In The Media
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VeriFacts Automotive held a webinar on June 11 to educate the collision repair industry on counterfeit parts.
The webinar brought together four leaders battling counterfeit parts to discuss the growing challenge, how government organizations and OEMs are working to eliminate them and what collision repair professionals can do to protect themselves and their customers:
- Abe Jardines – Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center
- John Lancaster – Subaru of America, Inc.
- Teena Bohi – Toyota Motor North America
- Andy Forsythe – Nissan Group of North America
As collision repair facilities see repair jobs begin to increase, one concern is sourcing the parts to fix those vehicles in a timely, affordable manner that meet insurance carrier, OEM and industry repair standards.
The collision industry uses a variety of parts types which include aftermarket, recycled and reconditioned parts. Aftermarket parts compete in the marketplace, while counterfeit parts whose material, performance or characteristics are knowingly misrepresented by a supplier in the supply chain.
Unknowingly, some collision repair facilities may end up with counterfeit parts when ordering what they believe are OEM parts. According to the Automotive Anti-Counterfeiting Council, it is difficult to trace what percentage of parts are counterfeit.
To more effectively counter the flood of counterfeit/hazardous products by coordinating and leading the U.S. Government’s response to this threat, the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) has been restructured and moved into a new “state of the art” facility in Arlington, Va. The center operates in a “task force” like setting with all 25 partners focusing on Interdiction, Investigation and Outreach & Training to combat IP theft.
“We are working to promote national security by protecting the public’s health and safety, the U.S. economy, our war fighters, and to stop predatory and illegal trade practices that threaten the U.S. and global economies,” said Jardines. “This whole of government approach brings to bear all the regulatory, civil and criminal authorities of the partner agencies to fight counterfeiting and piracy. This approach lays the foundation to partner with Industry, other Law Enforcement Agencies and provide education amongst them and the public of the dangers and effects of IP theft.
“The bottom line is, can you trust the people that you are getting your parts from,” he added.
The Automotive Anti-Counterfeiting Council is a collaboration among automakers and their partners that strives to eliminate counterfeit automotive components that could harm U.S. consumers.
“Every type of part can be counterfeited, from keys to airbags, brakes, airbags, headlights and suspensions,” said Lancaster. “Not only do these counterfeit parts violate the OEM intellectual property, they can be incredibly dangerous for the repair professional and the consumer. We have reached out to law enforcement offices, ports and branches all throughout the U.S. and have found great success thus far, but counterfeit auto parts are a problem that requires more help…your help.”
Bohi cited several key initiatives the Automotive Anti-Counterfeiting Council is pursuing to address the issue:
- Increase accountability and responsibility of e-commerce platforms in preventing sales of counterfeit goods
- Marketplaces should promote consumer awareness and implement a simple way for consumers to report bad actors to those who can take proper actions
- Increase seller, supplier and product vetting to combat the presence of bad actors online
- Marketplaces should improve vetting of sellers, suppliers and products by implementing more stringent requirements that validate seller credentials and product authenticity
- Strengthen penalties for repeat offenders of health and safety products (i.e. auto parts)
- Implement standardized parameters and more stringent penalties be imposed on sellers, especially those offering products like auto parts that impact health and public safety.
According to Forsythe, there are several signs to look for when evaluating the veracity of the parts ordered:
- Labels that do not match or have conflicting information
- Labels hiding other labels
- Unrealistic production dates
- Poor packaging, nested boxes, empty boxes and shrink wrap
“Genuine OEM parts are properly tested, reliable and offer great quality,” said Forsythe. “Meanwhile, counterfeit or illicit parts are untested, have an increased potential for failures, and can negatively impact safety, reputation and liability. To protect your collision repair shop and your customers, you should know your source in procuring parts for repairs, flag potential counterfeit parts and report counterfeit parts to the IRC at www.iprcenter.gov/contact-us.”
To read on Forbes.com, please click here.
Even if you’re staying at home to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might get unexpected car damage and need to file a car insurance claim. For example, a large branch could fall on your car, or you could get into a fender bender on the way to a curbside grocery pickup.
What to do at the Scene of an Accident
If you get into a car accident, maintain at least a 6-foot distance between the driver of the other vehicle and their passengers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
You can verbally exchange information from a safe distance, or you can take a photo of your insurance card and exchange it through text messages. If you need to call the police to the scene, you can wait in your car and the police officer can help facilitate the exchange of insurance information.
If your car is undrivable because of the damage, you may need to call for a tow truck. If possible, try to arrange a ride home with a family member or someone you live with. If you need to ride home in an Uber or with someone else, be sure to practice the CDC’s guidelines to protect yourself and others.
How to File A Virtual Car Insurance Claim
In a typical car insurance claim scenario, an adjuster might come to your home to inspect the car damage and give you an appraisal.
But auto insurance companies are adjusting to new norms amid the pandemic. Many urge their policyholders to file and manage claims online or through the companies’ mobile apps. You can also call the insurance company to file a claim over the phone, but wait times may be longer than usual.
Many auto insurers were already investing in virtual-claims technologies before the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what some major insurers can offer.
