If you were at SEMA this year, you probably visited a few bars. But the one BAR many body shop owners and managers were more interested in does not sell $15 specialty cocktails or plays loud music. No, this BAR is called the Bureau of Automotive Repair and if you don’t comply with their rules and regulations, you could get a hangover that can last for many years.
Jack Molodanof, a California attorney and lobbyist who has distinguished himself in areas of automotive legislative and regulatory law over the past 30 years gave a 2-hour presentation on Nov. 6 at the SEMA Show as part of the educational series offered by SCRS. “Protect Your Business from Fines and Disciplinary Actions by the CA Bureau of Automotive Repair” was the title of Molodanof’s comprehensive class.
Molodanof is the go-to lawyer/lobbyist in California for the automotive repair industry and represents several statewide automotive associations, including the California Autobody Association (CAA) and Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA). Molodanof also serves on the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Advisory Group, which provides input on BAR programs.
Here are five important things that we gleaned from this highly-informative presentation:
1. The BAR is a 100% complaint-driven organization
The BAR doesn’t normally conduct random shop inspections, so if they’re calling you or knocking at your door, it’s likely that a customer complained. That’s why we always tell shops to take the Nordstrom’s approach to customer service—placate the customer and keep the BAR away from the door. Bad customer service can bite you on your backside in more than one way, because the BAR may look at your Yelp and Goggle reviews during the course of any investigation. In the 2014/15 fiscal years, the BAR received approximately 15,000 complaints, of which 1,718 (12%) were auto body related, which ends up being roughly one complaint for half of all the shops in the state. BAR has also instituted an Auto Body Inspection Program. Under this program, inspectors from the BAR will examine a consumer’s car at no cost to verify that all repairs listed on the invoice were performed correctly. The BAR will even make house calls or meet you at the local Starbucks to inspect your car, while the consumer is relaxing and sipping a latte.
2. Customers aren’t the only people that can turn you into the BAR
Keeping your customers happy is always paramount, but falling down in other areas can also cause a complaint to the BAR. In many cases, insurance companies and competitors will complain about things such as sloppy repair orders, inaccurate estimates, incomplete authorizations and other issues that can potentially ruin your day (or year). The message here is if you do quality work, produce accurate paperwork and operate a transparent and accountable business, you’ll be fine, but remember—everyone is watching you and many of them are not your biggest fans.
3. The BAR is always looking for fraud
The cherry on the sundae for any organization like the BAR is uncovering fraud. If the BAR is investigating you for fraud, you won’t know it until they tell you. They won’t warn you or try to help you to make amends with a complaining customer once they smell fraud. The consequences for fraud are serious and can even lead to the loss of your license, so when the BAR calls, take it very seriously for obvious reasons. Unless you’re inviting the BAR to be at your shop, it’s never a good thing to have a BAR representative at your business. Protecting consumers from fraudulent and substandard work is, and will remain, the BAR’s highest priority.
4. Many problems begin with sloppy paperwork
One body shop owner was asked about a recent visit at his shop by the BAR, but he didn’t seem concerned. “They just wanted to look at my paperwork, including my vendor invoices.” But, we told him—“no, that’s serious.” They’re looking at your paperwork to find fraud. The top five allegations against body/collision facilities cited by the BAR are in order: Negligence/competence; false and misleading statements; estimates/invoices; fraud and authorization. But, if you look closely at all of these, most of them begin with the paperwork; because it provides concrete evidence in any case that the BAR is building against any shop. This is why the accuracy and completeness of all your paperwork is so crucial.
5. MSOs are more at risk than the independents
If you’re the owner of a Multi-Shop Operation (MSO) then you already know that you can’t be in all of your locations simultaneously. This means that it’s much easier for details to be omitted and/or estimates and invoices aren’t checked for accuracy. It’s just makes sense—an MSO has thousands of moving parts, which presents a wide range of additional problems that an independent does not have. We have seen this scenario more than a few times, when a manager at an MSO’s shop gets a formal complaint from the BAR and then does not tell the owner. The manager is scared and embarrassed, but in the end it becomes a much larger problem than it originally was. The point is this—if you’re an MSO owner (or manager) the BAR is more likely to call, because with more customers the odds are higher and that is why MSOs need to be more careful and thorough in everything they do.