Follow OEM repair specifications while maintaining cycle time

Dec. 5, 2017
The reality is that some businesses want to rely on under skilled people to control wages, but top talent controls problems. These guys get the job done more efficiently, their comeback ratio is much lower and customer retention is much higher.

Switching from working in a brick and mortar mechanical shop to going to work for Mobile Auto Solutions (MAS) — which services nearly 1,300 shops in a four-state radius — a little over five years ago was a real eye opener to auto repair. With insurance companies and consumers demanding shorter cycle times in this on-demand world, shops are trying to figure out ways to meet these goals while maintaining quality repairs. 

What got me started down the road to writing this article was a conversation I had with a shop manager after I’d completed a Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) calibration. He asked me if we were starting to do more of these type calibrations. I told him that as a company, we have done upwards of 10 in a day. He commented that this is going to be the new normal; but it was his next comment that really got my brain churning. He felt that we, as a company, may have to station a technician at his shop almost full time to accomplish all the calibrations along with the pre-repair and post-repair scans needed. To me, his concern was cycle time. I will get back to this shortly. 

Here is a Toyota Techstream scan tool and the target for an Adaptive Cruise Control aiming procedure. ACC and BSM tool are the same for some Toyotas.

Let’s take a step back and look at how the collision repair business has changed in the last five years. I pick five years because this is the timeframe I can personally attest to. Five years ago shops had to deal with dashboard lights. Most of the time, it was the airbag light, but the reality is it could be any light on the dash that we needed to make to go away. You can’t deliver a car to a customer with the instrument cluster lit up like a Christmas tree. For me, this could mean a simple code clear or delving further into diagnostics and programming. As the company owner of MAS, Kevin DiVito believes that the only way to service vehicles correctly is to use OEM service information (SI) exclusively. Many people fail to realize that price should not determine the repair, the end result should. I often tell our guys that we under promise and over deliver. What shops understood is we shortened cycle time. 

Over the last five years, MAS has grown to 11 trucks in four states. How did we accomplish this? Kevin was associated with iATN (International Automotive Technician Network) when I met him. With the network of friends and colleagues I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with, I introduced Kevin to people around the country, and along with people he knew, finding the top talent available was much easier. We read articles in ABRN. We go to training and continue to network. As a company, we hire top talent regardless if we have enough work. Work finds top talent. 

The reality is that some businesses want to rely on under skilled people to control wages, but top talent controls problems. These guys get the job done more efficiently, their comeback ratio is much lower and customer retention is much higher. And when you give that talent 19 factory scan tools with interfaces that give coverage from 1996 forward — which are needed to do the job right — there’s a recipe for shortening cycle time. 

I’m often asked how we learn about all the cars and systems we service. The reality is there is no direct training available for what we do. We typically work on new model year vehicles within weeks after they are released. So how do you learn? In March 2017, all of the technicians went to VISION in Kansas for a weekend of classes and networking. In July 2017, some of us attended classes at NACE Automechanika in Chicago. We also read trade magazines and OE service information. Recently, MAS leased a 6,000 square-foot facility for in-house training to fine tune our skills. We are also planning on contacting I-CAR and other trainers who may need a location to perform seminars. 

This is a multipurpose camera calibration target setup for performing a LKAS (lane keep assist system) on a Honda Pilot.

So now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s pull this back a bit. Before going right back into calibrations, I’d like to talk about pre-repair and post- repair scans. Is your shop having scans performed or is the shop performing them in-house? With the recent position statements being released by the manufactures, scanning is the latest buzz. How do the insurance companies handle these scans? Sadly, the answer to that depends on the company, and worse the individual representative the shop deals with. Insurance companies are about controlling costs. Some like to jump over $100 bills to save a nickel. The smart ones understand that a quality pre-repair scan can shorten cycle time since the chance of missed parts has just dropped. I wonder if I polled shops and insurance companies on how many would report Ford-deployed steering columns that had been missed. The number would be staggering. This would never happen with a quality pre-repair scan. Pre-repair scans are a great way to control cycle time. 