Allstate has “Virtual Assist” to expedite car insurance claims. Virtual Assist allows body shops to create an initial estimate and get approved for additional repair as they work on your vehicle. You can submit your initial claim using Allstate’s “QuickFoto Claim” within its mobile app. Allstate can send you payments instantly through its QuickCard Pay. The company expects to handle 90% of its auto insurance claims using virtual tools.
American Family customers can access their accounts online or with the MyAmFam app to make a claim or check the status of a claim.
Amica’s app offers the ability to upload documents, photos and media to file a claim. You can enroll for text messages and email notifications for the claim’s status, and message your claim handler. You can also sign up for direct deposit for claim payments.
Farmers Insurance has temporarily moved to a “technology first” approach in processing claims, according to Trevor Chapman, a Farmers spokesperson. Customers can file claims remotely through Farmers.com, the mobile app, or by calling their agent or the 24-hour call center.
You can also use Farmers’ photo-estimating tool to get an appraisal. If you need an in-person appraisal, you can remain in your vehicle during the inspection process and communicate via text and phone with the claims representative.
Geico encourages customers to check their claim status through the Geico mobile app or the company’s website.
Liberty Mutual says its auto-repair appraisers will not be visiting customer homes or auto body shops except in emergency situations. If you need to file a claim, you can upload photos of your car damage online or through the Liberty Mutual app, which includes an assisted-photo tool and step-by-step guide for taking damage photos.
Travelers Insurance has several virtual options, including virtual inspection tools that allow adjusters to view damage without being on-site. You have the option to utilize real-time video chat and apps to guide you through the claim process. You can also upload photos and videos of damage at Travelers.com.
What About No-Contact Auto Repair?
If your car is in need of repair, you’re going to need to get it over to an auto repair shop. The good news is that many auto repair shops have taken steps to limit person-to-person interaction and reduce the chances of COVID-19 exposure.
“We have been able to quickly launch some new programs to our Carstar franchisees,” says Dean Fisher, president of Carstar North America, a network of independently owned collision repair facilities. Fisher says that these services include increased cleaning and sanitizing, vehicle drop-off and pickup guidelines, and photo-based repair estimates.
It’s a good idea to ask your auto repair shop what steps they have taken to limit in-person contact. If you’re not comfortable with the answers, consider a different shop.
To give you an idea of what types of questions to ask, here are some recommendations from VeriFacts Automotive, a company that offers guidance to collision repair facilities.
- Limited interaction. Ask about discussing your vehicle using virtual methods, like Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts. If you do need to visit the shop, ask to schedule an appointment during off-peak hours and maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others.
- A clean, sanitized environment. An auto repair shop should ensure that its visitors’ area is sanitized, including computer terminals, equipment, counters, entryways and bathrooms. Bring your own pen in case you have to sign any forms.
- Drop-off and pickup services. If possible, Verifacts Automotive recommends leaving the car in a secure location with the keys in a signed, sealed envelope inside the car. You can also ask your shop if they are able to pick up your car at your house and drop it off after repair.
- Sanitized vehicles upon arrival and return. Ask your shop if they plan to sanitize your car, including the steering wheel, dashboard, knobs, gear stick, door handles, armrest and cup holder.
Digital Dealer.com, April 2020
To read on Digital Dealer, please click here.
For many collision repair facility owners and managers, they are not afforded the downtime to focus on improving their shop processes and operations because of the constant attention to cycle time, length of rental and vehicle throughput.
Today, as collision repair shop owners are evaluating their current car count and the estimated volume for the next month, there is an opportunity to retain valued technicians and team members while increasing the efficiency and performance of your facility when the vehicle volume returns.
“We are thinking of all of the collision repair shop owners, managers and technicians around the country as they deal with this health and economic challenge at work and at home,” said Farzam Afshar, CEO of VeriFacts Automotive. “No one wants to face declining car counts and repair volume, but if there is a silver lining to all of this, it does provide an opportunity to focus on how you can improve your business during the downtime.”
As the federal government has deemed automotive repair as an “essential” business, shop owners across the country are working hard to change their business practices to reassure customers of their health and safety when getting their vehicle repaired. Many of these practices, like shop cleanliness and customer service enhancements, will have a lasting impact on shop operations.
VeriFacts Automotive, which works with thousands of collision repair facilities and industry suppliers across North America and regularly coaches shop owners on their shop environmental health standards and operational enhancements, is offering shop owners guidance on improving their businesses during this downtime.
- Facility Maintenance and Spring Cleaning – With a lower car count, now is a good time for a thorough cleaning of the entire facility. Clean and sanitize all walls, counters, surfaces and floors. Consider interior and exterior painting to give everything an updated, fresh look – a project your team members may tackle while they aren’t as busy repairing vehicles. And now that the shop is clean, it’s an ideal time to explore opportunities to keep it that way, such as a dustless sanding system.
- Equipment Maintenance – This is an ideal time to perform the annual maintenance on equipment and tools and make needed repairs. If it’s time to replace equipment, now is a good time to negotiate with equipment suppliers to make those purchases. It is imperative that you research and purchase equipment and tools that are OEM approved based on the mix of vehicles your facility repairs.
