Quality Collision Repairs – a Technical Perspective

We’ve received a number of requests recently for more profile on the collision repair industry, the challenges faced by quality panelbeaters in NZ, and also provide more discussion on  the changing face of collision damage repairs.  Thatchem and I-CAR are central to these issues so we’ve undertaken to profile each to help understand how quality collision repairs are achieved.

Thatcham was established 40 years ago to inject science and reliable data into the car repair industry, previously funded solely by the UK insurance industry to research the critical factors relating to quality collision repairs. Its repair methods are about logic and efficiency rather than cost cutting. The system does analyse and specify labour time though and the commercial collision repair sector’s counter-argument is that this is factored in an unrealistic ‘laboratory’ environment that has little resemblance to a real world panelshop. This seems a valid point given there are often multiple vehicle movements, countless client  interfaces, and a myriad of other potential distractions to deal with during the repair faze that are not accounted for or paid for by insurers. Nonetheless it is a benchmark and provides a comparison to (our preferred) I-CAR which also specifies technical methodology to vehicle manufacturers’ specifications.

At the Thatchem facility the Repair Technology Centre (RTC) is responsible for researching the vehicles for which Thatcham develops methods to deliver quality collision repairs. It is divided between escribe content and Repair Research work.

Vehicles are selected based on the highest volume cars and the ones with the most accidents. The vehicle manufacturer data is reviewed and the panels ordered in, which helps identify anomalies and pricing errors. Project Engineers for each vehicle are all experienced in input and verification of repair data.

escribe combines both panel, and mechanical and trim data for efficient multiple-panel use. The engineers are able to add in details such as special tools or processes required, and consumable specifications and quantities. The resulting data should be consistent throughout, regardless of the vehicle make or model, or the type of repairer.

Alternatives are suggested for overlapping panels. Thatcham says that rather than removing a covering panel that would require the rear suspension, fuel tank, rear seats and many other components being removed, they have recommended a section for the cover panel that allows access to replace the floor in a relatively straightforward way. Not only does this avoid the car being ‘written off’ as too expensive to repair in many markets, it leaves the car safer to work on and to move about the repair shop.”

The Repair Research work is where engineers focus on specific technology challenges that would delay escribe work, often working on a specific vehicle in conjunction with the manufacturer to solve the problem. This could be paint related, a challenging panel replacement or difficult join, or perhaps looking at an inclusion of a new material.

A car repaired with our escribe methods that is then taken across the road to our New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) team who put the vehicle through a crash test that is identical to the original ANCAP crash test. That way crash safety performance of a repaired car can be compared with that of the original test to prove our method works.  In the lab car seats are tested to assess and improve performance in avoiding injuries, and then the impact testing part of the laboratory.

ANCAP has made a significant contribution globally in reducing the likelihood of someone being seriously injured or killed in a car. Car design has got better and better at keeping occupants safer, and even today’s cheaper cars are stronger and safer than before and manufacturers use the recognised safety rating as a positive advert for their vehicle. The aim is to manage a process to deliver high quality collision repairs  so that technicians can keep pace with the consumer and legislative technology advances.
The strategy and objective is to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads and also ensure collision damage can be repaired successfully, rather than see them scrapped unnecessarily. An efficient and high quality collision repair that’s safe and ‘right first time’ is good for the insurance company and good for the repair shop owner. It’s also reassuring for the customer to know that NZ has a skilled, competent and informed collision repair industry.

3 Responses

  1. Ken Black
    | Reply

    This is good and the panelbeating trade needs the publicity thanks. We’ re struggling with no/low margins thanks to profit gauging insurance companies that have all the power while small owner operated businesses just have to take the crumbs that are thrown at them. A top quality panel shop costs $500k to set up and top tradesmen labour cost is over $30 an hour now but none of this is considered in the pitiful $50 – $60 an hour paid by insurers. No wonder we also have a labour supply crisis when insurers are happy to pay mechanics $100 an hour and we’re left with a PR disaster no school leaver in their right mind would want to train for collision repair. It’s an interesting and rewarding job but pays peanuts. What’s the Collision Repair Association doing about it???

    • Crash Management
      | Reply

      hi Ken and thanks for your comments. You make some valid points and we agree that the environment is challenging – a combination of spiraling accident repair complexity and cost V. a generally very constrained market. Insurance company domination of an affiliated sector is quite unique, though the analogy could be made the combined might of the oil/fuel companies V. the public is not dissimilar. Not quite a monopoly but it could be argued that there are few if any viable substitutes. You use a broad brush though, and there are responsible insurance companies operating in NZ that take a more equitable view and understand the wider inter-dependencies particularly as it impacts their clients. Protecta Insurance and Ando are two good examples leading the way and delivering fair value for all stakeholders in their respective target markets. We think too that the CRA does an outstanding job of representing the collision repair sector, in difficult circumstances. I think you’ll agree that the collision repair trade, clients and insurers are all better off for their leadership in technical training, information sharing and representation – and Panel Talk is still a bloody good read! Well done CRA we say..

  2. Suze
    | Reply

    Good industry coverage CM. The panel trade is definitely “challenging” (understatement) and car construction is more complicated than ever and it keeps accelerating every year so we must have good top level training. We can keep up, and if there was any profit left in the industry we’d be happy to invest it all back in the business. But I’m starting to believe we’re in a death spiral and I don’t think there’s any way out of it until quality panelbeaters are properly compensate by insurance companies – the BIG BRANDS as you call them. Hell’s getting chilly though and Gemini group is heading over from Ozzie right now to snap up all the under valued premium shops. The talk is that Gemini will scoop as many IAG contracts as they can in the next round of negotiations and the independents will get burned off. Probably not a bad outcome, they’re welcome to each other.

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