How would you define repair standards, and why are they important?
Technical repair standards are critical because you have to have safety, you have to have the vehicle returned to pre-accident condition.
When we talk about standards, one of the things I would say is that everyone has an opinion or an interpretation. When we talk about OEM repair standards, they don’t always have standards and they don’t often have enough methods to repair their own vehicles. Sometimes it hasn’t been done. Sometimes the methods can be changed and you still get a safe repair. Organizations, like Thatcham [Research Centre] in the U.K., are specialists at doing that —finding safe, effective repair methods. You need repair standards so that you can validate the car is repaired safely.
You also have to have standards for the business. Sometimes, people think I’m barking at the moon when I talk about standards for the business. When you get into the mindset of a repair shop, there is no compliance with health and safety, adequate tooling, adequate equipment. You might technically be able to do a good repair, but it’s just not a good business for our industry. Conversely, you can have a business that’s doing poor repair standards. You have to measure the whole of the business, then you’ll have a standard, a complete standard. And if you have a complete standard, you’d remove all these individual factions that will always promote “ours is best.” They say, “Ours is best, and we’ll leave you with a fragmented industry because you have no common standard.” So, measure the whole of the business, which will include the technical competency.
What has been the impact of standards in the U.K.?
It’s commercially always going to be a tough business. Insurers will always want to shop cheaply and drive the price down. In a commercial business that’s worth $30 billion, you’re going to try to use that leverage to bring the price down.
But the beauty of what standards did [in the U.K.] is that it allowed the good shops to prove they are the good shops. In doing so, those that could not compete started to drift away. What you were left with was a solid core or nucleus of technical, competent businesses. It’s more professional in every way—clean, smart, the shops look attractive. It became a place that we needed that young technicians could look at and think that it was a place they’d like to work. They look more like laboratory. It makes you say, “Yeah, that’s the industry we should be proud of.” We’re not going to places that are dusty and dark.
In terms of standards in the U.K. and what it did for us, it let the good shops demonstrate that they are good, and the shops that didn’t meet the standards drifted away. And the good shops then gained from the additional work. It was a lower margin, but they got more.
You’ve been talking about standards here for 19 years, what are the biggest obstacles for achieving standards in the U.S.?
Everyone has an independently commercial standard, and is promoting [their own standards]. That’s your biggest challenge. Now, the successfully, commercially vested businesses, who won’t want to really give it up, they’re always going to say why theirs is better or stronger. What you have to realize is that they can be protective in what they do but allow something to be created above it.
Create a standard, and it doesn’t matter what part you assess or do, the repairers themselves will commercially validate the value of what VeriFacts [Automotive] or Assured Performance [Network] or any of the others. They will validate the value to the business, and go above that and sit above it with a nationally recognized standard.