The Best Body Shops' Tips: Audi Discusses Car Manufacturer’s Certification Program, Repair Procedures & Training for Collision Repairers

The Best Body Shops' Tips: Audi Discusses Car Manufacturer’s Certification Program, Repair Procedures & Training for Collision Repairers

Taking the time to mentally reinvest in your business, attend hands-on training and understand your shop’s limitations can all help you run a successful collision repair facility, according to Mark Allen, collision programs manager for Audi USA.

During a recent Guild 21 podcast sponsored by Verifacts Automotive, Allen shared insight on Audi’s certification program and the importance of staying up-to-date on OEM repair procedures.

Guild 21: Audi vehicles must be repaired by OEM-certified shops. What process do you recommend shops use to obtain equipment that is approved for use in the Audi certification program?

Allen: Volkswagen Group of America represents Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati motorcycles, Lamborghini, Porsche and Volkswagen. The equipment we certify is relevant within the house of Volkswagen. 

It’s important to understand why certain pieces of equipment are certified over others, and it all comes down to the culture of the company. It is what makes an Audi an Audi and a Ford a Ford. To say brand X should look, smell and taste the same as brand Y is not a realistic comparison.

The realism of it is that there is a process that goes on about once a year, and also during the development of crash repair procedures. I know it seems like other welders should work with our vehicles, but there is a very strict process that welders go through. It’s the same with rivet guns. They are tested for strength and other parameters in Germany and then the research is submitted. The materials used to manufacture the vehicles are also factored in so that when the piece of equipment is checked, we are assured that it will do the job. 

Guild 21: Can an Assured Performance Network shop be part of the Audi program?

Allen: In my opinion, there are three different types of certification. There’s the Audi program that is very much driven by repair procedures and dictates the tools, equipment and training used during the repair. On the other end of the spectrum, there are subscription-based certification programs where manufacturers form a network, but it’s not necessarily as stringent as ours. Then there are those I refer to as the “half-pregnants.” They are somewhat between where the Audi program is and where the Assured Performance shops are.

We try and pick partners who will work well with our dealers, and we predicate it on having the dealer form a relationship directly with the body shop rather than us assigning it to them. We also look at where the vehicle population lives and meet the needs of the people in those areas.

Guild 21: Does Audi require dealer sponsorship to join the certification program, given the lawsuit against Mercedes for the alleged dealer extortion, and are there any thoughts about changing this?

Allen: We’re always looking at how to do the best job for our customers. Our belief up to this point is that the dealer is in charge of their immediate area and is familiar with the customers there best. To have a sponsorship relationship between the dealership, whether it’s their own body shop or an independent repairer, is pretty important to give that level of care to the customer. We don't just look at it as a program. Realistically, the repairer is a key player in it and should work closely with the dealer.

It’s not predicated on parts sales. I tell everyone there’s nothing on my performance review that says to sell one more part or one more part dollar. I don’t believe that is what we are about. We are responsible to take care of the general health and welfare of the motoring public and make sure the repairs are done to meet a certain standard so they have the same safety afforded to them after the repair as the original structure. The parts are an organic side byproduct of that. However, that should not be a reason why we have sponsorship. It should be that customer retention---the customer care that goes on. Some of the best partners I have are independently owned body shops that serve our dealers.

The network doesn’t just serve our dealers. It is the practice and basic belief of Audi of America. Everyone who works for the company and has either a vehicle assigned to them or leased, goes to an Audi-certified repairer if they are in an accident---no questions asked.

If a vehicle is damaged in transportation, it goes to an Audi certified repairer. If there is a paint issue or warranty issue, it will go to an Audi certified repairer. We put our money where our mouth is. We make sure they go to those repairers.

Guild 21: What are your thoughts about the restricted parts for OEM certification?

Allen: Yes, we restrict parts and probably have the largest catalog of restricted parts based on technical competencies required to do those repairs and install those parts. I feel it is appropriate for our customers and if someone who was not certified does the repair, I couldn’t stand behind the structure, and would suggest rebranding and retitling the car by the person who did that repair.

Guild 21: What frame machines are recommended by Audi?

Allen: There are three companies currently approved by the Volkswagen group: Celette, Car-O-Liner and Spanesi. These manufacturers all work closely with Audi and are involved in the process well before the car is released for sale. They have all of the CAD data and have shown that their measuring systems and frame systems can hold their measurements and tolerances in many different ways.

Guild 21: Can you tell us about Audi’s repair procedures?