- Inventory Management – Conduct physical inventory of all of the supplies, parts and materials you have in stock and determine how to order and use more efficiently. Make sure equipment is correctly inventoried so you can accurately depreciate on your financials.
- Organize Parts and Supplies – Tired of searching for parts or looking at a messy supply room? There are a variety of shelving, rack and cabinet system that make finding the products needed for each job easy and efficient. It’s important to add a tracking system so as parts and supplies are consumed, they are re-ordered promptly, thus reducing delays on repairs.
- Paint Department Improvement and Cleaning – The paint booth is the vital part of the body shop, but if it isn’t taken care of, breakdowns can be costly. Deep clean the booth and remove overspray, change filters, clean pits and update lighting. Reapply booth coating or sand down and repaint inside and out. Consider adding a booth wrap on the inside walls and floors to make future cleanup easier. Also look at improving air movement for waterborne paint conversion. This may be the time to consider upgrading from your current booth to one that is more efficient to operate. If the paint room and all of the equipment in it is splattered and spackled, that’s potential contamination and debris that could get in your paint and mar your paint jobs. This is a perfect opportunity to work with your paint partner to look at new paint systems that make it more organized and efficient, as well as adding wall containers for cups, lids and liners and counter surfaces that are easier to clean up. Reducing the painter’s time in the mixing room delivers more profitability in the paint department!
- Shop Process Improvements – Are there bottlenecks in the workflow in your shop? Are you wasting time moving cars around rather than repairing them? An evaluation of your shop layout and repair process can identify new opportunities to improve how vehicles move through the repair process in your shop, increasing efficiency and decreasing unpaid time. From streamlining the workstations for each step of the repair process to vehicle tracking systems to implementing parts bins or carts, simple changes can add up to big returns. Most paint company provide this service and if your paint company does not please ask VeriFacts to assist you.
- Employee Training – Technicians and team members frequently complain about lost work time due to training, so now is the perfect time to participate in online training and coaching programs. VeriFacts Automotive provides virtual coaching and support to shops, which complements online training classes and webinars from suppliers like your paint, equipment and materials partners.
- Employee Reviews – A key factor in retaining and growing team members is feedback and career pathing. Annual or ongoing reviews often get put on a back burner in busier times, so this an ideal opportunity to conduct reviews with your employees, get their feedback and map out how to grow together.
- Year-End Financial Evaluation and Budget Planning – As you close your books on 2019, this is the time to conduct a thorough financial review with your accountant. If you’re part of an MSO, review your financial plan with your peers and field operations team. Together, you can identify where you could cut costs and spend more efficiently, as well as evaluate how you can recover typically lost revenue through better repair mapping and tracking.
- Manage Your Parts Orders and Vehicle Intake – During this pandemic time, a collision repair facility is looking to take any jobs in. Make sure you verify parts availability before you disassemble drivable vehicles to ensure you can get the parts to repair them in a timely manner.
“We are always here to help our collision repair customers, in good times and challenging ones,” added Afshar. “We want to help them set their business on the proper course for success as we emerge from the current situation back to more prosperous times.”
To read on AutobodyNews.com, please click here.
Autobody News recently reached out to leaders in the collision repair industry to find out how they are best managing the inevitable interruptions to “business as usual” during the current coronavirus restrictions.
In addition to sharing their insight on how this will affect the industry, they offered some advice to business owners and employees.
Farzam Afshar, CEO of VeriFacts Automotive
VeriFacts Automotive is working closely with our customers, insurers and OEMs to adapt our practices in these challenging times.
We are conducting many of our coaching services virtually to ensure we are keeping our team members and the shop employees safe. We are following OEM guidelines on shop certification visits. Also, we’ve shared tips with our customers about how they can enhance their business practices to ensure shop cleanliness, follow social distancing rules and provide convenient customer service.
While there will be short-term declines in repair volume as fewer people are on the road each day, we will see business return to previous levels as this challenge subsides.
We may also see daily driving trends increase, as people may be reluctant to return to air travel, trains and public transportation.
In addition, people may hold on to their vehicles longer rather than investing in a new car, which will translate to more repair needs.
We always advise shop owners and managers to use the good times to prepare for potential downturns, and to use the downtime to productively plan for the future. This is the ideal time to conduct your facility and equipment maintenance, participate in employee training, complete your annual financial review and planning and do your employee reviews.
Scott Biggs, CEO of Assured Performance
Assured Performance is taking bold action to support our certified repair network.
We’ve created a special subsidy and stimulus program for our certified repair providers we hope will help in the short term and actually reinvent and turbocharge their businesses for the long term.
For immediate relief, we have instituted a payment program, discount incentives and accelerated rebate redemption for the cost of certification. As a stimulus, we have introduced a new program to help drive sales and re-engineer business operations to save money and manpower.
Through an agreement with Bodyshop Booster, certified network shops can offer consumers and their insurers a hands-free estimating and repair process that protects the shop employees, the consumer and the insurers.
The new process combines photo and remote virtual estimating with a fully documented and/or certified repair. The process eliminates the need for the consumer or the insurer to come to the shop by using a pickup and delivery system, centralized appointment setting with an active calendar and special tools for the shops’ websites.
