Understanding the importance of OEM procedures, resources and training

Feb. 1, 2018
Rapid advancement in vehicle technologies means technicians need to know how to perform proper repairs and where to find the necessary information. I'll give you a hint: OEMs.

Making better collision repair decisions benefits both your business and customers by restoring the vehicle to its pre-accident condition and helping to ensure its safety as designed by the manufacturer. 

However, this becomes increasingly challenging as the technology in vehicles and materials used to manufacture them change at what seems like lightning speed.  

(Photo courtesy of I-CAR) Scan tools and collision repair diagnostics are becoming a required part of the collision repair process, creating new opportunities for technicians and a more extensive knowledge base.

For many years, vehicles’ structures regularly changed, but it wasn’t overly significant to the collision repair industry. Starting in the 1990s and since, collision repairers have had to begin dealing with repairing vehicles built with unique structural elements such as hyrdoforms along with different materials such as high-strength steel (HSS), ultra-high-strength steel (UHSS), some composites and other mixed materials.  

Now, the vehicles technicians are charged with repairing are vastly different than just a few years ago. The Inter-Industry Council on Auto Repair (more commonly known as simply I-CAR) calls it the “Technical Tsunami,” which refers to the current and continued rapid evolution of vehicle technologies – i.e. advanced safety systems – and materials like aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber and advanced HSS.  

Jason Bartanen

“This means a rapidly accelerating repair complexity and the need for new levels of information, knowledge, and skills," says Jason Bartanen, director of industry technical relations for I-CAR Technical Center based in Appleton, Wis. "All the advanced driver-assistance systems such as collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring add another layer of intricacy to the collision repair process. Many of the sensors for these are in areas on the exterior of a vehicle prone to being in a collision.” 

If a vehicle mirror is ripped off or damaged in a collision, technicians need to be familiar with the technology to identify which parts of the system needs to be replaced and how to recalibrate it, Bartanen explains.  

New (potentially lucrative) opportunities for collision repair technicians

With this growing number of advanced safety systems on vehicles, collision repairers need to know more than just how to physically replace their components but also the interworkings of how they operate.  

All the sophisticated electronics of which these systems are composed are creating the opportunity for a specialized type of technician that will be in high demand, says I-CAR’s Bartanen. 

Each system needs to be diagnosed and then, oftentimes, recalibrated after repair, he says, which creates the need for someone savvy with computers but also familiar with autobody repair. Technicians are essentially repairing “computer systems on wheels.”  

Tips for deciding the best approach to repair

It is important to note that the procedures provided by the vehicle maker are service specifications, not recommendations. These procedures should be thought of no differently than service information for transmission or engine repair, where specific procedures must be followed in the proper order.  

Following the OEM procedures is the best way to achieve complete, safe, quality repairs. This could include vehicle specific repair information, or general vehicle maker information. Deciding on the best approach, however, may have a few steps, including the following: 

  • First and foremost, always refer to the body repair manual for the make, model, year, and part in question. 
  • If the information doesn’t exist, the next step would be to refer to any OEM-specific published position statement or general procedure. 
  • If there is no vehicle-specific repair information and no OEM published position statement or general procedure, the last step would be to look for I-CAR published best practices. Published I-CAR best practices are inter-industry developed and vetted guidelines. 
Source: I-CAR Repairability Technical Support Portal (https://rts.i-car.com/collision-repair-news/always-follow-vehicle-maker-procedures)

“If you’re a young technician, get trained in collision repair diagnostics,” Bartanen says. “This is a huge opportunity for young adults that like cars but also like computers and blending them together.”  

It’s an ideal position for someone interested in automotive service but who doesn’t want to just do tire and oil changes while waiting to move into a higher role. “We can hire them and build them right into our business process,” Bartanen points out.  

Schools need to incorporate collision repair diagnostics into their programs because a well-trained student in this specialty who is able to perform these repairs can be a successful technician from day one in a well-paying job, he says. 

(Photo courtesy of I-CAR) The collision repair industry will likely deal with more mixed-material vehicles in the future such as this Cadillac CT6, making it more important than ever to adhere to vehicle manufacturer specifications.

These types of hybrid technician jobs give the collision repair industry the chance to reach a different population and create in-demand jobs. This is important, especially as the collision repair industry continues to have an aging workforce and a shortage of qualified technicians, Bartanen says.   

He uses the example of his 15-year-old nephew who loves both cars and video games. “I’ve been trying to show him how he can blend both interests together for what could be a fairly lucrative career,” he says.  

A career in the automotive repair industry is no longer what was often considered a choice for students who struggled with academics. “When I was growing up, they sent you to the other end of the building to shop class because academics wasn’t your strength,” Bartanen recalls. “You’d be directed to welding or automotive classes. We need good technicians – they are in demand – and the collision repair industry now is so much more than just welding parts together.”