Allen: As I explain to our incoming Audi of America employees, aftersales is kind of a misnomer. Manufacturers sell cars, service, parts and accessories, financing and a few other small products. Aftersales is where a lot of us live. When a vehicle is being developed, it goes through its initial engineering and clay modeling, and then moves into production. Afterward, a group of vehicles are moved over to service engineering where the engineers promptly look at the vehicles. Collision repair engineers and technicians work together to determine and document the repair procedures as well as the specific tools that will be used.

Then the vehicle is crashed into a wall. We measure it to ensure the vehicle meets the same specifications as when the car was first built. An average of 150 cars are used to ensure the models meet the various international standards.

When a failure occurs, everyone looks at the repair scenario to determine what failed and how it should be fixed. Failure is how we learn. I don’t take it as a negative, but rather as an opportunity to move ahead.

That information is incorporated into the repair procedures, and when production changes are made by a manufacturer, shops are not notified about the updates. I encourage all shops to check for updates on a regular basis to stay informed about changes, because they often occur without notice.

Guild 21: What are the parameters for shops that want to take part in the training offered by Audi?

Allen: Training is an important part of Audi’s certification process. We currently have one training center up and running in Ashburn, VA, where we had over 450 seats available this year, and have filled 90 percent of them. Hopefully, by the mid-first quarter of next year, we will have a second facility as well. We’ve had a capacity issue in the past, so we’ve only been able to allow technicians to be part of the program, but going forward we may be able to rethink that as capacity opens up. We currently share space with our sister brand Volkswagen. They utilize the facility about 50 percent of the time.

We also welcome insurance companies to come to our training facility. We think it’s a healthy way to have a conversation about why you should do this and not that. We have quite a few folks who come through the program. The GEICO insurance national training center is about four and a half miles away. Over the years, we’ve formed a good partnership with them where they will bring their estimators and managers to our week-long training, which consists of IIHS instruction as well. We show them the number of Audis and Lamborghinis we test and how the physical bodies are cut up. The technicians receive hands-on training and get to make mistakes. I don’t look at making a mistake as a negative. I look at it as a learning opportunity. It’s better for the tech to make a mistake at the training center than on a customer’s car.

Overall, we’re trying to take care of our customers in the best way possible and form a team that includes the technician, the body shop, the insurance company and of course, Audi America.

Guild 21: One of the challenges shops have today is being able to get insurers to agree with the OEM repair procedures---not just with Audi, but with other manufacturers as well. Do you have any suggestions on how collision shops can deal with that?

Allen: After listening to Todd Tracy [The Tracy Law Firm] and Erica Eversman [chief counsel at Vehicle Information Services] speak at SEMA, I think there are a least 42 million reasons someone would want to follow the OE repair procedures! I hope everyone knows where to find them. Those who participate in the OE roundtable---a group of OEM manufacturers who meet for collision repair purposes---review this information on a regular basis. We have a collision website that has access to every participating OEM’s repair procedures and their position statements. For those who aren’t familiar with the website, I encourage you to check it out:

Todd Tracy made an excellent point during the SEMA show. He advised shops to research, document and photograph. Because influencers repair vehicles in a way that is incongruous with the OEM repair procedures, there needs to be notification given to the customer. Realistically, what I think should happen if aftermarket parts are outlined on an estimate or the final RO (repair order), is that it should say something like, “Audi as redesigned by xyz insurance company representative.” In these circumstances, I believe they should accept the liability for that vehicle.

If you are a technician who is coming up with a repair process that is your own and does not follow the OEM repair procedures using the tools and equipment prescribed, do you think you have a better chance than the well-founded, well-funded group that crash tested the car? Probably not. Most likely, I think you are going to wind up talking to Todd Tracy.

Guild 21: What are some of the things you would like to share with those in the industry about Audi?

Allen: First of all, moving forward as an industry we have to start looking at ourselves, and recognize that we can’t repair everything. I think shops have to look at what the large preponderance of their business is and take steps to ensure that we are doing good work for our customers, whether it’s repairing an Audi, a Ford or a Toyota.

Whatever the brands are that come through your door on a regular basis, repair them to the very best and highest ability that you can. It may sound great that you have an Audi R8 V10 plus in your shop, but if you don’t know how to fix it, you are liable and potentially putting your customer at risk.

Know your limitations and pass that work on to the shops that focus on those vehicles. If you take the time to build those relationships, they will most likely pass on vehicles that your shop is likely to repair. I think doing this would serve everyone much better.

I highly recommend taking the time to make a mental reinvestment in your business. Read industry publications and attend educational events like SEMA’s SCRS seminars, CIC, and the Northeast Show. Take advantage of the learnings offered and find out how others conduct business. The better we repair vehicles, the better we will be as an industry. As a result, I believe shops will start to say, “We are not willing to do it cheaper just because it’s cheaper, because that’s wrong. I’m willing to do it the right way for the right reasons and the right compensation.”

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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