Repair Standards Issue Gets Murkier
In June, five members of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) went abroad for a hands-on tour through the U.K. collision industry. They were there searching for answers, seeking a new perspective on the perpetually debated issue of repair standards in the U.S.
Touring dozens of shops—both ones that comply with the U.K.’s PAS 125 vehicle repair requirements, and some that don’t—the SCRS contingent felt the regulations in place were just scratching the surface of the standards issue.
And the American shop owners were left scratching their heads: Where’s the shop benefit? Where’s the return on investment?
“All I’ve ever heard is how pleased they are there with it and how the industry’s thriving now,” says Barry Dorn, owner of Dorn’s Body and Paint in Richmond, Va., who was part of the SCRS trip. “But, you talk to them one on one, you go into those shops, and it seems like anything but. Achieving the Kitemark [certification] is an expense—there’s a lot that goes into it. Their cost of doing business has gone up substantially, and they’re making the same.”
Since the establishment of PAS 125 and its accompanying Thatcham BSI Kitemark certification program in 2011, the U.K. has been held up as a worldwide benchmark for an industry cleaning up its dingy reputation. Proponents suggest the Kitemark has helped rid the U.K. of underachieving, unsafe and unprofessional shops that don’t put the necessary resources, training, equipment or attention to detail into properly fixing vehicles.
Basic statistics, proponents argue, back that up, as the number of shops in the U.K. has been reduced drastically in recent years.
Looking at numbers on a page is a lot different than seeing PAS 125 in action, though, says SCRS executive director Aaron Schulenburg, who took part in the trip. Schulenburg says that, in theory, PAS 125 is a very good concept. Still, it misses the bigger picture.
The race for direct repair agreements with insurance providers is just as prevalent in the U.K. as the U.S. Achieving the Kitemark status is a must for U.K. DRPs—and that leads to insurers being able to dictate payments for repair work.
“No one is going to argue against more education, more training, [proper] equipment, working toward better repairs,” Schulenburg says, “but we can’t keep having this conversation without price and payment becoming a part of it.
“The problem is that fixing cars the right way costs more than fixing them the wrong way. If you ignore that part as the U.K. did, you’ll be taking on a larger expense to fix cars for the same price. It seems to benefit everyone but the people doing the repairs the right way.”
From their tours, the SCRS group saw shops with diminishing margins and talked with shop owners who were no more clear today on the future of their businesses than they were prior to earning the Kitemark, says Andy Dingman of Dingman’s Collision in Nebraska, another member of the traveling SCRS group.
“They’re being pinched in by the expenses,” Dingman says. “It’s becoming harder and harder for them to be profitable.”
Obviously, the solutions to these issues aren’t simple.
During a lengthy panel discussion on this issue at the Collision Industry Conference back in January, a longtime U.K. shop operator and one of the founders of the original standards that led to PAS 125, Mike Monaghan, suggested that these repair standards are simply the start of the process; they’re a way to separate the professional shops from the unprofessional ones.
“If you don’t know what good looks like, we’ll be here again in 15 years,” he said at the time.
For the U.S. industry, the goal should be to gain the information necessary to make knowledgeable decisions moving forward, Schulenburg says. That was the reason behind the SCRS trip.
Over the past two years, SCRS, as an organization, has pushed for industry-wide acceptance of OEM repair procedures as the U.S. standard. The Automotive Service Association and Alliance of Automotive Service Providers have done the same. And I-CAR’s recent announcement detailing the development of its Repairability Technical Support and Knowledge system will help to close some of the gaps in available OEM information.
“I believe that if you want to eat an elephant, you need to do it one bite at a time,” Schulenburg says. “The best place for us to start has to be the point with the least amount of contention—we need to work on documentation of here’s how to repair. Then you move from there.
The goal, Schulenburg adds, is to have everything that standards would provide—better training, better equipment, better repairs, etc.—but with actual ROI, giving shops a tangible reason and desire to train, be equipped and be informed.