Navigating advancements in the collision repair landscape
By Bill Davidge
Both insurers and collision repairers are facing new challenges in the age of technological advancements. Designed with more than just transportation in mind, vehicles are equipped with new technology that keeps consumers safe and comfortable. Whether it is lane departure warnings that prevent drivers from drifting out of their lanes or automatic lift gates that provide hands-free access into a trunk, vehicles are smarter than ever before.
Furthermore, in the past, only luxury or foreign brands had innovative features embedded in their vehicles. Now, nearly all manufacturers pack the latest technologies into their vehicles, some even in their base models. Incorporating these features into vehicle design has become mandatory for most brands because they are competing in a market with rising technological demands from consumers.
Most do not know that these technological advancements and innovations in vehicle makeup, while welcomed by consumers, have upended the collision repair industry. To keep vehicles working as intended by the initial engineering, repair centers have had to go to great lengths to adapt to the changes. Not only are the vehicles more complicated to repair, but also the cost of the replacement technology for advanced features in bumpers, mirrors, and body panels is significantly higher.
New repair guidelines from vehicle manufacturers, new equipment needed to perform repairs, and additional training for technicians have all come out of these industry advancements. Collision repairers have been making significant investments in their facilities in order to keep up.
Furthermore, the repair process has undergone a substantial change because of these industry advancements. New steps, like scanning and recalibration, have become paramount in guaranteeing customer safety.
As industry guidelines work to catch up with technology, the necessity of these new tools or processes can be controversial. To understand their purpose, let’s look at the process of scanning to find its relevance in collision repair.
To ensure the features that we love, like our blind-spot detection warnings, are working as they should after a collision, the systems require a scanning tool, as it communicates with the vehicle and “asks” it to check itself to ensure all modules are online and working properly. Although multiple scans may be helpful, it has become an absolute necessity to do at least two scans: one before the repair to identify any issues, then one after the repair to ensure everything is working as it should. This way, technicians will know that they have successfully repaired the blind-spot detection modules. Additionally, a post-repair scan is also an opportunity to correct any issues that could potentially be caused during the repair process. The objective is to make sure the driver is safe.
Problems found during a scan can be from the original loss or from the repair facility disassembling the vehicle. Something as simple as disconnecting the battery can lead to “codes” being found in the system, affecting its performance. Scanning is like a physical for your vehicle, where collision repair specialists cannot visually determine if the vehicle is safe. Therefore, they need to check with precise equipment. It helps to ensure everything in the vehicle is working the way the manufacturer intends.
Technology is not the only thing changing in modern cars; materials used to build vehicles have evolved as well. These changes help keep a vehicle’s weight down, which provides many consumer benefits ranging from increasing fuel efficiency to offsetting the heavy weight of a battery in an electric car. In other words, materials matter. To keep automobiles light, manufacturers are using new types of steel like aluminum, carbon fiber, and magnesium to build vehicles, which ultimately saves the consumer money at the pump. The use of these materials is only growing, causing collision repairers to invest in the right equipment and adjust their repair processes in order to get vehicles back to pre-accident condition and, most importantly, ensure that they are safe to drive.
Most premier facilities are already equipped with the tools needed to face these changes. However, industry standards for scanning or repairing these specialized metals have not been set, causing controversies to emerge. Topics that are often hotly debated include who holds responsibility for what, who pays for what, and what the mandates are to ensure customer safety. No matter the answers to these difficult questions, there is no doubt that insurers are in a particularly challenging position because, while they are obligated to keep their insurance premiums down in order to retain customers, they also must ensure the funds are there to cover rising repairs costs.
One thing is for sure, overlooking positioning statements from the manufacturers cannot be the first course of action. Whether it is scanning vehicles, adding calibration, reprogramming, or performing an aluminum weld, manufacturers add these steps to their repair guidelines for a reason. As insurers, collision repairers, and manufacturers continue to work together to navigate this landscape of constant advancement, it is clear that only a mutually agreed-upon roadmap for success is the way to move forward. Working with one another to deconstruct the repair process and identify opportunities for streamlined procedures to save money—while still adhering to manufacturer repair guidelines to keep drivers safe—is the ultimate goal.
New technology will continue to materialize in modern vehicles and those who are able to work together in this state of constant evolution will emerge as the industry leaders.