These combined with full electronic visual documentation will enable consumers and insurers to interact with shops in a new and far better way of doing business.
Programs like this can save repairers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and save insurers millions. The process is far easier for consumers and offers a “hands-free” solution during this time of social distancing and quarantining. Consumers do not have to come to the shop and they will have higher confidence than ever before because of the repair documentation.
Our certified repairers’ survival is essential to all of us. It may be the perfect solution for these uncertain times and become the new norm in the future.
Since this industry is directly impacted by miles driven and employment, people NOT driving and forced to stay at home will be significant and could be devastating if the shutdown lasts too long.
In the short term, it is a great time for shops to implement new systems, train staff and refine their sales, marketing and production processes. We can all be far better businesses coming out of this crisis if we do this well and execute a smart business improvement plan.
Dean Fisher, President of CARSTAR
The safety of our customers and team members is always our first priority, and we are taking steps to protect the health and wellbeing of our team and customers.
We have implemented a number of precautions based on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and other health authorities to minimize the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 for both team members and customers alike.
Following the municipal, provincial, state and federal guidelines for health and safety that are local to the repairers remain paramount during this COVID-19 pandemic. Increased rates of cleaning frequently touched surfaces, spaces and property is a common directive as well as making hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes more available to both customers and employees.
Jim Keller, President of 1Collision Network
1Collision has addressed our locations as a group in regard to safety precautions by issuing bulletins, holding group web meetings and conducting discussions with shops about the ways they are protecting employees and customers.
To help capture traffic to your door, educate consumers on the vehicle disinfecting measures they can take, as well as the policies and procedures your repair facility has implemented.
In the sales process, especially during a shrinking market, it’s critical to educate consumers about making the proper repair facility choice. By using effective sales and closing techniques, and writing a complete and accurate repair plan, it will likely be the difference between breakeven and a respectable profit.
On the financial side, I recommend managing your numbers daily; close more sales and manage all costs, especially labor and parts.
With monthly building payments, whether you are in a lease or a mortgage, have conversations with the bank or building owner to delay a payment or two to help weather the storm. Analyzing all expenses to cut costs and being more efficient is always a good exercise.
Also, grant programs are becoming available on both a federal and state-by-state basis, that are potentially beneficial to collision shop owners.
The most critical issues I see for shops are the early reports that have indicated lower claims volumes, which will mean lower WIP (work in progress) and sales volumes. Parts availability will likely become a challenge, with manufacturer supply chains weakening internationally and the within the U.S.
Talk to your employees, and most importantly listen to what they are feeling…be compassionate, and assure them they are being heard and you will help in any way you can. Always remember, without our employees, there is no business.
Collision business owners must be strong, smart, courageous and lead their organization by taking calculated risks.
Henry Ford once said, “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.” The leader that does nothing will certainly lead to failure.
Aaron Schulenberg, Executive Director of SCRS
The Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) recognizes many collision repairers are being inundated with emails and information surrounding the current events unfolding, and many of our members are reaching out trying to understand what it means to their businesses.
As an association, we are largely relying on those with specialized expertise to offer guidance, and then finding ways to share that guidance through our free channels of communications. These include Repairer Driven News and a new resource page we have set up.
The resource page is continually updated with information about workplace preparation and help, as well as financial aid and relief to help small businesses and citizens across the U.S.
As essential businesses, we know the critical role collision repairers are playing right now for customers and employees. We’ve seen many examples of businesses taking enhanced precautions against COVID-19, ranging from zero-contact interactions with customers at drop-off and pick-up, that allow for adherence to social distancing policies surrounding personal contact.
We’ve also seen examples of businesses promoting services to “clean,” “sanitize” or “disinfect” customer vehicles. SCRS urges caution with the language used in your promotion of services. For instance, your facility can assure that you “apply disinfectant,” but there is no testing protocol to ensure that you “disinfected” the vehicle.
In our interaction with other industries, this has been a repeated caution; describe only what you performed, rather than a promise of what it accomplished.
The information is constantly evolving, the situation changing, and the best advice we can offer is to make ample use of the resources available to you to stay abreast of the current events.
But most importantly, remain positive.
We are an industry that fixes broken, seemingly unfixable incidents every day, as we restore safety and peace of mind after unexpected tragedy.
While the conditions are unchartered territory for us all, as an industry we will find our way through to the other side, using our professional experience to serve the motoring public as they turn to us in their time of need.
Body Shop Business
To read on BodyShopBusiness.com, please click here.
Many collision repair facility owners and managers are not typically afforded much downtime to focus on improving their shop processes and operations because of the constant attention they must pay to cycle time, length of rental and vehicle throughput.
Today, due to the coronavirus pandemic, collision repair shop owners are evaluating their current car count and the estimated volume for the next month. And there is an opportunity to retain valued technicians and team members while increasing the efficiency and performance of the facility when the vehicle volume returns.
“We are thinking of all of the collision repair shop owners, managers and technicians around the country as they deal with this health and economic challenge at work and at home,” said Farzam Afshar, CEO of VeriFacts Automotive. “No one wants to face declining car counts and repair volume, but if there is a silver lining to all of this, it does provide an opportunity to focus on how you can improve your business during the downtime.”
