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Monday, 02 June 2014 00:00

Young Utah Collision Repairer Speaks Out via Blog

Sam Plumb, 27, is an auto insurance consultant, a claims manager, a blogger, and the general manager at Alpine Auto Renovation in Salt Lake City, UT. He is a second-generation body shop guy who has brought his youthful zeal, extensive education, direct style, and personal approach to the industry and has impressed his fellow collision repairers throughout Utah and nationwide via his popular blog Wreck Repair Report. We sat down with Plumb recently to ask him about his thoughts concerning the state of collision in Utah, his feelings about insurance companies and DRPs, aftermarket versus OE parts, the advent of aluminum, the new exciting technology in this industry, and other topics.

 

His start in the industry: “I obviously grew up around the collision industry, but that doesn’t really qualify me to be an expert. There are kids out there whose fathers are doctors, yet they know nothing about medicine, right? I started working at a body shop when I was 16, basically answering phones and washing cars. When I graduated from the University of Utah with an undergraduate degree, I went on to get a joint Masters in Public Health and Public Administration, degrees I will probably never use. But that’s life; sometimes you take the wrong direction and that was one, but I don’t regret it. So, I started working at Alpine Automotive Renovation five years ago. My experience has been excellent because we don’t apologize for our work, and we keep our standards high. I’ve learned a lot since I started in this industry, and the biggest eye-opener for me has been from the insurance side. By learning how it works, it has empowered me, and I’ve passed this knowledge onto our customers, which has also empowered them.”

His relationships with insurance companies: “We’re completely independent of all the insurance companies except for one (Chubb Insurance) because they specifically insure the high-end types of vehicles we repair—BMWs, Audis, Porsches, and Mercedes-Benz. It’s the way we choose to operate, and it works for us because I don’t think it affects our volume at all.”

The explosion of technology in the collision industry: “I built a website for this business because my father (age 67) and his partner are still in the electronic stone age and don’t know that the Internet exists beyond eBay. Obviously, the technology in this industry has changed everything and for the better in many ways. By being someone who isn’t afraid about the technology that seems to change weekly, I feel we’re at an advantage over those post-50-year-old guys like my dad who would still refer to manuals if they could.”

The advent of aluminum: “Aluminum is one of those things that has an upside and also a downside. For one, it’s a much lighter metal that helps emissions, and it also seems to have a faster production time, which is important. On the other side of it, we’re seeing more and more cars in our shop that were incorrectly repaired by other shops, and we’re re-doing that work. And poor work is much more difficult to fix than actually doing the original repair. So, in that way, aluminum can be problematic from our perspective. Aluminum in itself does not have a memory, unlike steel. So, when an aluminum component is damaged, it will need to replaced in many cases. So, aluminum brings its own challenges, and there is obviously a certain level of expertise to work with it. With these newer high-end cars and the advent of aluminum, hopefully there will be fewer shops out there doing inferior aluminum work. It requires talent and training to work on these cars, but the most important thing about any shop is the pride in their work.”

The importance of certifications: “Certification is being pushed now by the car manufacturers for obvious reasons. The car makers want to know that their cars are being repaired by shops that are using the right equipment and products and have the right training to do the job correctly. They want the technicians to have the latest education so that the work will be excellent, and then they don’t have to worry about it later down the road.”

Steering still alive and prevalent: “It’s not as invasive as it used to be, but some of the insurance companies definitely still rely on it. Of course, they can’t force anybody to do anything, but they make it easier for people to take their cars to one of their preferred shops. If your average person gets into an accident every 10 years, they’re not really prepared for what happens next, and some are frightened by the process. So, they just listen to their insurance company and do what they’re told. The number one tool some insurers use is by implying that one of their non-preferred body shops won’t warranty the repair. When I encounter this, I always ask them this question—what kind of reputable business would I be if I didn’t warranty my work? This usually soothes their nerves and hopefully eliminates their fears.”

OE versus aftermarket parts: “It seems like the insurance companies that do a ton of advertising about having the lowest rates in the country end up being the ones that want to cut corners on repairs. They’re the ones pushing for us to use more aftermarket and recycled parts, and we won’t use them. Maybe they’re spending all their money on these huge advertising campaigns, and that’s why they have to try and save money on parts. With re-conditioned parts, we send back 95 percent of them because they’re inferior, and that’s why we won’t put them on a vehicle.”

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