John Wallauch, 75, of Granite Bay, has been appointed chief of the Bureau of Automotive Repair by Governor Brown, replacing Sherry Mehl. Wallauch brings over 50 years of experience working in the public and private sectors on issues involving air quality and consumer protection. He has served as program manager for the California Air Resources Board, Smog Check Program since 2007. He was also the executive officer of the Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee for the Bureau of Automotive Repair from 1999 to 2002.
The BAR Chief position requires California Senate confirmation and his annual salary is $118,620. Wallauch is a Republican.
Many auto repair facilities look at the state’s Bureau of Automotive Repair the way a hunter looks at the Fish and Game Department. Necessary, needed to be treated with respect, but also a potent force that can snare an unwary, and perhaps unwitting operator. In the spirit of keeping the lines of communication clear and open, we sat down with John Wallauch, to learn what shops can expect from the BAR?under his leadership. Although he’s only in his first month in the job, we asked him to assess his goals for the organization and specifically how will he be approaching the collision repair industry.
ABN—In this position, you will be overseeing an enormous organization with over 600 employees and an annual budget of almost $190 million. How have you prepared for this job during your career span, and what have you learned about the job since being appointed on February 13, 2012?
JW—My enthusiasm for this position could not be higher. I’ve learned that I’m basically young at heart. The appointment was both a surprise and a huge honor. As you may know, I worked at BAR many years ago so coming back as Chief is very special to me—it’s a fulfillment of a lifelong dream. At the California Air Resources Board, I was working on the Smog Check Program issues and have been aware of what the BAR has been doing over this period of time. The Bureau’s staff and I agree that we are on the same page when it comes to serving the state, all of our car owners, and industry as a whole. Our main focus is consumer protection which is embedded in everything we do.
By forging a team approach, we can get things done in an effective and timely fashion. I know that my predecessor made a lot of beneficial changes during her tenure, but my way of doing business is a little different. I strongly believe that all open employment positions with BAR should be put to bid with jobs posted on VPOS, making them available to anyone who is qualified and wants to apply. That way, it is an accessible process where everyone has a chance, the results of which will be hiring the best possible people for each vacancy.
Overseeing a $188 million annual budget with 640 employees and 12 field offices is a large job. We oversee the activities of 5,177 companies in California that are registered as body shops. During my career, I’ve held several positions overseeing diverse company projects that were dispersed over large geographical regions so I am comfortable with keeping communication open and inclusive.
ABN—In the late 1990s, you served as the BAR Interim Executive Officer for the Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee. You also served as the Bureau’s Deputy Chief of Field Operations and Engineering Division, being instrumental in implementing California’s first Smog Check Program. Do you believe that your familiarity with BAR will make it easier for you to achieve your goals?
JW—Most definitely. One of my primary goals is to get the Smog Check Program in this state working as it should. With the California Air Resources Board, I was assigned as the liaison to BAR so I have been in the loop for quite some time. We met almost weekly with the people from BAR so I was in a position to foster those relationships during that period of time. This way, I was aware of what programs and projects BAR had on their front burner.
ABN—How does BAR plan to deal with the number of auto body shops that are unlicensed?
JW—We are pursuing unlicensed shops by using a tool called Cite and Fine, which authorizes us to either cite or fine them, depending upon on the gravity of the violation(s). The issues run the gamut from the guy who offers to repair brakes in a consumer’s driveway to repairing vehicles that have undergone a collision with misrepresentation and substandard work. When we locate unlicensed facilities, we usually give them a notice that they must be licensed to perform the work they are doing. We give them a specific period of time to become licensed. After that period of time, we penalize them.
During this recession, you may be seeing an increase of unlicensed operators because so many people are doing what they can to make ends meet. Much of unlicensed activity is driven by the hard-hitting economy. However, unlicensed activity negatively impacts the law-abiding shops as well as the unsuspecting consumers who are doing business with shops that are illegal. Any time you come across such a business, please contact us so we can look into it immediately.
ABN—In a recession, do you see more body shops cutting corners to save time and capture more revenue?
JW—With the past few years, the BAR has been tracking more salvage activity which falls outside the law. Cars that are considered “totaled” by insurance companies are often purchased by salvage companies, fixed up, and re-sold. This type of activity is becoming more prevalent. We have ways to identify these “midnight shops,” some of which are in the unlicensed used car business. They are creative in washing paperwork and “shopping the cars’ titles” back east and then registering them in California. That way, they lose the salvage title to make it look legitimate. We need our body shops to help us identify these kinds of violators. We warn consumers that if someone offers them a car, which is well below market price, be suspicious because there are no assurances for these vehicles. If the asking price is too good to be true, it probably is.
ABN—When your predecessor, Sherry Mehl, took the job, one of her promises was that the BAR would be a kinder and gentler organization. Will you continue to do so, and how will you accomplish it?
JW—One of my first priorities was establishing an open door policy. It is important to stay connected to our staff members so that communication is a two-way practice. I find this helps morale and makes everyone part of the team to contribute to and achieve our goals.
My message is “let’s have full disclosure with industry and deal fairly with people at every level.” I believe that full transparency, including written estimates, ending “Five O’ clock surprises,” and getting prior authorization before raising the price have gone a long way to reducing consumer complaints.
Full disclosure protects the shop and vehicle owner because if the shop uses aftermarket parts, they must reveal this to the consumer. It is a hot issue because it involves four parties: the shops, the consumers, the parts suppliers, and the insurance companies. All of our complaints are proactively pursued and closed within 45 days of filing. We are proud of this turnaround time.
ABN—Many people have suggested that the BAR should conduct industry rate surveys in order to guarantee objective surveys that can be trusted by all parties involved. Is this plausible in your opinion?
JW—BAR is not an accounting organization per se, but we certainly have the authority to create new regulations. This is a subject that we can discuss further. We might consider subletting the survey to a private firm that does actuarial work.
ABN—What are your top priorities relating to the collision industry?
JW—When I last worked at BAR, the auto body industry was not part of their jurisdiction so I am brushing up on the issues impacting the auto body industry and how BAR can make a difference. As I become more familiar, we can set goals and objectives that can be flexible over time. Right now, my primarily objective is to implement the changes in the Smog Check Program as a result of the enactment of AB 2289 and its regulatory package. BAR exists to assure the people of California that we are doing everything possible to ensure consumer protection with all of their contacts in the automotive repair industry.