From the Desk of Mike Anderson: It’s Time to Address the Other ‘Pandemic’ in Our Industry

From the Desk of Mike Anderson: It’s Time to Address the Other ‘Pandemic’ in Our Industry

Is it possible to yell at people through an article like this?

Those of you who have participated in training or seminars or 20 groups that I did years ago no doubt remember how I would sometimes jump down someone’s throat. There were times you’d see me "chew ’em up and spit ’em out."

I’ve tried over the years to become a kinder, gentler Mike. But I’m getting back to a point where I’m genuinely angry. Actually, I’m not sure if “angry” is a strong enough word.

We have a pandemic in our industry, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m not talking about COVID-19. We have a pandemic of people who don’t understand---or quite honestly don’t care---what it takes to repair a vehicle properly. And this pandemic is going to end up killing people if we don’t get it together ASAP.

You may think I’m being overly dramatic. But I can show you data that proves what I’m talking about.

Every year, my company conducts estimating training for hundreds---and in some years, thousands---of people. Some of this training is done on behalf of automakers, some is for associations, and some is for our individual clients.

If you have attended one of the virtual Collision Advice estimate training sessions since COVD-19 began, you are aware that a week prior to the class, we send out work for you to complete ahead of the training. We send you photos of a collision damaged vehicle that needs a quarter panel replaced, and the assignment is to prepare an estimate for that vehicle. Everyone uses the same rates for labor and materials.

Now I understand the limitations of photo-estimating. But what I’m looking for here is each person’s level of understanding of knowing what OEM procedures need to be researched, and their ability to do so and each person’s understanding of what’s included and not included in the estimating systems.

We then build a table showing how many total labor hours were included by each anonymized estimator, broken down by body, paint, frame and mechanical, and how many total line items were on each estimate.

We prepare an estimate using each of the three estimating systems, so no matter which one the people in the class use, we can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

If you don’t think there’s a pandemic of people not knowing how to properly fix a car, send me an email and I will send you one of these tables so you can see what a dramatic difference there is among those who know and those who don’t.

One person will have 22 hours of body labor. Another will have 87. We wrote a $15,000 estimate when other estimators, before the training, were turning in estimates totaling $4,500 or $5,000. What the heck!?! When we’re all looking at the same vehicle.

What’s the difference? We find their estimates are incomplete because:

  • They didn’t take the assignment seriously.
  • They are uneducated or untrained.
  • They do not know how to properly research that specific automaker’s procedures as to what it takes to perform a proper and safe repair.
  • They didn’t have or spend the time necessary.

I know this isn’t easy. My team and I wrote quarter panel replacement estimates for four different automakers’ vehicles. For one of those automakers, it required researching and reviewing 149 pages of OEM documentation. For another, it was 132 pages. The headlight replacement alone on one vehicle was 30 pages. Does this take time? Yes.

Some in my classes will tell me what we’ve written “is not realistic.” Really? Are you kidding me? Those who know me know that I have Tourette syndrome, and a comment like that absolutely sets my tics and twitches in motion!

Now I’ve been getting a ton of calls recently from shops saying this insurer won’t pay for X or Y, or they’re getting kicked off this program or that program. I get that. I’m not saying the insurance companies make it easy to do the right thing. They don’t. Some are better than others. I’m not saying insurance companies will pay for all 385 lines of the estimate I wrote.

But at the end of the day, we are our own worst enemy because we are so uneducated about what it takes to properly fix that vehicle. We don’t take the time to research the repair procedures. And that makes it hard for the shop that is trying to do the right thing.

Imagine if all those shops in one of my classes were all in the same town. You’ve got this person, who is trying to get paid 86.9 legitimate labor hours, and the guy down the street is only charging for 43.

And I frankly don’t care if you leave off some paint procedure on your estimate, or charge three fewer labor hours for a dent. That isn’t going to kill anybody.

But I see shops not knowing they need to conduct seat belt inspections, or they need to measure steering columns, or they need to set up and perform destructive test welds. Or they are leaving off needed calibrations and initializations---all because they didn’t research what was needed.

Don’t tell me those safety items are left off because some insurance company won’t pay you. That’s a bunch of crap. As my friend Dean Hancock says, “That dog don’t hunt!”

Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter what the insurance carrier will or will not pay. What matters is knowing what it takes to repair the vehicle safely and properly. When a vehicle owner brings a vehicle to your facility, they are saying, “I trust you to look out for me and my family.” What are you doing with their trust? Are you doing right by the consumer?

Let me put it this way: I’m proud to have served in the U.S. military, and I see those helping preserve the freedoms we have as heroes. I see firefighters and police officers and EMTs saving lives as heroes as well.

But here’s what I’m also going to tell you: The shop owner, technician and estimator who make the effort to research OEM repair procedures, who make sure they know what is needed as part of a safe and proper repair, and who make sure it happens---they’re heroes too. They are saving lives.

We’ll never know how many lives were saved when a pedestrian or a kid on a bike is suddenly directly behind or ahead one of the vehicles they repaired, and the vehicle systems worked properly to stop that vehicle in time.

For those doing all those things, I salute you. But frankly, far too many in this industry don’t fall into that category. That makes me angry.

I see people who are trying to do the right thing really struggling and being penalized because of those of you who aren’t. My hope and prayer is those dedicated to doing the right thing will hang on, and the rest of you will start to do your part to end this pandemic in our industry of people who are uneducated, who are untrained, or who frankly just don’t care.

Just as before I became a “kinder, gentler Mike,” this isn’t intended to be mean-spirited or disrespectful. I just want to talk straight to an industry that means more to me than anything.

I’m declaring war on this pandemic. Which side are you on? It starts with taking personal responsibility.

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson is a columnist for Autobody News and president of Collision Advice, a consulting company for the auto body/collision repair industry.

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