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Is my government trying to put me out of business?

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Effective January 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency handed down new regulations that require best practices for autobody painting—and creates more challenges to the industry at a time when profits are extremely low. Many facilities will struggle to invest in new equipment. Is my government trying to put me out of business?

The short answer: No.

Actually, the regulations are trying to restrict the spraying of paint to be confined within a spray booth, and to rid the industry of the noncompliant, fly-under-the-radar type shops. In many states, most of these regulations have already been in place. For repair facilities that have had a normal maintenance schedule for servicing and cleaning their booths, this regulation will have little or no effect. But for repair facilities that have not had maintenance schedules or that have been relying on a 48-inch wall fan to properly “remove” their pollutants, it may be an eye opener. Much like an oil change is preventive maintenance and is proven over time to be cost effective, so too is spray booth maintenance. Both environmentally and for health reasons, the industry is lowering the acceptable level of volatile organic compounds allowed during the refinish process. As we re-enter the age of waterborne paint, we have the chance to accommodate this opportunity.

Initially, the repair facility may have some investment involved if they do not have a contained prep area. In addition, if the repair facility decides to switch to waterborne paint and if their booth is more than five years old, there will be additional modifications required to use waterborne paint.

One of the things we also have to understand is that the industry wanted to see “mobile repairers” held to the same standards as the traditional shop, and this rule begins to address that situation. Any mobile repair facility that is spraying paint is now required by this regulation to follow the same guidelines, laws and regulations as a stationary collision repair facility. Hazardous waste is to be monitored with all applicable procedures for proper disposal to be followed under this new regulation. The regulation also differentiates the ‘hobbyist’ from the repair facility, noting that hobbyists are allowed to spray two cars per year.

I truly believe that, based on some dialogue that I have had with my peers, the top 20 percent or so of repair facilities are already compliant. The necessary burdens of proof may be slightly tedious initially, but in the long run, I think this regulation will help the collision repair business.

Ongoing training is required for many of today’s refinish suppliers, as they have become a part of the “lifetime warranty” that repair facilities must now offer. My concern is not the cost that may be involved over the next few years, but rather, I wonder: Will our repair facilities realize these mandated costs and appropriately adjust their financial plans to offset these cost increases as a direct cost, or will this become just another “overhead” item? You decide.

 Ray Fisher is the president of ASA-Michigan. This article represents his opinion and does not reflect the views of ASA-Michigan.

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