Monday, 30 June 2003 10:00

Summer nights with I-CAR

Written by Karyn Hendricks
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There I was with my clipboard, dressed in jeans and my Bobby Labonte t-shirt - a former school teacher, freelance writer and self-confessed gearhead heading off to learn about the world of auto body repair. 

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Do you know what's going on here? Students attending I-CAR's CR3000 class use cardboard props to simulate sectioning a front rail with a tapered lap joint.
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Students practice sectioning a vehicle front rail using cardboard for steel and a stapler to simulate welding.
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Instructor Doug Moore lectures to I-CAR CR3000 students on structural steel.

To gain a background in the collision repair industry in preparation for my work as an editor of Autobody News, I recently attended I-CAR CR3000, an introductory level class consisting of eight four-hour sessions, each dealing with an aspect of the repair process.

The instructor
The instructor for the class was Doug Moore, chairman for I-CAR's San Diego District. Moore, whose background leans toward the mechanical side of collision repair, teaches I-CAR classes in anti-lock brakes, traction control, steering and suspension, restraint systems, electronics, heating, air conditioning and cooling.

Working for an insurance company's DRP program as an automotive specialist is Moore's day job. Prior to securing this position, he was a mechanic for a Pontiac dealer body shop while attending college to study automotive engineering. With all these obligations, Moore still loves working on cars as a hobby.

Do you know what's going on here? Students attending I-CAR's CR3000 class use cardboard props to simulate sectioning a front rail with a tapered lap joint.
Moore got started in auto body repair at an early age, and out of necessity: "When I was about 15, I took my father's car without his knowledge and wrapped it around a tree. Figuring out how to fix that mishap was the impetus for entering the auto body industry."

Moore is incredibly knowledgeable and makes some rather dry material tolerable, if not interesting. He expresses concern for the students, acknowledging the fact that a tremendous amount of information needed to be covered in a short time frame. A great sense of humor helped students get through the evening class after a long day at work for most of us.

The curriculum

Course modules covered Fundamentals of Collision Repair, Damage Analysis Parts 1, 2 and 3, Corrosion Protection, Welding and Cutting Steel, and Structural Parts Steel 1 and 2.

Each class consisted of a four-hour lecture followed by a test at the end of class. In order to earn the I-CAR certificate one must pass all the exams. However, throughout the class, students take notes using an objective worksheet, containing most of the test responses. Tests are open book, so the set-up is clearly designed for student to pass the course.

Information overload

More information was presented than any person could possibly absorb in the four-hour sessions. It was grueling to sit through the lecture format, even for someone who is used to long college lectures, as I am.

The course needs more visual materials. I personally found it difficult to understand some concepts without being able to actually look at a vehicle in all its dimensions. Although Moore spoke at a steady clip, it was still difficult to cover - and absorb - all the material in each module. By the end of the evening, most students' eyes had glazed over.

While there are practically no live demonstrations, there are a number of short video demonstrations spaced throughout the lectures. While the videos broke up the lecture format, they were somewhat repetitious after watching several of them.

Course materials

Having said all this, one excellent feature of the program is the Student Handbook on disk. The entire course is presented on a series of computer disks, handed out at each session. The disk covers the same material presented in the lectures, complete with all the slides and videos shown in class. The student has the opportunity to review the class information at his/her own pace.

One small problem - when Moore asked the class if anyone had gone home and used the disks, not a soul raised his hand! As a school teacher for many years, I wondered what would be the students' incentive for reviewing the material when they had already taken the test?


The class was composed of auto body technicians and estimators. I was the only person who did not work for a body shop or insurance company, and, actually felt a little bit like a spy or a "fly on the wall." Although everyone complained about the grueling four-hour lecture, most conceded that they were learning new things each night. Some of the students had taken CR2000, but still felt that they gained new tips with each class of the updated course.

In addition, the general consensus was that Moore is one of I-CARs best instructors. There was not one question about repairing a car that he could not answer.


Fixing the Course

There is just too much material presented in this 32-hour course. Some of the welding and structural steel modules were very detailed for what is considered to be an overview. I believe that students really missed out by not being able to interact with questions and hands-on experience. While Moore entertained every question asked, there was an undercurrent of needing to move along in order to cover the evening's material. Often when a student asked a question or made a comment, other students groaned and discouraged any conversation that would prolong the evening.

The best class was the seventh night because there was actually a hands-on exercise to break up the lecture. Using cardboard pieces, we sectioned a front rail with a tapered lap joint. Students worked together in teams, allowing us to move around and actually practice a procedure we had learned. More of these exercises would go a long way toward increased comprehension, but with time always a factor, this was our only chance at a "hands on" excercise.

Sharing experiences works

My recommendation would be to either add more nights to the class or trim down the material presented so there would be time for some hands-on work and interaction between student and instructor. Sharing anecdotes of past experiences would be just as helpful, if not more so, than simply throwing out facts and hoping they stick.

When someone talks about how they had to spend a day of their own time to re-do a job on a rocker panel because they did not properly re-check measurements and set in doors before actually cutting and welding, a huge impression is made. Time should definitely be made for sharing experiences without sacrificing course material.

Moore did tell me that I-CAR is looking into making some modifications to this class format. Time will tell.

And in the end...

Even though I did my share of moaning and groaning over the hot and crowded classroom and repetitious nature of the material, I learned a lot. More importantly, I gained reference materials that will be helpful to me. Although I'm not ready to write an estimate or pull a frame, I'm much more familiar with industry terms and have a general knowledge of the things to look for in both evaluating a repair that needs to be done and checking a finished product.

Though I believe there are improvements to be made to the class, overall, students I talked to felt they had accomplished their individual goals in taking this course - whether it be to earn a certificate for their employers' "Gold Class" status or to enhance their own careers.