As the federal government has deemed automotive repair an “essential” business, shop owners across the country are working hard to change their business practices to reassure customers of their health and safety when getting their vehicle repaired. Many of these practices, like shop cleanliness and customer service enhancements, will have a lasting impact on shop operations.
VeriFacts Automotive, which works with thousands of collision repair facilities and industry suppliers across North America and regularly coaches shop owners on their shop environmental health standards and operational enhancements, is offering shop owners guidance on improving their businesses during this downtime:
- Facility maintenance and spring cleaning. With a lower car count, now is a good time for a thorough cleaning of the entire facility. Clean and sanitize all walls, counters, surfaces and floors. Consider interior and exterior painting to give everything an updated, fresh look – a project your team members can tackle since they aren’t as busy repairing vehicles. And now that the shop is clean, it’s an ideal time to explore opportunities to keep it that way, such as a dustless sanding system.
- Equipment maintenance. This is an ideal time to perform the annual maintenance on equipment and tools and make needed repairs. If it’s time to replace equipment, now is a good time to negotiate with equipment suppliers to make those purchases. It is imperative that you research and purchase equipment and tools that are OEM-approved based on the mix of vehicles your facility repairs.
- Inventory management. Conduct physical inventory of all of the supplies, parts and materials you have in stock and determine how to order and use more efficiently. Make sure equipment is correctly inventoried so you can accurately depreciate on your financials.
- Organize parts and supplies. Tired of searching for parts or looking at a messy supply room? There are a variety of shelving, rack and cabinet systems that make finding the products needed for each job easy and efficient. It’s important to add a tracking system so as parts and supplies are consumed, they are re-ordered promptly, thus reducing delays on repairs.
- Paint department improvement and cleaning. The paint booth is the vital part of the body shop, but if it isn’t maintained, breakdowns can be costly. Deep clean the booth and remove overspray, change filters, clean pits and update lighting. Reapply booth coating or sand down and repaint inside and out. Consider adding a booth wrap on the inside walls and floors to make future cleanup easier. Also, look at improving air movement for waterborne paint conversion. This may be the time to consider upgrading from your current booth to one that is more efficient to operate. If the paint room and all of the equipment in it is splattered and spackled, that’s potential contamination and debris that could get in your paint and mar your paint jobs. This is a perfect opportunity to work with your paint partner to look at new paint systems that make it more organized and efficient, as well as adding wall containers for cups, lids and liners and counter surfaces that are easier to clean up. Reducing the painter’s time in the mixing room delivers more profitability in the paint department.
- Shop process improvements. Are there bottlenecks in the workflow in your shop? Are you wasting time moving cars around rather than repairing them? An evaluation of your shop layout and repair process can identify new opportunities to improve how vehicles move through the repair process in your shop, increasing efficiency and decreasing unpaid time. From streamlining the workstations for each step of the repair process to vehicle tracking systems to implementing parts bins or carts, simple changes can add up to big returns. Most paint companies provide this service and, if your paint company does not, ask VeriFacts to assist you.
- Employee training. Technicians and team members frequently complain about lost work time due to training, so now is the perfect time to participate in online training and coaching programs. VeriFacts Automotive provides virtual coaching and support to shops, which complements online training classes and webinars from suppliers like your paint, equipment and materials partners.
- Employee reviews. A key factor in retaining and growing team members is feedback and career pathing. Annual or ongoing reviews often get put on a back burner in busier times, so this an ideal opportunity to conduct reviews with your employees, get their feedback and map out how to grow together.
- Year-end financial evaluation and budget planning. As you close your books on 2019, this is the time to conduct a thorough financial review with your accountant. If you’re part of an MSO, review your financial plan with your peers and field operations team. Together, you can identify where you could cut costs and spend more efficiently, as well as evaluate how you can recover typically lost revenue through better repair mapping and tracking.
- Manage your parts orders and vehicle intake. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a collision repair facility is looking to take any jobs in. Make sure you verify parts availability before you disassemble drivable vehicles to ensure you can get the parts to repair them in a timely manner.
“We are always here to help our collision repair customers, in good times and challenging ones,” said Afshar. “We want to help them set their business on the proper course for success as we emerge from the current situation back to more prosperous times.”
Body Shop Business
To read on Body Shop Business, click here.
Protecting Shop Employees and Customers from Coronavirus
As the challenge of the coronavirus expands and local, state and federal authorities implement new rules for business operations and personal interactions, the collision repair industry and the many people who work in it are faced with new considerations for how they perform their job.
“As travel options such as flying and public transportation are becoming limited, people are even more dependent on their vehicles for work and to take care of their daily lives,” said Farzam Afshar, CEO of VeriFacts Automotive. “When getting your vehicle repaired is critical, we want to help our customers – and the consumer – be as safe as possible.”
VeriFacts Automotive, which works with thousands of collision repair facilities and industry suppliers across North America and regularly coaches shop owners on their shop environmental health standards, is offering shop owners guidance on helping to protect the health of their locations and their customer interactions. Earlier this month, VeriFacts Automotive cancelled its April 20-21 VeriFacts Automotive Symposium in Toronto over concerns about travel limitations and coronavirus exposure.
