Today’s cars certainly are not your father’s “Oldsmobile”, to borrow from the iconic commercial campaign.
“Cars are like computers on wheels” says Joshua Fuller, General Manager of Fuller Auto Body and Collision Center. “You can’t just bang out a dent or replace a bumper, anymore.”
According to Fuller, the last 5 years have brought more technology to the automotive industry than the last 20 years, most of it revolving around safety.
“Today’s Ford F-150 uses 140 million lines of code in its onboard computer; by comparison, a F-22 Raptor fighter jet utilizes about 2 million lines of code.” Says Fuller.
These changes are having a dramatic impact on the autobody and collision repair business. Safety systems such as blind spot monitors, auto driver assist, review cameras, and scores of other new features require very specific repair processes in order to properly return a car to service after a collision.
Says Fuller, “Manufacturers are implementing these features to differentiate their brand, and they want to protect their brand. At the same time, we at Fuller’s also have our brand to protect. We need to do everything we can to ensure compliance with manufacturers’ repair specifications.”
After a collision, a vehicles myriad sensors, monitors, and cameras must be precisely realigned. This also requires specific parts be used in the repair to ensure those sensors function properly.
“You used to be able to repair with a used part, but we can’t always do that anymore” says Fuller. “Everything from the weld points to the composition and thickness of the body panels have to be very specific to each car model.”
An incorrect or incomplete repair can be far more serious than just an inconvenience to the customer.
“There are cases of lawsuits resulting from repairs done improperly years prior to an incident, and even going back to previous owners [of a vehicle]” says Fuller.
Less dramatically, and probably more importantly, improper repairs can stain the reputation of the manufacturer as well as the repair facility. Kerri Cunningham, Business Development and Marketing Manager at Fullers adds, “Certain repairs done improperly will also void a warranty.”
Fullers is addressing these changes by actively and aggressively pursuing manufacturers’ factory certifications. In order to become certified, a repair facility must demonstrate a commitment to training their technicians, and to investing in specialized diagnostic and repair equipment.
To date, Fuller’s has achieved certified repair facility status with Subaru, Honda, Acura, Mopar, Infinity, Nissan, Ford, Huyndai, and Kia. Certification with GM is in the works. Other manufacturers are yet to roll out their own certification programs (Toyota being one example), and Fuller’s will likely pursue those as they become available.
Another factor in the collision repair business are, of course, the insurance companies. Insurance companies want to keep their payouts as low as possible, which comes to a head when manufacturers and repair shops are determined to use specific diagnostics, parts and processes.
“To return a car to factory specifications, we need to do a pre-repair diagnostic as well as a post diagnostic” says Fuller. This takes technician time and resources and requires investment in equipment and tools” says Fuller. “The repair facility has to negotiate with the insurance company to repair to manufacturer standards, not just the cheapest way to complete a repair.”
In fact, Fuller’s employs five appraisers who evaluate damaged vehicles and perform these negotiations with insurance companies.
Says Fuller, “It’s a balancing act between the insurance company needing to manage payout and us receiving a fair rate for the necessary repairs.”
All of the repair information from manufacturers is provided through proprietary systems. Given the number of car manufacturers and the number of models each manufacturers, the volume of data and information is huge.
“Our technicians have to do a lot of research before, during and after a repair” says Fuller. “It takes time, and we have to ensure we can recover time in our labor rate with insurance companies.”
One initiative underway is building a company intranet that will aggregate this information into a portal that will make it faster and easier for technicians to find the information they need. In addition to saving time on labor, it also ensures repair jobs are completed accurately and can be done more quickly to get the automobile back to the customer as quickly as possible.
Fullers’ pursuit of repair and customer service excellence has paid off. Fuller’s is currently among the just 10% of all repair facilities nationwide to be recognized as a Gold Class status facility by I-Car, the only standardized training standards organization. They are one of only two Subaru-certified repair facilities in Massachusetts, and one of only three certified Ford repair facilities within a 25-mile radius of Auburn. Just 3,000 of the 34,000 repair facilities in the U.S. are Nissan-certified.
“Applying for and maintaining the certifications is a lot of work” says Cunningham. “But it is good for our customers and it is good for Fuller’s, so we will continue that direction.
Fulller Automotive Companies is located at 505 Washington St. (Rt. 20) in Auburn, MA. They offer Speedy Oil Change as well as comprehensive automotive repair and maintenance. You can reach them at (508) 823-0700 or at www.fullerautomotive.com.