First was the Volkswagen Passat. It was driven into the bay; the mid-size repair to its front end had been completed that morning, and the crew at Big Sky Collision already had cleared its fault codes with an aftermarket diagnostic scan tool.
So, as far as your standard quality control check would be concerned, this vehicle was clean. It was safe. It was road ready. Right?
Well, at least to the dozen or so shop owners, insurance adjusters and members of the Montana Insurance Commissioner's Office that were in attendance that day, that was the assumption.
“It was finished and checked the same way the vast majority of vehicles are at shops around the country,” Bruce Halcro says. “Most shops would be ready to hand those keys over to the customer.”
Halcro had just made the 240-mile trip from his own facility, Capital Collision Center, in Helena, Mont., to Big Sky’s Billings location. And as he watched Big Sky owner Matt McDonnell hook up a Collision Diagnostic Services (CDS) asTech2 device to the Passat’s OBD-II port, Halcro waited for the punch line.
Halcro works closely with McDonnell at the Montana Collision Repair Association, and at this time in late 2015, Halcro had owned a CDS device for nearly three years. He had a pretty good idea what was coming next: fault codes—23 of them, to be exact. But let’s rephrase that: According to the certified technicians on the backend of that CDS device, there were 23 issues within that vehicle’s system; that’s 23 potential safety hazards; that’s 23 different reasons why the Passat’s keys belonged nowhere near the hands of a customer.
“People kind of started looking around at each other—most people couldn’t believe it,” Halcro says with a laugh. “And this wasn’t a setup; it was a randomly selected car from the shop.”
To prove it, McDonnell then scanned a pre-repair 2015 F-150. It came back with 13 fault codes. For added emphasis, he grabbed one of the attendee’s rental vehicles—a Toyota Tundra that came back with six of its own fault codes.
Get the picture?
McDonnell sure hopes so; that’s why he held the demonstration in December, and invited the insurance commissioner's office to join them.
“There shouldn’t be any pushback on this anymore,” McDonnell says. “[Diagnostic scanning] is absolutely critical to completing safe repairs.”
Automakers agree—the majority include it in their repair documents. And other industry organizations agree as well, including the Assured Performance Network (APN), which now includes it as a requirement for all shops that qualify for the dozen or so OEM certifications it handles.
So, here’s McDonnell’s message: Diagnostic scanning is here, and it is a must for every shop to do in-house. “But how do you get all shops and adjusters on board?” Halcro asks rhetorically. “That’s the question here.”
State of Industry Scanning
Modern vehicles are complicated, and require a much more sophisticated, technologically focused process to diagnose, says Susanna Gotsch, lead analyst for CCC Information Services.
In case you needed proof: High-end vehicles in 2015 averaged more than 100 million lines of software code per car, according to data research firm Information is Beautiful. To put that in perspective, a Boeing 787, for example, has about 14 million. An F-35 fighter jet has less than 25 million lines of code. Facebook uses just over 60 million, and Apple’s operating system, Mac OS X “Tiger,” has a little more than 80 million.
And much of this data is what automakers refer to as “mission critical”—lines of software code that control and enable functionality in crucial safety features, from complex systems like adaptive cruise control and automatic braking to the most basic, life-saving components like airbags and seat belts. These systems all need to be checked, diagnosed, and calibrated following the repair.
The numbers above were for “high-end” vehicles, but Gotsch stresses not to assume this is an issue only pertinent in the most expensive cars.
“A lot of what has typically been the domain of many of the luxury vehicles has now trickled down into the entire fleet,” she says. “So, the mainstream is coming up to meet luxury.”
Yet, according to numbers from a recent Collision Advice survey, only 47 percent of shops perform pre- and post-repair diagnostic scans.
There isn’t a viable excuse for not doing it, I-CAR’s Jason Bartanen says. The equipment and tools have been there for years; yet, the most common diagnostic procedures at shops (when there is one) is to sublet it to the dealerships—a wasted opportunity for your shop to improve cycle time and profitability by keeping it in-house.
“We want that awareness out there so that people know that this is not going [away], that it’s something here today and they need to address it today,” Bartanen says.