The VeriFacts Automotive recommendations include:
Clean Your Shop Thoroughly and Routinely
- Sanitize the entire office and shop area several times throughout the day and maintain a safe environment for everyone. Don’t forget the clipboards and pens that customers use to sign authorizations.
- Follow the CDC guidelines on surface cleaning, particularly around computer terminals, equipment, counters, entryways and bathroom facilities.
- Consider suspending your lobby coffee and beverage service to reduce waste.
- Provide customers disinfecting wipes and sanitizing gel in the waiting areas – and do the same for all employees.
Sanitize Each Vehicle As They Arrive And Are Returned
- According to consumer automotive expert Lauren Fix of the Car Coach Report, the average vehicle has approximately 283 different types of bacteria in every square inch. The average steering wheel has four times more bacteria on it than a typical public toilet seat, and the worst spots in cars are the front seat cup holder (1,179 germs per square inch), dashboard air vent (1,082 germs per square inch), driver side floor mats (1,197 germs per square inch) and the door handle (375 germs per square inch).
- Use color-safe disinfectant wipes to clean the interior of the car, making sure that the dashboard, gearstick, cup holder and steering wheel get special attention. Don’t overlook all the knobs and armrests.
- When vehicles are completed, repeat the interior sanitizing process again before delivery to the customer.
Provide Convenient Drop-Off and Pickup Services for Customers
- Offer a secure drop-off service where customers can complete their information online and drop their keys in a signed sealed envelope.
- For customers who want to wait for an estimate, encourage them to wait in their vehicle if possible while the estimate is being conducted. Or, hand them disposable gloves as they enter your shop and they can discard the gloves as they leave.
- For vehicle returns, provide customers an opportunity to conduct a virtual review of their repair via Skype, FaceTime or other sharing services.
Manage Your Team Members’ Health and Safety
- Encourage your team members to follow all current OSHA guidelines regarding gloves, eye protection and respirators – and educate them about the importance of limiting personal contact in workspaces.
- Make sure all shared equipment and spaces like paint rooms and parts areas are sanitized throughout the day and all employees in these areas are wearing proper protection.
- Consider having a medical/public health professional conduct a risk assessment for your staff to determine if anyone should seek further care or if others are at risk.
- Evaluate team scheduling to allow non-essential employees to work from home, if possible.
Limit Interaction with Business Partners, Vendors and Delivery Drivers
- Limit visitors by encouraging them to schedule an appointment at off-peak times, provide training and coaching through online/virtual methods and make deliveries at a secure, sanitized delivery point.
- Remind visitors and employees to limit personal interaction – offer a fist bump or elbow bump instead.
- Practice social distancing and maintain six to eight feet from another person.
“Most collision repair facilities have numerous visitors throughout the day, such as VeriFacts Automotive coaches conducting audits, vendors providing training or sales calls, or even delivery and tow drivers with supplies or vehicles for repair,” said Afshar. “We want to protect the safety and health of our team members as well as our customers. We have issued new protocols to protect our coaches and customers during each facility visit, and ensure that all VeriFacts Automotive personnel are following all coronavirus best practices as outlined by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and other public health bodies.”
Afshar added that VeriFacts Automotive is essentially a virtual company and its personnel work remotely from their home offices across the U.S. and Canada. The proprietary iPad-based tools used by VeriFacts Automotive coaches to provide services to customers are all managed and secured centrally but deployed remotely, so the VeriFacts Automotive team all has the tools in-hand to respond to most customers’ needs.
Body Shop News
To read on Body Shop News, click here.
The 11th VeriFacts Symposium was held last month, focusing on the future of the collision repair industry, the coming impact of advanced repair requirements, converging technology, and commitment to providing the safest and most cost-effective collision repair for consumers.
The symposium featured two days of discussion on the changes ahead for the collision repair industry, collaborative solution development, exhibitor clinics and keynote speakers.
“We are sailing in changing seas,” said Farzam Afshar, CEO of VeriFacts Automotive. “The OEMs and insurers are partnering on insurance policies embedded in the car purchase/lease, consolidation is continuing, OEM certification is starting to replace DRPs, and we are shifting from the first notice of loss to the first notice of need, thanks to advanced technology.”
The three key topics that presentations and panellists focused on were:
- Repair Process and Standards – how the collision repair industry addresses them today and prepares for changing repair processes tomorrow
- Converging Technology – how all of the advanced technology from artificial intelligence (AI) to augmented reality, robotics, blockchain, quantum computing and more will converge, impacting all areas of the industry
- Industry Consolidation and Collaboration – how consolidation of insurers, OEMs and collision repair shops will continue to drive change, and how new collaborations, like joint insurance/OEM offerings, will create new opportunities
“The 2020 VeriFacts Symposium was an exclusive gathering of the premier collision repair industry leaders for two days to gain clarity on how we can collectively deliver the highest quality, safest, cost-effective collision repair for consumers throughout the country,” said Afshar. “The VeriFacts Symposium is a safe place for like-minded colleagues to discuss the changes ahead for the collision repair industry. Looking ahead, we are collectively working to chart the course for success and navigate the future of collision repair together.”
