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Monday, 08 March 2010 07:11

“Every Man For Himself”

Written by Lee Amaradio, Jr.

I have watched our industry take two steps backwards and one step forward for over thirty years. Because of this “every man for himself” attitude that runs predominately within the collision industry, we are unable to control the repair process even when it comes to safety. I have heard it said that most shops really would fix the cars correctly but they are being hindered because they are not being paid enough. I say “Bull.”

Either you fix the cars correctly or you are lying to yourself and risk resembling a crook. Sounds tough? Not really. It’s the truth. The choice is yours.

We are the ones that know how to repair collisions. When something is denied by the insurer we scramble to figure out a way to make enough money on the repair to make it worthwhile. Many shops have moved safety issues to the back burner and profit becomes their main concern. They move to the damage control mode because they still need to make money. If you go against the grain and make a stand for safety issues and the integrity of the repair, you risk looking like the bad guy when in fact you are the good guy, and the real ones qualified to do the repair.

“Cost should never supersede safety, ignorance should never have the power over knowledge, and intimidation should never be mistaken for negotiation.”

We lack standards and we lack any form of enforcement from the Powers That Be, so we are between a rock and a hard place. We need to stand up for ourselves, even against the other shops that are not fixing the cars right. I think that we need to make this “every man for himself” attitude work for us by standing up against those shops that are saving deductibles (it’s illegal) and putting unsafe vehicles on the road. I really believe that many repairers “really don’t care” and no matter how much they were paid they would still cut every way possible to put more money in their pocket.

I recently (before Toby Chess’ groundbreaking parts comparison) got a call from my quality control manager to tell me that we had installed an A/M bumper reinforcement on a vehicle (against our company policy) and the customer was on their way to pick it up. He wondered if I knew about it. I told him ‘no,’ then I made a few phone calls to get to the bottom of it. At the same time I had the OEM reinforcement ordered.

As the story unraveled it turned out that one of my estimators was trying to take the easy way out so he ordered it himself (we have a full time parts department so estimators don’t normally order any parts). I told him to contact his customer and tell him the vehicle would be delayed because we were going to be using the OEM reinforcement. He then told me the insurance company wouldn’t pay and the customer wouldn’t either. The estimator thought he was doing the right thing because he had informed the customer and the customer was fine with the A/M part. My question to him was “is the customer an expert in collision repair?” I made my point as any court would have.

I made a choice to re-repair the vehicle the correct way and it cost me money. Was it right that I had to pay to repair this customer’s vehicle the way I knew that it should have been done? No, it wasn’t right that I had to make up the difference, but it was definitely wrong for us to leave the A/M reinforcement on the vehicle, no matter what the customer wanted. Why? Because we are the repair experts and we hold the liability. Any lawyer would be able to make a case against any of us—even with the customer’s approval because we are “the experts.”

Soon after this incident, Toby Chess’ test at CIC made everyone realize that there is a definite liability involved with using an A/M bumper reinforcement and I felt great because I have no skeletons in my closet because we have NEVER used one.

In life we need to stand for something. We need to believe in what we do, and there are lines that we just will not cross. We need these boundaries in collision repair. Who is dictating what the proper collision repair standards are?

We have had the Fox guarding the Hen house for so long that we think that “cost” is the primary driver for the collision industry, when it’s obvious that “safety” should be. When it comes to “safety,” everyone needs to listen. Safety is a word everyone understands. Just look at what Toyota is going through because of some un-safe vehicles hitting the roads. But the collision industry puts thousands and thousands of un-safe vehicles on the road every year and everyone looks the other way because it would cost so much more money to repair them all correctly.

I’m talking real safety issues such as air-bag deployment because of inferior workmanship. When “used frame rails” are still being used in repairs even though it’s against every manufacturer’s recommended repair procedure, and A/M parts that have not been crash-tested are still allowed, it just proves how out of whack things really are. Someone should apologize to Toyota.

I would like to see the OEM’s do the crash test with the A/M bumper reinforcements to really prove we have a industry safety problem and put a stop to selling these inferior parts to thousands of unsuspecting consumers and their families.

They should be concerned because air bag deployment can be changed so drastically by something as minor as putting too many welds or not enough welds during the repair (see the Toyota watermelon video). Don’t you think a bumper reinforcement made out of mild steel will effect air bag deployment? Any changes from OEM requirements could turn the air bag into a deadly projectile instead of the life preserver it was intended to be. Safety of the vehicle can never be compromised especially when you are the one that carries the liability.

So should those that have knowingly or unknowingly repaired vehicles in an unsafe manner be held responsible for correcting any problems related to safety? I say absolutely “YES.”

But this would be way too costly. I mean that many shops would need to step up and re-do hundreds of vehicles. The Aftermarket parts companies could lose enormous amounts of money. Those insurers that have guaranteed these parts would need to step up and take responsibility for the warranties involved.

But “NO,” there will be some more tests done to say that these parts are safe and everyone involved will do damage control. We will return to the status quo of “every man for himself” and once again nothing will change and un-safe repairs will continue to hit our highways every day because money has become more important than safety.