Fighting the pull of opposing forces in the industry

March 30, 2020
I hear the cries over how vehicle manufacturers are presumably over extending their policies with a selfish interest in selling parts. I see the anxiety of the salvage industry that manufacturers will squeeze them out of the marketplace.

At the recent MSO Symposium, industry expert and analyst Vincent Romans spoke about a power struggle within our industry over essentially our posture on how to repair vehicles. He cited various entities including trade associations such as the Automotive Service Association and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists endorsing strict adherence to vehicle manufacturer repair procedures. He also included the Collision Industry Conference as the gist of many presentations and discussions in recent meetings have emphasized the importance of safe and proper repairs and using manufacturer procedures. CIC Chairman Jeff Peevy has even placed an empty chair on the stage to illustrate the person not in attendance, the vehicle owner/driver, whom should be of primary concern when discussing repairs and repair procedure policies.

Similarly, in some recent presentations Sean Carey, also an industry expert and consultant, brought forth the same issue. He said, “Despite the seemingly obvious imperative to repair the vehicle as per the OEM recommendations, insurers are using the full might of their political and legal lobbying efforts to refute the need. Citing premium increases and anti-competitive repairer eco system they are more skilled at lobbying in this area than the OEMs.”

I appreciate this candor and straight talk. As a repairer and as someone involved in many industry activities, I regularly witness examples of this power struggle. I know it to be real and see it as a significant detriment to the progress of our industry. It needs to be discussed and we need resolution. As an industry we are not all rowing the same direction.

And now to top it off we are seeing examples of salvage parts companies and salvage parts trade associations coming out in public opposition to various state legislative efforts to promote the use of manufacturer repair procedures. The controversy and friction heighten. In a nation where we are increasingly polarized politically our industry in similarly polarizing.

Editorially speaking, I am frankly appalled that we are even having this discussion. Our industry is changing more and at a faster rate than ever before. New substrates and fastening technologies are completely different than in the past. Our vehicles have become ‘computers on wheels’ with a staggering amount of capacity and complexity. Tolerances are tighter than ever. Many of us were taught generic repair methods where techs became artisans, using basic principles to create repair solutions including heating, shrinking, pulling, filling, shimming, welding and brazing to get panels and rails to provide pre loss appearance and fit. While safety was taken into consideration the vehicles had little in terms of crash technology other than more or less mass. Today various brands, components, substrates, materials, fastening methodologies, and other technological aspects are vastly different from each other. Vehicle performance standards are light years ahead of where they were even 10 or 20 years ago. In fact the difference over the last year or so is very significant.  We have no choice but to be obliged to use manufacturer repair procedures. To vary from them is to become and amateur engineer, creating our own repair solutions with no verification on how it will behave in the next crash. This opens us up to potential vehicle operator/passenger injury risks and the following litigation.

I hear the cries over how vehicle manufacturers are presumably overextending their policies with a selfish interest in selling parts. I see the anxiety of the salvage industry that manufacturers will squeeze them out of the marketplace. I understand the fear over increased costs and the potential change in the makeup of the parts we use.

But at the same time, we have more than 35,000 people dying in vehicle crashes in our country each year in our country — 1.25 million deaths in the world. Over 2.5 million injuries in the US.  A great deal of the increased complexity of vehicles is about safety. Statistics show that people are paying more attention to crash ratings and vehicle safety than ever before when choosing their vehicles. Turn on the TV and you will see an abundance of new vehicle advertisements, many stressing the safety aspects. Volvo has publicly promoted their vision that no one will be killed or injured in a Volvo starting with the 2020 models. People are paying more attention to health and safety all around us. How often did we hear about concussions years ago?

Vehicles can and are being made to be better at avoiding accidents. They are being made better at offering safety when an accident occurs. Technology is the key. NASCAR has demonstrated how technology can improve crashworthiness. They prove it almost every weekend. Their drivers seem to consistently walk away from high-speed crashes. Technology has made the airline flight immensely safer, in fact safer than automobile travel. I see the issue of safety coming at us like a speeding train. Those in opposition risk being run over.

Let us not be like Yellow Pages salesmen as they promoted their dying product and philosophies. Instead let us pull together as an industry and find solutions. Yes, costs will increase. Yes, the complexion of the industry will look different. Yes, there will be scenarios where it appears we are being overly cautious compared to in the past. Yes, we may be suspicious of the motives of others. But instead of holding back others and being a detriment to the progress of safe repairs let us each instead focus on how we can put safety first. I believe we owe it to each other.

About the Author

Darrell Amberson | Director, MSO relations

Darrell Amberson is the president of operations for LaMettry's Collision, a 10-location multi-shop operator in the Minneapolis area. Amberson has more than 40 years of collision industry experience, is interim chairman of the Collision Industry Conference, and served as chairman for the 2021-2022 term.

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