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Electrification. Artificial intelligence. Virtual reality.
How will such evolving forms of technology change the face of the industry? FenderBender spoke with several experts to gauge the foreseeable future of the vehicles set to roll across shop floors.
THE TREND: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
If Fred Iantorno ever needs a reminder of technology’s evolution, all he has to do is check his home’s thermostat.
“A form of AI [artificial intelligence] is sitting on my thermostat in my house,” Iantorno explains. “It knows when I’d like to lower the temperature. It knows what time I go to bed, because at that time I turn the thermostat down. And then it asks ‘Do you want me to do it for you?
“It has learned my habits.”
Iantorno, currently the vice president of IoT (the Internet of Things) with VeriFacts Automotive, has worked in the information technology field for 37 years. And, he’s never been so certain of one thing: technology is growing at a virtually unprecedented rate, and it’s especially apparent in the collision repair industry.
“People used to call these things ‘emerging technologies,’” Iantorno notes. “Well, they’re not emerging anymore. They’re here today, and they’re all around us.”
As the intuitive thermostat on Iantorno’s wall suggests, AI, especially, is creeping into virtually every facet of our society. Our smartphones are fueled by it. And, to a growing extent, AI is fueling vehicles nearly as much as unleaded or diesel. AI is already impacting body shops in the form of photo estimating, for example.
“AI is the engine that drives that,” Iantorno says of photo estimating. “Whether it originates from the vehicle itself or your smartphone, intelligent first notice of loss—FNOL—is another AI function. So, [AI] is all around us today.”
But collision repairers needn’t fear this brave new world. Iantorno feels that shop operators don’t necessarily need a thorough working knowledge of AI to benefit from it. They simply need to be aware of how it’s starting to drive change within the industry.
Technology like AI is undoubtedly growing exponentially—as much in the last five years as the previous 50, Iantorno contends. And, that presents opportunities to improve shop floor efficiency, through elements like quick photo estimates.
“AI will accompany every disruptive technology implemented going forward,” Iantorno says. “Even though we might not want to, we’ve got to embrace this change. Because, if you don’t embrace the change, it will run over you. Because there’s no way to stop this.”
But, the technology expert adds, “If you embrace it, it’s fun. It can be fun.”
THE TREND: ELECTRIFICATION
umlaut, inc. is a global consulting and engineering firm with nearly 650 automotive consultants and engineers at its disposal in North America alone.
And, right now, many of them are focused largely on electrification.
Over “the next five years, we’ll see much increasing amounts of electrification—from just more plug-in hybrids to full battery electric vehicles,” says Dr. Samit Ghosh, the CEO of umlaut in North America. “All automakers will go much stronger in that timeframe into electrification.”
Newer automakers, like Tesla, have a clear agenda moving forward, Ghosh says: focusing on electric vehicles. Meanwhile, legacy OEMs all have different timelines, driven by the markets they operate in; in China, for example, regulations demand that automakers dedicate a certain percentage of their fleet to EVs.
But, the umlaut CEO adds, “overall, everybody is going that way.”
Multiple industry insiders that FenderBender spoke to for this report had similar bold predictions regarding the future of EVs. A key factor pointing the auto industry toward an electrified future is the increased range EVs are starting to provide.
“We’ll see a lot of ‘skateboard technology’—where [manufacturers] put the battery on the floor of the vehicle,” Ghosh explained. “What’s more important, though, is the capability of the vehicle in terms of acceleration and performance. … Battery technology will become better and translate into more range.”
And that’s likely to reduce “range anxiety” that many consumers currently have, in which they’re nervous about taking EVs on extended road trips, the umlaut CEO contends.
The shift toward increased electrification means those working at automotive repair facilities will need thorough training on how to avoid safety concerns.
“The safety piece is probably the biggest threat,” Ghosh notes. “With electrification, there’s safety concerns and … there’s proper training [needed] to operate batteries with high voltage.”
Ghosh has a ph.D in mechanical engineering, and even he isn’t certain just how widespread the adoption of EVs will be five years from now. But he’s certain that EV use will increase from where it’s at right now. And repairing those evolving vehicle types will require shops to make an adjustment.
“It’s just a different world,” Ghosh notes, “rather than having just a couple wrenches like it was.”
THE TREND: VIRTUAL/AUGMENTED REALITY
As the global solutions designs manager with Bosch, Shawn Dupuie focuses on training repair professionals like technicians. And, these days, that training is greatly aided by virtual reality.
Last year, at a trade convention in Las Vegas, Bosch launched its virtual reality project in earnest. The experience left the gathered crowd as intrigued about VR as Dupuie is.
Bosch began helping repair facilities utilize VR training as a method to help shore up the automotive industry’s technician shortage.
“The average [technician] age in the U.S. is 50 years old,” Dupuie notes. “Most of our customers are coming to us saying, ‘We’re having a really tough time recruiting the new generation to be a technician: In what way can you help us?’”
In an attempt to appeal to a younger generation that grew up on video games, Bosch began offering virtual reality training in earnest.