The importance of following OEM guidelines

Douglas Craig

That’s why it’s so critical for technicians to understand where to obtain proper repair information and product instructions before starting a new collision repair job. Without doing so, it can affect the final outcome and integrity of the vehicle, says Douglas Craig, structural adhesives applications engineering manager & collision repair industry liaison for LORD Corporation.  

“When the collision repair industry as a whole decided about five years ago that the repair standard for any particular car would be the information provided by the vehicle manufacturer,” Craig notes, “it put them on the hook for providing all the necessary repair information when not all of them may have been on board with doing so.” 

To that end, he says it also makes the assumption that a repair technician is able to understand – and even find – the information. Any shop technician who is going to make a repair really needs to understand what it means to truly fix the vehicle. At the root of this are the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) guidelines and repair standards.  

Four ways to quickly improve repair decisions

1. Start with the right parts. Using genuine parts relieves repairers of guesswork because they are high quality and are precisely manufactured for the best fit and finish possible, helping to reduce your cycle time, comebacks and costs.  

2. Learn from the best. Knowing and learning the OEM’s vehicles inside and out by participating in interactive, hands-on instructor-led training is beneficial to any repair facility from knowing the grade of steel being welded in the vehicle to the correct paint application process. 

3. Source parts quickly and efficiently. A streamlined parts ordering system such as OPS (Overall Parts Solution) or Auto Parts Bridge will help repairers save time and money. They also give technicians the confidence to be able to schedule repairs accordingly and notify customers when to expect their vehicle repair to be finished.  

4. Have the right resources: Since no two repairs are identical, it’s so important to have the right resources to help you build the best repair plan.  

Source: Toyota

These procedures from the vehicle makers are service specifications not just “recommendations,” Craig notes. There has been much discussion in the collision repair industry surrounding the semantics/terminology of OEM repair procedures and best practices – so much in fact that several organizations developed a “Collision Repairer Joint Position Statement on Official Collison Repair Standards.”  

This joint statement officially recognizes that published repair procedures as the "repair standards" for collision repair to be used as the baseline for establishing training, testing, repair practices and documentation. It also recognizes that further development of procedures is necessary for areas not covered by published procedures. This includes gaps in existing OEM repair procedures and developing processes to close them, vetting industry proposed alternatives, modifications, and additions to OEM repair procedures. 

“Regardless of the verbiage, strictly adhering to OEM guidelines/procedures should be an autobody shop’s golden rule when it comes to collision repair, but it’s not always as simple as it sounds,” Craig says. “When a repaired vehicle goes back into service, you need to make sure the owner is getting it back with the same structural integrity and advanced safety systems functionality. The way to do that is following OEM guidelines. However, sometimes figuring out how to access the information itself can be difficult.” 

Access to information issues

Each OEM has its service information in a different format, which creates a challenge. Some OEMs also make information readily available, easily indexed and affordable to access, while others make it much more challenging to find or too costly to access the repair information.  

Craig puts it in this perspective: “Each manufacturer creates the repair information and puts it into their own proprietary dealer information database. Each database is different. Even though you can purchase a subscription, if you go into one service information database and get everything you need after being in there for an hour, it is completely different if you then go into another OEM database. You are having to re-educate yourself on how to find the information.”  

Searching for the proper repair information doesn’t end there, though. There may have been updates to the repair procedures released via service bulletin that would not be included in the vehicle repair manual.  

“That means the information the technician just spent time looking for may not be 100 percent correct – it may be dated,” Craig says. “You then may not be repairing the vehicle correctly after all.” 

(Photo courtesy of I-CAR) I-CAR’s Bob Jansen inspects a MIG-brazed joint during a hands-on skills development course.

Each vehicle needs time and resources allotted for comprehensive research to check for any service bulletins and new repair information, he says, using this example: the OEM for a light-duty truck makes 10 changes on the best standard operating procedure (SOP) to repair the truck's quarter panel because it determined there was a better way to do so. "This updated process could be very different from what had been printed two years ago in the repair manual," Craig notes. "Now the technician needs to re-research how to repair the vehicle. It can get very time-consuming beyond the actual repair."  

Repairers, of course, need to be compensated for this extra time spent. So who foots the bill? “It should be included as part of the repair job,” Craig suggests. “A research fee and an information fee should become line items on the estimate.”  

This solution also comes with its own issues. Craig says the insurance companies will push back because these line items would be considered a profit center, which puts the industry at a “pivotal point” for change.  

“We know OEM information is not always easy to get, depending on the manufacturer, so what we need is for everyone to buy into standardization,” Craig recommends. “The OEM data should be standardized so all the OEM data is in a format that can then be brought down to a manageable process. This would be like rewriting all the rules, though. It’s a whole new game, but the endgame in all of this is a proper repair for consumers.”

