Automakers Discuss Labor Times, Share Other Insights at ‘OEM Summit’

Automakers Discuss Labor Times, Share Other Insights at ‘OEM Summit’

During a recent industry event at which automakers discussed some of the complexities of making collision repairs to their new vehicles, a shop owner asked the OEMs a decidedly more business than technical question: Are you working to come up with realistic labor times for the repair operations on these vehicles?

The answers across the board were a qualified “no.”

“I don’t necessarily come up with labor times. That’s not my sphere of influence,” Mark Allen, a collision repair programs specialist with Audi of America said.

Allen said his “sphere of influence” includes working with insurers and information providers to educate them “on what is necessary and proper” in terms of collision repair of Audi vehicles. Allen said at least six major auto insurers have sent personnel to Audi training facilities, but he acknowledged that not even all of the Top 10 insurers do that.

Brandin Benson, a service engineer with Mercedes-Benz USA’s product technical support team said his response was much like Allen’s, with the company offering workshops for insurers.

“We tell them here’s why we do this and why it may take longer,” Benson said, noting that labor times are established by the estimating database providers.

“We’re very sympathetic to the need, but we are bound to stay in our swim lanes, and labor times are quite a few swim lanes over,” General Motor’s Mark Szlachta, concurred. “The priority when repairing these vehicles shouldn’t be getting it done as quickly as possible. The priority should be getting them done properly and as safely as possible to return them back to factory specifications. The labor times, we would hope, would reflect that. But we don't have any control over those.”

But Allen said the labor times issue is yet another reason that downloading the OEM repair procedures is such an important first step in every repair.

“Here’s where the shop has an opportunity,” Allen said. “If you’re using the OEM repair procedures, and you’re balancing it against the P-pages and included operations…you have the opportunity to…say, ‘Hey, this is not an included operation. This is a separate operation. We need to add this as a line item.”

A number of automakers stressed the importance of looking up collision repair procedures before every repair because they can sometimes change even within a model year or between design changes. Chris Tobie, an instructional designer with American Honda cited several examples. “The 2014 Odyssey has 1500 megapascal steel in it, whereas previously the car only had 780 megapascal in it,” Tobie said. “Same thing with the CR-V: The 2014 CR-V the body stops at 780 megapascal; 2015, all of a sudden, the sills and the front pillars are 1,500 megapascal. That totally changes the way you approach the repair. So if you just say, ‘This looks like the repair I did last week,’ it could be a very dangerous assumption and a very unsafe repair.”

Here are some of the other highlights from automaker presentations during the day-long “OEM Collision Repair Technology Summit” organized by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists:

  • Audi’s Allen said the mix of materials and diversity of “joining” methodologies are more reasons that researching the OEM repair procedures has become crucial. “We’re about to launch our Q7, and from its previous generation it lost 800 pounds,” Allen said. “So there is 41 percent aluminum content to the vehicle, and the rest is a mixture of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel throughout the entire body. You really have to know what you’re dealing with. [In terms of joining methods], adhesives are not just glue. They’re also corrosion protection. You can’t just go to Sears and get the pop-rivets you used to fix Grandpa’s lawn chair. You have to use the right rivets and right rivet gun and right technique. It’s a challenge for us to make sure the industry is ready for it.”
  • Several of the automakers cautioned against TIG welding aluminum, noting that the heat vaporizes the magnesium or other elements used for hardening the aluminum. “TIG welding is a wonderful way to weld, no question, but it’s not very friendly in the automotive market,” GM’s Szlachta said. Audi’s Allen concurred, saying TIG welding can reduce the tensile strength of the metal by 50 percent. “The frequency and energy being put into the material, and the electronics in the vehicle, never play well together as well,” Allen said.
  • Several of the automakers said the weakening of the metal from heating is why the OEM procedures often call for use of a backing plate when joining to restore the full strength of that area of the vehicle. Audi, for example, uses the same “T4” temper aluminum that some other automakers use, because it can be formed into complex shapes in the manufacturing process. But unlike Ford (among others) that use thicker grades of the material to improve its strength, Audi and some other automakers put their vehicles through an age (or bake) cycle during production to raise the aluminum to a “T6” temper which can be at least 50 percent stronger than T4. This allows them to maximize weight reductions by using even thinner grades of aluminum. That’s why they require the use of specialized welders and a backer to build the strength back into a repaired area.
  • Given the increasing complexity of collision repairs on some vehicles, how are the automakers ensuring their vehicles go to a shop equipped and trained to do the work?

“It’s a challenge getting a customer to understand that they have a special vehicle, and it’s also a very awkward conversation [at the time of purchase],” Allen said. “It’s kind of saying, ‘Welcome your new child into the world, and by the way, meet its mortician.’ That doesn’t fly well in a sales scenario. So it’s a balancing act for us.”

Allen said Audi is using a website and working with insurers to help consumers find qualified shops. Szlachta said for the new Cadillac CT6, GM is following the lead of some other automakers and limiting the sale of certain structural parts – and access to vehicle measuring data – to only certified shops.

“The technician of yesterday doesn’t recognize that he shouldn’t go to work on just any car, based only on his experience,” Allen said in summarizing the need for shops to do more to prepare themselves for repairing complex vehicles. “The technician of tomorrow, based on his experience, recognizes not to work on a car until he has the proper training.”

John Yoswick, a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988, is also the editor of the weekly CRASH Network (for a free 4-week trial subscription, visit He can be contacted by email at

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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