Update: Colonial Auto Body's Hybrid Services

May 1, 2017

Colonial Auto Body continues to be a trendsetter by adapting to evolving vehicle technology like hybrids and electrics.

When FenderBender wrote about Colonial Auto Body in 2012, Donna Borges was embracing the technology required to repair hybrid vehicles. 

In 2017, the co-owner is still embracing new technology with open arms at her shop in Plaistow, N.H., and is still making sure her staff is properly trained when it comes to repairing vehicles like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, which account for roughly 15 percent of her shop’s work mix. Nowadays, though, Borges is also having her staff study up on electric vehicles, like the Chevy Volt. 

Her emphasis on extensive training is one reason why Colonial Auto Body—the only shop in southern New Hampshire to largely specialize in hybrids and EVs—has seen its annual revenue grow from $2 million to $3.2 million over the last five years. 

Borges provided FenderBender with her thoughts on the keys to being prepared to repair hybrids and EVs in 2017 and beyond. 

Average Hybrid Repairs Increasing

In the span of just a few short years, Borges has seen her shop largely shift from repairing mid-size hybrids like the Prius to tackling more sizable vehicles in that segment, like Chevy Suburbans. And the price of such repairs continues to rise. Five years ago, Colonial Auto Body’s average hybrid repair job was $6,000; today, that number is around $15,000. 

And, while she appreciates how the cost of repairs have aided her shop’s growth, the shop operator is fairly alarmed at how some in the industry have been slow to adapt to hybrid technology. In late 2016, for example, Colonial Auto Body worked on a Subaru Legacy hybrid and found that a nearby dealership was unprepared to offer the necessary assistance. 

“That car was a nightmare to work on, because our local Subaru dealership didn’t have the computer technology to do the resets,” says Borges, who has had an ownership stake in Colonial Auto Body for 27 years. “It took weeks to fix the car.

“The biggest tip I could give any repairer of hybrid vehicles is: Disassemble the damaged area completely, and inspect every component thoroughly. One small chip in a component, or crack in the underside of a part, can cause a huge and expensive error down the line.” 

Embracing EVs, Training 

Electric vehicles are a breeze to fix in comparison to hybrids, Borges notes. And her growing appreciation for the EV segment comes at an ideal time, considering their adoption rate in her home state. According to a December 2016 report by ChargePoint, which operates electric vehicle chargers in the U.S., New Hampshire ranked sixth among U.S. states in EV growth (the top six states in terms of EVs in operation: California, Georgia, Washington, Florida, Texas, and New York). The report also notes that, in the U.S. alone, 542,000 EVs had been sold through November 2016—a number that’s seven times the amount of EVs that were sold in the U.S. in 2012. 

So, while EVs still only represent 1.1 percent of U.S. car sales, the segment is growing. And Borges is taking every step to have her staff prepared to take on EV repairs. 

When the Chevy Volt rolled out, Borges had her staff take part in training—which was offered free of charge—at a nearby dealership. She has also taken advantage of the hands-on training that I-CAR offers, which she gladly pays for her staff to attend. 

“It’s always important to keep your bodymen trained on the latest technology—and keeping your office staff trained, too,” says Borges, who budgets $3,000 per year for employee training. “I mean, you need to know what these things are when you’re writing an estimate.

“I feel that we get a tenfold return on our training dollars. When a new model vehicle comes through our door, my techs are prepared to repair it. 

“You can’t stay ahead of the curve if you are ignorant of the market.”