Closing the collision repair gap

Toyota Motor North America is one of the OEMs that recognizes the need to ensure that technicians have readily available access to repair information.  

Toyota Lexus Collision and Refinish Training (www.crrtraining.com) offers refinish, collision repair, hybrid vehicle system, and welding training courses, to name a few, that are available to dealerships and independent repair shops who are sponsored by a dealership where attendees can get step-by-step procedures.  

“The advancements of all the technology is changing so fast,” says Joseph P. DiDonato, senior collision training administrator, Toyota Motor North America, U.S.A., Inc. and an automotive collision technology instructor at Cypress College,  part of the North Orange County Community College District in Cypress, Calif. "It is a catch-up game. We want to ensure that anyone who puts their hands on our vehicles has the proper repair information."   

Toyota has expanded to four training centers throughout the United States, with the newest in Plano, Texas, where the OEM relocated its headquarters. The original training center at the former Toyota headquarters in Torrance, Calif., and training centers in New Jersey and Florida educates between 800 and 1,200 collision repair professionals each year.     

“We are starting to see an increase in shops interested in getting the correct repair information so we want to make sure it’s available,” DiDonato says. Toyota is also one of a handful of OEMs which offers hands-on training, offering 50 percent lecture and 50 percent lab, with the aim to reach a wide range of all the stakeholders responsible for a collision repair. 

“We get a pretty broad mix,” DiDonato explains, pointing out that training attendees range from technicians, autobody shops managers, estimators, people who work in the collision repair industry, distributors, vendor, public educators, insurance companies, and people who perform re-inspections. “The more people who have our information, the more we can ensure that customer vehicles are being repaired correctly while maintaining the safety that was built into the vehicle.” 

Toyota makes its Technical Information System (TIS) available to everyone (www.techinfo.toyota.com) at what it considers a modest cost to ensure repair facilities of all sizes are able to afford the information. Knowing that in California alone Toyota vehicles accounted for 15 to 20 percent of the market at one point recently – about every sixth vehicle – DiDonato says that people need to have access to repair information so customers don’t suffer. This includes not just what to do and how to do it but also what not to do.  

“You need to know what we approve and don’t approve,” DiDonato says. “If OEMs don’t make parts and repair procedures accessible, the consumer ends up suffering.” 

Reiterating what others have noted, he stresses that with each vehicle make and model materials and technologies change. “Every year something is different,” DiDonato says. “Things change, especially as vehicle makers work to lighten up vehicles and make them stronger with different steels, aluminum, and plastic. It’s even hard for me to keep with all the changes that are being introduced.”  

Continued training in OEM repair procedures– and seeking out any potential updates – is a must for this reason. DiDonato advises that a manufacturer’s repair manual provides the basic tools, but the training expands on that additional information and allows students to have hands-on practice.   

“When you come to training, we can teach you the correct methods and let you practice those methods,” DiDonato points out. “When students return to their facilities from training, they have experience and should be ready to apply what they learned in training.”  

Additional Resources

Repair options seem to vary, depending who is being asked, when a vehicle is damaged in a collision. It’s necessary in most cases to write a repair estimate based on visible damage, but it may not include the details of a proper repair plan.  

“Repair plans are typically formulated from on-task experience and knowledge, but even a seasoned technician could end up guessing the wrong way to go about a repair without proper training and manufacturer-specific technical information,” DiDonato cautions. “This uncertainty likely accounts for the difference in opinion from collision repair professionals.” 

Taking advantage of training and technical resources, he says, is the best way for collision repair professionals to attain the knowledge necessary to make better repair decisions and to ensure the customers’ satisfaction. 

(Image courtesy of LORD Corporation)

The bottom line: OEM is the vehicle expert

The bottom line is that repairers need to look at what the OEM wants first and then make a repair decision, adds LORD Corporation’s Craig. It’s critical, he says, to reinforce this mindset for both veteran repairers and those that are new to the industry, and this requires proper training. 

“At the end of the day, the repair procedure or product specified isn’t our call, and OEM specifications must be respected,” Craig reinforces. “The OEM is the expert, and we must follow their guidelines and continue educating and training on their recommended procedures and products for a successful collision repair.”  

Look for “The Importance of Training, Part Two,” in the March 2018 issue of ABRN to learn more about this topic, including new ways and methods of training, why technicians may become niche repairers, why “soft” training is so important, as well as creating an overall culture of training, among other issues. 

About the Author

Tina Grady Barbaccia

Tina Grady Barbaccia is a writer for Advancing Organizational Excellence (AOE). She has written and served as an editor for trade publications, blogs and developed social media and public relations for the construction, engineering, healthcare, agricultural/landscaping and appliance industries since 1998 and is a former editor for ABRN.

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