Cost-effectiveness. Virtual reality training, over the long haul, is far more cost-effective than traditional methods that often require paying employees to travel, Dupuie notes.
While VR setups cost around $4,000 not long ago, the price is dropping fast. Dupuie says the price entry point is now $600 for stand-alone VR hardware and an accompanying headset.
“The distance learning element of VR is powerful,” Dupuie says. “The instructor can be anywhere in the world. At the independent shop, they’re [often] limited in space to conduct training. So, they end up going to hotels, or they end up going to a training center. With the virtual reality, you can do it in a very small space; with VR you don’t have to have a 20-by-20 room.”
Retention of information. Hands-on learning typically resonates with auto industry professionals like technicians, who are used to working with their hands.
“What we’ve found with virtual reality is, it seems technicians retain knowledge better than with web-based training,” Dupuie says. “We did research and found that most technicians retain about 10 percent of what they read, about 50 percent of what they see and hear, and almost 90 percent of what they do. Technicians have had a high success rate of retention with VR.”
Increased safety. Considering the industry is slowly but steadily becoming more mobile and electric, Bosch officials appreciate the fact that VR training offers a safe environment in which to train.
THE TREND: BLOCKCHAIN
The term “blockchain” is difficult to define, even for many technology experts. Yet, automotive insiders are confident blockchain could redefine many elements of the industry, such as the parts supply chain.
Blockchain refers to an ever-expanding list of records that are linked within a distributed, private, public, or permissioned ledger thanks to technology that allows information to be disseminated but not copied, and altered only by those that have access to it. The process helps limit the opportunity for information to be compromised via hacking because it’s transmitted via a peer-to-peer network with no server.
“Most people have heard about blockchain and about Bitcoin, but it’s a lot more than that,” notes Iantorno, the VeriFacts executive whom had served as the longtime executive director of CIECA until 2019. “It’s actually an underlying technology in which you have distributed, digital ledgers—everybody has a copy of the entire ledger. It’s a technology by which you have all the data and, if somebody changes the data, a copy of that change shows up to you.”
And, in the digital age, that’s quite necessary, says Tim Pfeifle, who operates Auto Body of Tyson’s Corner, a $12 million shop in Vienna, Va.
“The more you can protect yourself and have secure relationships with vendors and manufacturers, it’s huge,” says Pfeifle, a veteran of nearly four decades in the industry. “Most [shop owners] probably don’t realize how easily they can be hacked. If customers’ information is available in your system, then you have a breach possibility, and that’s not good.”
While blockchain is often used these days in both the healthcare and financial sectors, manufacturers have especially started to utilize the technology as they look to improve their supply chain. And Iantorno sees plenty of other possibilities for blockchain within the collision repair space, because information (and payments, for example) can be made in real time.
“Think about blockchain in terms of the documentation from the first notice of loss, to the estimate, to the repair order, to the parts order,” Iantorno says. “Through every step of the cycle and into final settlement; all that information is sitting in this blockchain. And everyone [within the specific network] has access to those pieces of the data.”
There are current pilot programs pertaining to blockchain, the VeriFacts executive says, that are utilized by insurance companies and parts manufacturers.
THE TREND: INCREASINGLY CONNECTED VEHICLES
umlaut executive Ghosh—someone as plugged in to the industry as anyone—expects vehicle connectivity to make a major impact on collision repair in the next five years.
Because, Ghosh notes, “the car has a modem built in” nowadays. Vehicle over-the-air improvements, as well as vehicle diagnostics and telematics data-management, will likely be aided later this year when 5G technology becomes accessible on a wide scale. Because, as VeriFacts’ Iantorno notes, 5G offers lower latency than 4G and it’s more responsive, meaning messages can be sent and received faster than ever.
Unprecedented levels of connectivity could especially impact telematics, according to Ryan McMahon, the vice president of insurance and governmental affairs with Cambridge Mobile Telematics.
“Anyone that buys auto insurance is certainly seeing the impact of price increases,” McMahon notes. “And one of the main drivers behind that has been an increase in accident frequency. Insurers [responded with] increased prices in general.
“But, one of the ways the price increases are being rolled back is through the use of telematics to help understand how an individual drives. We have the ability to understand someone’s smartphone distraction from looking at the sensors on their phone. About 25 percent of our crashes we see significant phone distraction happening moments before the crash.”
While devices had long been plugged into vehicles’ OBD ports to provide crash information, McMahon notes that, in 2020, mobile phone technology has advanced to the point that it can provide more thorough information about how drivers tend to operate a vehicle relative to factors like acceleration and braking.
“In case an accident does happen, now, with mobile telematics,” McMahon explains, “we can sense that a crash occurs and then deliver emergency response to the scene.”
While body shops figure to see less plug-in telematics devices moving forward, they’re certain to see the results of telematics that utilizes’ drivers’ cellphones, McMahon says.
“It’s very possible that, when the vehicle’s brought into the shop,” he says, “it’s also accompanied by a report of the accident that can be automatically generated as a result of machine-learning … from a customer’s mobile phone that they, themselves, after the crash push to all relevant parties.”