Published on Friday, 13 May 2011
Like most young men, the expressions "tearing down" and "fixing up" get me going better than a cup of espresso.
So, when I first entered the retail car business some 30 years ago, I began working in the collision repair side of the business. This line of work has always fascinated me and it continues to be a source of pride.
Over the years, the collision industry introduced some radical changes in terms of processes and procedures. Being on the front lines, I bore witness to those changes, first-hand, as the industry evolved.
During the 1970s and 1980s, passenger vehicles had a shorter lifespan than today's vehicles; they were considered disposable commodities. In fact, it wasn't uncommon to see rusted-out cars on the roads, all covered in primer and putty.
With the entry of Asian and European automakers into the North American market in the early 1970s, competition in the retail car market started to heat up and, as a result, vehicle quality began to improve.
As the quality improved, so did the vehicles' average lifespan. This meant that car owners (and insurance companies) were more inclined to make the necessary investments in mechanical and physical repairs when auto collisions occurred.
Overall, the collision repair industry has seen dramatic changes in four key areas: training and education, new technologies, concern for the environment and customer service.
Each year, collision repair facilities invest thousands of dollars to ensure their staff has the required knowledge to repair vehicles back to their manufacturers' specifications. Although government legislation does not enforce continuing education, these facilities incur these costs in order to better serve their customers and to properly and safely repair these vehicles.
Collision repair facilities have also invested in computer software to streamline and improve the flow of information with insurance partners. This software provides instant communication between the two parties and it helps to minimize disruption in the customer's daily routine.
Concern for the environment has also been a top priority. Our facilities must adhere to government-imposed legislation with respect to emissions and the disposal of hazardous materials. All shops have converted to waterborne paints, which contain and emit fewer organic solvents, have lower toxicity and provide certain refinishing benefits.
Perhaps most important to you, the customer service component of collision-repair facilities has also improved remarkably over the years. Today, these facilities offer on-site replacement rental vehicles, glass replacement, towing services, speedy estimating, fast claims processing, and repairs to all makes and models.
Also important is the big "procedural" change to the industry, specifically the decision-making process. Before the 1990s, insurance companies required car owners to obtain three separate quotes for collision repairs, and they would choose the lowest quote. The lowest price didn't always equate with high quality workmanship.
Today, consumers have the right to choose where they want their vehicles taken for collision repairs. Insurance companies will often recommend a "preferred" shop but, in the end, the choice is yours. I'm surprised at the number of customers I meet who aren't aware that they have a choice in this matter.
Many new car dealerships have collision repair facilities on their premises, or they are affiliated with a shop that they recommend. The benefit of choosing a dealership for collision repairs is that they know your vehicle brand inside out. Dealers have access to the mechanical specifications and original paint requirements of your vehicle, and they employ certified technicians to perform repairs to the highest standards.
It's likely that you already have a working relationship with your local dealer.
If it's a good one, your best bet would be to patronize that dealership when it comes to taking care of collision repairs.