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  Collision Feature

Collision Repairers Find OEM Web Sites Helpful

Posted 6/25/2004
By Levy Joffrion

More and more collision repair shops are accessing the OEM Web sites and are finding that for the most part, OEM Web sites work well. Collision repairers can get the information they need quicker and that makes them more productive and puts more dollars in their pocket. But as well as they work, there are a few problem areas.

For example, Geralynn Kottschade, AAM, of Jerry's Body Shop in Mankato, Minn., says "we have trouble finding exactly what we need ... navigation is sometimes a little difficult." It's still easier for her people to get information from ALLDATA, she says, but she thinks the OEM Web sites will improve as time goes on. Part of the problem is that each OEM Web site is different and must be navigated differently, says Kottschade, who is chairman of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) board of directors.

Other shop owners agree. "It can be kind of a hassle at first and you may think it's easier to just call a dealer," says Michael "Mike" West, owner of Southtowne Auto Rebuild Inc. in Tukwila, Wash. "But they get easier to use the more you use them." West says there is definitely a learning curve, but believes, "The more you use the OEM Web sites and become familiar with them, the better. They'll finally become a real asset. It's just like any other tool."

West thinks an "index" at the beginning of each OEM Web site would be helpful. "That way," says West, "you could tell quickly if they have the information you're looking for."

Agreeing with West on that aspect is Jerry Burns, AAM, of Automotive Impressions in Rio Rancho, N.M. "We find the Web sites useful," says Burns, "But we'd like to see each one have a table of contents. Then you could see exactly what's on that Web site before you pay your money."

Although the shop owners are quick to point out the problems they've encountered with the Web sites, they praise the fact that repair information can be accessed quickly via the sites. "It's great that the manufacturers are willing to share the same information that they give dealers," says West. "The information has always been there, in manuals. Manuals still have their place. But with the advent of computers and the Internet, the manufacturers realized the easiest and quickest way to provide the information is to put it online. That means we have instant access to the information we need."

The information you can get on the OEM Web sites is really helpful, says West. He cites his shop's recent use of an OEM Web site to find out how to remove a door handle. On the manufacturer's Web site, they discovered that the door handle has hidden spring clips and there was information on how to remove the handle without breaking it.

Burns agrees that getting information quickly is extremely helpful. "You can access something in 10 or 15 minutes that would take hours to pull out of manuals or from talking to a dealership," says Burns. "Moreover, it's the 'latest and greatest' information."

If a technician has a problem accessing information, he or she should visit the Web site of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which was established as a cooperative oversight organization.

NASTF has a service information matrix, which is updated quarterly. It also includes a complaint form. It can all be found on NASTF's Web site, www.nastf.org. All of the OEM Web sites, as well as the complaint form, can also be found in the "Related Links" section of the ASA Web site (www.asashop.org). Burns says the complaint procedure works well.

West readily admits that collision repair shops do not universally use the OEM Web sites. "But the Web sites have improved immeasurably, and they're getting better all the time," says West. "They are invaluable in getting the repair information you need quickly."

Bill Haas, ASA's vice president of service repair markets, agrees with West's assessment. "Not long ago, collision repairers were often challenged to make certain repairs due to the lack of service information and diagnostic tools," says Haas. "Now, thanks to the historic agreement in September 2002 between the manufacturers and ASA, the information and tools are readily available.

"Sure, it's not perfect ... there'll always be questions and problems ... but NASTF is in place just for that reason.

"As West says, using the OEM Web sites is like any other tool ...there's a learning curve ... it just takes time to familiarize yourself with the system. But once collision repairers know how to navigate the sites to find the information they need, it'll reduce their shops' cycle time and they'll increase their profitability immeasurably."

The information, tools and training are there, collision repairers just need to take advantage of it all, says Haas. "The next step is for us is to educate our members as to how to access that information and then, the next step is for them to use the Web sites to their advantage."

Because accessing the OEM Web sites can be a little scary to the uninitiated, ASA has put together a three-hour course to help collision repairers learn how to access the information, tools and training they need.

The class, "Electronic Service Information in a Collision Repair Facility," is presented by Haas.


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