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Filling Gaps in OEM Repair Information

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OEM repair information today is good, but not perfect, says Jason Bartanen, director of industry technical relations for I-CAR. It needs to be better and more readily accessible for shops.

Although Bartanen says the OEM information available today is better than ever, it still isn’t 100 percent comprehensive. Holes exist, and it's sometimes difficult for shops and insurers to verify their procedural judgments on jobs. Some shops have a hard time obtaining the information at all. Bartanen adds that vehicle manufacturers have strong distribution methods for their affiliated dealerships, but don’t have an efficient tactic to deliver that same information to independent facilities, which repair a majority of collision-damaged vehicles.

I-CAR last summer launched a new Repairability Technical Support (RTS) initiative to tackle the problem—a four-member team dedicated to communicate with auto manufacturers to fill the informational gaps and distribute the information to the industry at large. The initiative—which will be a continual, ongoing effort moving forward—is expected to improve work quality and productivity for independent shops by providing a conduit to more consistent, detailed and standardized repair information.

Information Distribution

A new website has been created, rts.i-car.com, which is designed as a “centralized, comprehensive distribution mechanism” for OEM information, Bartanen says.

A large amount of technical-based information from several auto manufacturers—paint, materials, parts and processes—is listed on the website and stored in the database. The website also includes all of I-CAR’s latest technical briefs and daily articles.

"We want to provide a conduit for auto manufacturers to reach all repairers. Our goal is to distribute as much information as possible for OEMs, whether it be service bulletins, new procedures, updates to procedures, or body repair manuals," Bartanen says. 

Developing Consistency

Bartanen says there is some inconsistency between auto manufacturers regarding the type and amount of information they distribute. Some manufacturers have a wealth of information available, while others don’t have any collision repair information available in the U.S. market. 

I-CAR held a series of discussions with a group of 50 auto manufacturers, shop professionals and insurers to outline 13 standard pieces of information that repairers need access to from every OEM. The list includes items such as material identification, material repairability guidelines, sectioning procedures, seam sealer identification and location, and corrosion protection requirements.

The broader impact of the matrix, though, is development of more comprehensive OEM repair manuals, Bartanen says. Members of the RTS initiative have communicated the gaps to every OEM to help release more information, many of which are now working on producing those standard items for the industry. The RTS team created an OEM technical information matrix that outlines which manufacturers provide which pieces of information. That document is a major benefit to repairers, Bartanen says, because it’s a single resource to identify whether the information they need exists, and where they can find it. The information matrix will be updated and expanded as new information becomes available, and is viewable for free at rts.i-car.com.

Doug Craig, collision repair manager of the Chrysler Group, for example, says he is working with Chrysler’s vehicle design and materials engineers to update and distribute new technical repair bulletins to reflect the identified informational gaps. Many other OEMs are doing the same.

Another notable improvement came from Kia—a company that historically hasn’t released collision information in the U.S. market. Bartanen says the company now has a “highly comprehensive” collision manual available online for its Soul model.

Detailed Procedures

OEM information provides shops with high-level processes to make a repair, but in some situations lacks detailed steps to make them correctly, Bartanen says. For example, an OEM procedure might recommend “making and dressing a GMA MIG plug weld.” But it may not always specify how far to grind the weld, how to dress it, or the grit of sandpaper to use.

The RTS website includes an online informational communication portal for shops. It’s a technical inquiry submission process that provides the industry with a strategy to communicate and resolve repair gaps they encounter, Bartanen says.

Shops can submit technical inquiries, and the RTS team responds with OEM-supported information. When information isn't available from the OEM, the RTS team initiates communication with auto manufacturers to answer questions and share information. All technical inquiries and findings, which will be added to the database on a regular basis, are sorted and searchable by vehicle manufacturer and subject matter.

OEM Standardization

Bartanen says some OEMs use different formats, phrases and terminologies in their repair manuals, which can cause confusion for shops.

Craig says OEMs have been solicited to develop more standardized communication processes. Auto manufacturers understand the confusing—and sometimes contradictory—information they produce, and most companies are in favor of working together to simplify and unify their procedures.

Standards Byproduct

The RTS initiative is not necessarily meant to address the industry’s repair standards issue, but it’s one direct improvement that has resulted from those discussions, says Bob Keith, treasurer of I-CAR’s international board of directors and multi-store director for CARSTAR Auto Body Repair Experts.

And it will prove to be a major benefit for shops, he says. Repairers will have access to more robust information and a more efficient strategy to clarify technical questions to improve performance on the shop floor.

In addition, Keith says the RTS initiative has opened better lines of communication between the industry and auto manufacturers to boost responsiveness surrounding informational needs. 

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