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Friday, 07 February 2014 01:44

Montana Repairers Form a Small Association with Big Goals

In the early 1980s, a group of collision repairers in Montana realized “we fight battles on a daily basis in this industry, and it’s better to do battle as a group than on our own,” as described by repairer Bruce Halcro. They formed the Montana Collision Repair Specialists (MCRS) and their current president, Bruce Halcro, describes it as “an awfully active association. We are very involved in training, and we also have a strong legislative agenda.”

 

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Representing members from all over the big sky state, MCRS’s mission is “to provide management and technical training to enhance the professional ability of each individual and improve the quality of the collision repair industry in the State of Montana.”     Halcro expands on this goal, adding the desire to continue to be a voice not only for collision repair facilities in MT but also on a national level, noting “trends in our industry tend to start elsewhere and migrate to more rural areas like MT, so we like to stay abreast of these trends to ensure that our members are aware of any changes in the industry.”

MCRS strives to be a useful resource to help all collision repair facilities, whether they are small independent shops, larger multi-shop operators or dealerships. Their mission is to enhance the collision repair industry in their state and to create a safer, more well-trained industry overall. Halcro believes that training and legislation are the two key components in achieving this initiative.

As part of their efforts, MCRS became an affiliate of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) about ten years ago because they felt they needed more of a national presence. Halcro “can’t say enough about what SCRS has done for our association and for the industry nationally.”

Halcro stresses the importance of legislative involvement when it comes to reaching MCRS’s goals. In MT, legislators only meet every other year, and since 2014 is not one of these years, MCRS is currently focused on planning and determining which issues need to be addressed most. As such, Halcro is “keeping a close eye on the parts issue nationally, including the different forms of action being taken in various states.”

The parts issue is one of the biggest dilemmas currently facing the collision repair industry, Halcro believes. “In my shop, parts are always a challenge since we’re located in a rural area, but shops have worked through this problem for years. Parts procurement systems cause delays in obtaining parts because they are sourcing them from all over the country, but the insurers still hold us to the same cycle time standards as urban areas where parts are much more easily accessible.”

Another problem is that many aftermarket parts ordered are unusable upon receipt, leaving shops to begin the process all over again. As a result, Halcro believes that there is a need for tighter regulations on parts quality. “Parts procurement systems are being mandated without any accountability as to whether these programs are in the best interest of the shops. I don’t see any benefits. Their claim was that it would improve efficiency, but this is not true according to feedback from shops on the program. I see it as being a trainwreck when it’s rolled out in MT.”

Still, Halcro sees no reason to focus on one company; he thinks that State Farm and PartsTrader are taking a big hit on this issue somewhat unfairly since other insurers are also starting to mandate the use of parts procurement systems, but, according to Halcro, “Mandated use doesn’t work. It’s not beneficial, and the decision should be more collaborative. The insurers claim that collision repair shops are their partners, so they should spend time with their partners to determine what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

MCRS’s legislative involvement is important for the association’s members because it is related to ensuring that consumers’ vehicles are repaired safely. When shops are forced to take shortcuts because of insurer mandates, the consumers are not getting what they paid for, plus it can result in unsafe repairs.

Additionally, when insurance companies refuse to pay for certain repairs, collision repair facilities are left with the choice of absorbing the cost or passing it along to their customers. These shortpay situations are unfair to the consumers, and the shops’ best recourse is through legislative activity. In fact, MT has an unique law, passed several sessions ago, that prohibits insurers from dismissing procedures that both they and the collision repair facility agreed upon. Halcro believes the law has been hugely successful as it has alleviated many of the shortpays that were coming through before it was passed.

Of course, there are always challenges associated with pursuing legislative changes. MCRS is a relatively small association, and though they employ a lobbyist, they still have to battle the insurers’ lobbyists, plus they have to get legislators to understand that the issues doesn’t just concern the insurance and collision repair industries; it is a matter of consumers’ safety. Halcro states, “our association is professional and well-respected at the Capitol, but there are always challenges. We aren’t there to play politics—we have real concerns that need to be addressed. Sometimes, our initiatives fail. It’s not always pleasant, but it’s important for MCRS’s members and their customers.”

Halcro also weighed in on some other legislative issues on a national scale. Regarding the Right to Repair, he believes “the proper information should be available to shops repairing vehicles so that they can properly and safely repair the vehicles going back on the road.”

The PARTS Act is another cause for attention. Halcro’s opinion is that “manufacturers spend millions of dollars to pass safety tests with the proper parts and materials designed for specific vehicles. Aftermarket parts that mimic these OEM parts aren’t always properly tested, and this can alter the safety ratings on the vehicle, a key deciding factor for many people when they purchase a new car. We also have a high return rate on aftermarket parts, and I just don’t believe they’re always designed the same as OEM parts. They aren’t all bad, and there is definitely a place for aftermarket parts, but I don’t believe they belong on a two-year-old car.”

Training is also a key initiative for MCRS, and a national trainer is scheduled to attend their next meeting at the end of March. The association’s Board of Directors will also be meeting in February for a planning session to establish their 2014 agenda and to discuss a potential legislative agenda for the next session. In the meantime, MCRS strives to maintain an updated website to ensure their members are informed of national trends and issues in the industry. Currently, there are around 100 members in the association with about 75-80% being repairers and vendors making up the remainder.

Like most associations, membership and ongoing participation is always a challenge for MCRS, especially as it pertains to smaller shops whose owners write estimates and repair vehicles, making it difficult for them to leave their business. Still, Halcro has found that once they come to a meeting, most of these repairers become regular attendees. “This is a tough industry and surviving every day is a challenge, but it’s easier when we face the challenges together as a group.”

Montana Collision Repair Specialists (MCRS)
P.O. Box 1168
Sidney, MT 59270
www.mtcollisionrepair.com

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