Until that demonstration at Big Sky Collision, Halcro says his shop rarely used its CDS scanner, and, really, he wasn’t sure how to even begin.
McDonnell had the same questions, too, before he first made it a point of emphasis in March 2015. Unsure of where to start, he decided to scan every full repair job, before and after, for a 30-day period. Ninety-six percent of those came back, following the repair, with at least one fault code.
Halcro followed McDonnell’s lead, and has worked it into his standard operating procedures in recent months. He now performs pre- and post-repair scans on more than 70 percent of the shop’s jobs.
Profiting from Diagnostics
As Bartanen explains, there are many options for shops in terms of diagnostic equipment: There are OEM-specific scan tools; more general aftermarket ones; items such as the CDS asTech2; and also third-party organizations that will come to your shop to perform the scans for you.
Both Halcro and McDonnell have opted for CDS—an option that doesn’t come cheap. The tool itself costs $2,500, and there’s an $85 fee for each use. (The system pulls the codes to the CDS headquarters, where make-specific diagnostic techs diagnose the vehicle, and send back the results to the shop.)
Halcro charges $350 for it on each job, which includes a 25 percent markup on the CDS fees and two labor hours (an hour on each side of the repair). And he has nearly no problems with being reimbursed. From the start, he says at least 90 percent of insurers were good with it; the two easiest to work with were USAA and State Farm.
(State Farm declined to comment specifically about it: “Due to the varied complexities of both vehicle construction and accident severity it is not possible to make a general statement regarding pre and post-repair diagnostic scans,” spokesperson Justin Tomczak says.)
Now, Halcro rarely gets any sort of pushback on the charge.
With OEMs asking for it, Bartanen says the industry has to move this way. And, investing in the ability to perform these scans in-house will make your business more profitable: no more delays from subletting the work; improved margins on being reimbursed; not to mention the reassurance of quality control, and the benefits that come with it.
The demonstration at Big Sky was eye-opening to many, but Halcro hopes not everyone has to see something similar before they believe it themselves.
“This is something everyone should be doing, and can do,” he says. “There’s no way around it.”
Breaking Down the ‘Black Box’
Mitchell’s Horn: Make sure you protect your shop from legal issues
As of Sept. 1, 2014, all vehicles manufactured in the U.S. have been required to include a “black box,” an indestructible device that records vehicle information—information that can be critical in understanding the circumstances surrounding a crash. These devices have been around for decades, Greg Horn of Mitchell International says, ever since General Motors first put airbags into the Chevrolet Impala.
“They needed to understand how the airbags performed in crashes,” Horn explains, “and they’ve become much more mainstream since the early 2000s.”
From a shop perspective, Horn says there are two considerations when it comes to this technology:
1. The information can be difficult to extract—or even to understand how to extract it. For instance, Horns says Toyota has “11 different connections and black box specifications” for its vehicles. Data pertaining to this can be found through OEMs, and shops should be wary of touching it because ...
2. There are possible legal issues surrounding them. Horn says it’s not uncommon for a shop to be caught in the middle of legal actions surrounding the chain of control of evidence in a court case. In the event of a lawsuit or a criminal investigation related to a crash, the black box can be used as evidence. Shops must ensure that they did nothing to “tamper” with that evidence—leaving it unattended in your lot can fall into that category. Horn suggests putting a full wrap on any vehicle that may be involved in a case like this, and keeping it in a secure area on your property.
The oft-discussed technology driving vehicle communication has officially reached collision shops
Imagine a vehicle crashes, and within seconds, your shop receives a full report: where it was hit, the severity of damage, the compromised vehicle components, any diagnostic fault codes—everything. Not only are you able to immediately reach out to the now potential customer, but you can also begin your own repair process by ordering parts and working the vehicle into your schedule.
That’s the scenario Marc Fredman, senior vice president of corporate strategy and development for CCC Information Services, envisions for the company’s DriveFactor segment, a 2015 acquisition that launched CCC into the aftermarket telematics race.
“A lot of the initial applications [of telematics devices] were on, let’s call it, automotive retail,” Fredman explains. “It started with the mechanical side because there are things around the car—being in a breakdown, maintenance issues—that make sense for alerts. … But this data fits for collision repair, and it can make a huge difference.”
