Industry Discusses Why So Many Repair Jobs Are Done Without Scans, OEM Research

Nicole Riedel of Subaru
Nicole Riedel of Subaru of America said she’s encouraged by seeing more shops getting paid for the time required to research OEM repair procedures.

With estimating system companies reporting that less than half of all appraisals include a line item for vehicle scanning, and with industry surveys showing less than half of shops report researching OEM repair procedures “most” or “all of the time,” there has been discussion at some industry events about why the industry hasn’t more broadly adopted these important steps.

At the Society of Collision Repair Specialists’ "OEM Collision Repair Technology Summit” in Las Vegas during SEMA, trainer and consultant Mike Anderson of Collision Advice returned to an analogy he’s cited in the past: the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He said engineers had concerns about the O-ring that eventually failed and caused the Challenger to explode, but that NASA was too focused on “launch date and budget.”

“So they launched on time and they didn’t go over budget, but people died,” Anderson said. “All too often, we get so focused on cycle time and severity---which are ‘launch date and budget’---that we excuse ourselves from taking the time it takes to research the OEM repair procedures.”

He understands the time that research requires; he said he feels above average in his proficiency at using the OEM information websites, but that even so it can take him two or three hours to research all the procedures for a repair involving, say, a quarter panel replacement. 

So the industry, he said, has to consider that added work load it is putting on those preparing repair plans.

“I think as owners and managers of collision repair businesses, we need to evaluate what our expectations are for estimators in what they handle in sales,” Anderson said.

At the same event, Nicole Riedel of Subaru of America said she sees the lack of regular research of OEM procedures as “a cultural thing.”

“I think part of it is the way we've always done it: ‘I've fixed a thousand of these and I don't need to look it up,’” she said. “‘Or, ‘I'm not getting paid for it.’ I hear that a lot. ‘No one pays me for two hours to research things.’”

But she said she is hearing about more shops getting paid for OEM research (a “Who Pays for What” survey last summer found 16% of shops billing for such research say they are paid regularly for it), and sees Subaru working to “shift cultural norms” by checking for OEM procedure research as part of its audits of Subaru-certified body shops.

“I think it’s shifting. I think it’s getting better,” she said.

When the subject was raised at another meeting during SEMA, Darrell Amberson of the multi-shop LaMettry’s Collision chain in Minnesota said it’s “pathetic” that less than half of estimates include a scan.

“We should all look in the mirror,” Amberson said of the industry. “We deserve a bit of a scolding. It’s been over four years now that we’ve been talking about scans. Less than half the cars are getting scanned out there? My gosh, after four years we still don’t have our act together? I think that’s pathetic.”

He said he suspects many shops just haven’t yet encountered a problem resulting from their lack of performing scanning or calibration steps.

“I would equate it to going fishing in a lightning storm,” Amberson said. “Maybe I’ve done it a few times and didn’t have a problem. It’s recommended that I don’t do it, but it’s not required. But I tell you what: If I have an issue while I’m doing it, it’s going to be a big deal. It’s life and death. And I think we need to think of this that way.”

Bob Augustine of scan tool manufacturer Drew Technologies said he sees inconsistent use of scanning and OEM research as merely a “symptom.”

“The larger problem we have right now is the pay system,” Augustine said, noting that many shops pay technicians by the job rather than by the clock hour.

“It encourages technicians to lean on the knowledge transfer from something else they’ve worked on, and in order to beat the clock, skip as many steps as possible," he said. "Referring to service information on every repair becomes one of the easy things to step over.”

He said both the mechanical and collision repair industries need to move away from such pay plans.

“I think until as an industry we have a real serious conversation about compensation, I don’t know how we fix this problem,” he said.

Jake Rodenroth, of the remote scanning company asTech, said there’s a simple way shops can demonstrate to their staff the importance of researching OEM information on every repair, even those involving seemingly simple steps like changing a fender, taking a bumper off or disconnecting the battery.

“Pull a very simple repair, and say, ‘Let’s look up every single procedure on this one, and see what we’re surprised by,’” Rodenroth suggests. “What are the things we missed? What are the consumables or other things we should order when doing those particular operations?”

He said he did this with one collision repair organization, bringing in four different sizes of jobs they had done on different automakers’ vehicles.

“The alarming thing for me was that three of the four had ADAS calibrations that were not done,” Rodenroth said. “There were no dash lights or diagnostic trouble codes, yet the repair operation itself dictated that there was an ADAS calibration required, and that never got caught.”

He said the repairer called those vehicles back in to complete those steps.

“I challenge you, if you’re a repair organization, to do that in your own house,” Rodenroth said. “Check it out. See if you’re missing something.”

Automaker representatives at the meetings also addressed the issue of whether OEM procedures and position statements are “recommended” or “required.” 

Dan Black, advanced body development service engineer for Fiat Chrysler of America, said that company publishes “the preferred procedure to follow,” and that when shops do so, “it’s required that you follow every step as stated to comply with that process.”

John Eck of General Motors sounded exasperated that the topic hasn’t yet been settled.

“They are our procedures on how to properly repair that vehicle,” Eck said. “Recommended or required? I wouldn’t fix a car without them. I wouldn’t put a piece of furniture together without the procedures. I wouldn’t assemble a bicycle without the how-to. In our world, ‘recommend’ or ‘required’…those words don’t exist. They just are the repair procedures on how to fix the car.”

Eck said after hearing what a Texas couple went through after being injured in a vehicle that hadn’t been repaired using OEM procedures the he hopes the industry stops having the “recommended” versus “required” discussion.

“I think it’s now time to move on to brainstorming on how we integrate repair procedures into the process of everything we repair. We need to be spending time and energy focused on changing how information is parlayed through the system to execute the outcome that we all want: a safe and proper repair. We should not be talking about words like ‘recommended’ or ‘required,'” Eck said, drawing applause from those at the meeting. 

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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