What about post-repair scans? Do you need one? I see a post-repair scan as a way for the shop and insurance company as partners to deliver a quality repair to the customer/insured. This should be something that can be shown to the owner to show that the shop has done everything in their power to correct any issues from the collision or repair process. I like to think of it as an insurance policy for the shop and insurer.  

Now that we’ve covered scans, let’s discuss options for getting one performed. Where you are located will govern your options, which are in-house, dealer, mobile tech or an online service. Let’s start with the dealer option first. In my part of the world, unless you have groomed a relationship with multiple dealers, your vehicle is on the back burner. I have had customers tell me they have had cars at dealers for weeks to get a diagnosis/repair. Having a vehicle out of shop control can destroy cycle time. How about in-house? That depends on what tools your shop has available and when it was last updated. Too often I see a shop have a body tech spend hours trying to figure out a problem, instead of having the tech make the shop money by doing what he knows how to do. So, depending on the shop equipment and technician using the equipment, cycle time could be shortened or lengthened. How about an online service? This might be a good option if your shop is in a remote part of the country. The drawback to the in-house and online options are their compliance with the position statement. With a mobile tech business, the company or technician has access to a network of other mobile techs. This relationship also allows for a rapport to be built – when problems occur, the mobile guy has flexibility. 

And as mentioned earlier, this brings us back to calibrations. With BSM (blind spot monitor), ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) and ACC (adaptive cruise control) becoming the new normal, how do we accomplish calibrations as they relate to cycle time? The reality is cycle time is going to need to be adjusted to accommodate these new systems. I’m not saying that in relation to the shop as much as I’m saying that to the insurer and the consumer who have unrealistic expectations when it comes to repairing the modern-day vehicle. 

Following OE repair specifications in your shop, or finding a reliable partner who can perform the requirements for you can take time, and is worth the effort. If you have paid attention to the news, you are aware that John Eagle Collision Center in Dallas performed a repair to a vehicle to the insurance company’s standards, rather than to that of the OE. They were sued after the vehicle was in a collision that trapped the passengers inside due to the previous repair. They lost the case — to the tune of $31.5 million. What does this teach us? We as techs and shops are the professionals. We are supposed to know the correct way to repair a vehicle.  

A Toyota Blind Spot Calibration being performed

I recently performed a BSM calibration at a shop. The shop had replaced the quarter panel but according to the shop, the manufacturer did not give specs as to where the BSM bracket should be installed. What we know is that the target location is a constant. Given this, I set up the target and performed the calibration. In this case, the shop had the bracket mounted correctly. On another occasion, a shop called me in to perform a BSM calibration and the quarter panel had been damaged so that the sensor could not see the target. Now I could have told them it needed a quarter, but that does not guarantee that the sensor is in the correct position. Thankfully, my co-workers came up with an accurate way to adjust the quarter to the target position. Working with a body tech, we removed the sensor and made the quarter panel repairs to put the sensor in the correct position so that it would calibrate to the constant (target). In my experience, the dealer would have just shipped this back to the shop to have them repair the quarter panel. We’ve also seen where a dealer has moved the target into the sensor array to get a pass. The problem with doing a calibration this way is that the system is always in a self-check mode, and unfortunately the vehicle will turn into a comeback repair. The online service simply can’t perform the service, and I’ve yet to see a shop tooled and trained to perform the task at hand. 

As a seasoned technician who performs service and repairs daily, I hope I’ve given you relevant and pertinent discernment in handling these issues and managing cycle times in your shop.

About the Author

Bob Heipp

Bob Heipp is the Chicago Area Technician Manager for Mobile Auto Solutions (MAS). MAS services 1,295 shops in Illinois, Indiana, Micigan and Wisconsin. He has been a working technician for 27 years.

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