parts or services specified on the invoice. When looking at all auto repair complaint trends, the majority of complaints received by BAR involve mechanical issues. BAR categorizes complaints by component or the type of repair. Examples of this are Auto Body, Engine Repair, and Automatic Transmission. The greatest percentage of complaints received fall under these categories.
ABN: Both of your predecessors tried to create a BAR that is a kinder and gentler organization. What is going to be your approach to enforcement?
PD: It’s all about balance and creating an open line of communication with our registrants and licensees. We will educate those who are trying to do the right thing to ensure they are in compliance. We will also exercise our enforcement authority for those who are deliberately harming the consumer or trying to circumvent the law, and thereby undermining the operations of those who truly want to comply. I will ensure that our enforcement team has the tools and resources they need to appropriately address these issues.
ABN: BAR’s Auto Body Inspection program has gained a lot of exposure and I’ve received positive reports about it from people within the collision industry. How many inspections did the BAR conduct in 2013 and do you plan to make any changes to it in 2014?
PD: In 2013, BAR conducted 104 no-cost auto body inspections. Since BAR’s highest priority is to protect the public, we have set a goal to create greater awareness of our consumer programs and to promote increased participation in the Auto Body Inspection Program (Program). To meet this goal, BAR, with the assistance of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), recently released a YouTube video to highlight the Program’s services. The video has been posted on various social media sites and is available on BAR’s Web site at: www.autorepair.ca.gov.
ABN: Of the nearly 15,000 complaints received every year, how many of these are collision repair-related and how many of these are acted on?
PD: Auto body related complaints typically account for approximately 10% of all complaints BAR receives. BAR investigates all complaints received and contacts the consumer to document their concerns and obtain the final invoice before performing an inspection of the vehicle. BAR addresses any deficiencies identified during the inspection with the shop that performed the repairs.
ABN: What are your top three priorities overall?
PD: Consumer protection is always paramount. We need to get back to the basics of what we do well, which is promoting and protecting the interests of California consumers. Over the past few years, our efforts have been focused on several side projects that have diverted our attention from our main objectives. We will renew our consumer focus and ensure the success of our programs, which include the Auto Body Inspection Program and the rollout of the new On-Board Diagnostic Inspection System (OIS).
Collaboration is also a top priority. BAR does not have all the answers on the best methods for consumer protection and proper regulation of the automotive repair industry. We want to work with all stakeholders, including those inside and outside of our organization, to continue to be a leader in the automotive repair industry. To do this, we have also prioritized communication and consistency. We strive for regulatory consistency and want to do government in a way where all parties have a voice and can participate.
ABN: Another of your predecessor’s stated goals was to embrace the technologies available to you to be more effective, including updating your Web site and using the Internet/Intranet to more effectively communicate and disseminate relevant information more quickly. How will you continue in this area and what changes are you planning technologically?
PD: The BAR uses various approaches to disseminate program specific and general information, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, news releases, Webcasts, regulatory workshops, public meetings, publications, and mailing lists. Our public Web site is the most effective and comprehensive source used to communicate information to consumers, licensees, and interested parties. Information provided to consumers includes on-line services to find Smog Check stations and automotive repair dealers and to verify the status of licenses and registrations, Smog Check and vehicle maintenance assistance, outreach and educational information, and dispute resolution and complaint reporting materials. Web tools provided to Smog Check technicians, lamp and brake adjustors, and stations include information on licensing, training, and program updates.
A complete revision to our public Web site is currently underway and is planned for release in mid-2014. The revised Web site will be more user-friendly for both consumers and industry and will include relevant and up-to-date information about BAR programs. The Web site will feature a cleaner look-and-feel and will have a consumer focus to ensure that important information is easily accessible and understood by the general public.
The BAR is also considering electronic certificates for lamp and brake inspections. This process is still under consideration and would replace the current paper certificate with an electronic certificate similar to those issued for Smog Check inspections.