The scene Fredman described is what DriveFactor is working toward.
“The data is there, and using it, there’s a dramatic increase … in efficiency, speed and customer satisfaction once this is made available,” he says.
The complexity of vehicles has made repair information critical to safe and correct repairs
The collision repair industry is changing at “light speed,” Lee Daugherty says, and it’s vehicle design that’s driving those changes. As the global data product manager for Chief Automotive, Daugherty is at the forefront of what some refer to as the repair information revolution.
“Vehicles are only getting more complicated,” he says. “From the materials used to the systems [embedded], there is a lot of information needed from the initial estimate through the repair process.”
That’s why, in 2014, roughly 25 percent of Chief’s worldwide sales came from its data segment; just 21 percent was from its pulling equipment. Chief produces its own vehicle info, putting vehicles on lifts to get more accurate estimates.
Daugherty implores shops to use advanced measuring equipment before, during and after repairs to understand how vehicles are not only affected in a crash, but also to see the energy transfers during repairs to ensure vehicles are repaired properly. Then, there’s the metallurgy aspects, Mitchell’s Horn says. Frequent changes in vehicle materials make it difficult for technicians to approach repairs without full access to repair data.
“It’s absolutely critical, for all of the vehicle’s components, to understand exactly what you’re looking at before starting,” he says. “It can be the difference between repairing vehicles, and compromising the integrity of those materials, making them unsafe.”
Technology vs. Repair Costs
While vehicle technology aims to reduce accident frequency, experts say that doesn’t mean less money for your business
Horn wants to get this misconception out of the way quickly: Advanced vehicle technology does not necessarily signal a future struggle for your business.
Sure, safety features are designed to directly reduce the frequency of accidents, he says, but those features, when in a collision, are also far more expensive to replace. And that doesn’t even take into account the impact advanced materials in vehicle structure have on the average ticket.
I-CAR’s Bartanen suggests, too, that more safety features may simply eliminate the influx of high-speed crashes, rather than collisions altogether. That would turn potential total losses into jobs for shops.
“The cost of repairs and the technical intensity of those repairs keeps going up, whether that’s because of new materials or all these sensors,” CCC’s Gotsch agrees. “The dollar pool that’s available to repairers is going to be here for a very, very long time.”
Accident frequency rose in both 2014 and 2015, Gotsch adds, and she doesn’t see any reason they’d decrease in 2016.
The Industry’s Future: ‘Making Smart Simple’
Intuitive design has taken the complex and made it usable for shops
You’ve seen the headlines: Autonomous vehicles are coming—and they’re coming soon.
Well, Horn says to temper those expectations. Sure, the technology is advancing, and it is a key focus for many automakers. But, if we’re being honest, she says, the industry is far from that being a reality.
“Right now, we have the oldest fleet of vehicles on record at right around 11.5 years old,” he explains. “That’s what we’re mostly seeing in shops. There isn’t a driverless car pulling into your lot anytime soon.”
Instead of focusing on the sensational ways data and technology will change the auto industry down the road, CCC’s Fredman says to focus on the immediate future, and how your shop can take advantage of technology today to improve.
It’s about application, he says, and finding ways to do what CCC aims to do in each product it creates: “Make smart simple,” Fredman says.
“Any time there’s a change or an innovation, the natural reaction is, ‘What’s in it for me?’” Fredman says.
Gotsch says that, more and more, technology is answering that question with more intuitive products. For instance, CCC’s tablet-based management system functions differently than it does on a desktop in order to offer a user experience geared toward how the user actually, well, uses it.
“Technology needs to follow that natural learning process,” she says. “Technology needs to make things easier and simpler, not more complicated.”
In his work with I-CAR, Bartanen often presents on future industry trends. The influx of technology in every aspect of the collision repair industry can be overwhelming at times, he admits.
“People will come up to me and say, ‘Man, I need to look at a different career with all this information coming,’” he says. “My response to that is that … it’s about having the knowledge, doing the research, knowing what you’re working on, staying abreast of technology, and taking training to understand the technology requirements and limitations.
“This is about growing your business. All of these advancements are opportunities for us to get more business, and we need to start looking at it that way.”