New tech in collision repair touches every aspect of business
The computers on wheels we call cars today are bringing a new age of collision repair. Technology touches every aspect of the collision business and if repairers don’t take advantage of it, OEMs and even software companies may force it on the industry.
New technology in collision is constantly changing, can be expensive, and its useless if repairers don’t use it. But with so much variety and no standardization, how does anyone know which investments are worth it?
Cars are changing, regardless of the collision repair industry. Each new model includes new technology to add safety features, increase sustainability, boost efficiency, automate driving tasks, and better integrate with mobile technology. Collision repair businesses need to focus on these same goals.
OEMs have made ADAS the new standard, new laws may soon require OEM repair procedures 100% of the time, and integration with smartphones leaves much of the vehicle software out of the auto industry altogether.
With new materials added and computer systems multiplying in each model, repairers need to focus on
- smart business practices,
- hiring educated young technicians,
- staying on top of regular training, and
- upgrading tools and OEM repair procedures.
More than anything, repairing the car of the future requires constant adapting of new tools and technology, new repair procedures, and new training.
Collision Repair Business Models of the Future
With an effort to move into the future of collision repair, the industry is pushing for modernization. It’s a transitional time for repair and building a successful business model can be (almost) anything a repair shop dreams of.
As ADAS technology continues to develop, overall collisions are expected to decline, decreasing the number of repairs needed. However, the severity of the repairs needed, even in minor accidents, is likely to drive the cost of each repair up. There are several ways to drive repairs to a shop: DRPs, OEM certifications, digital marketing, word of mouth, traditional marketing, joining an MSO… Each has its benefits and drawbacks.
To stay competitive, all repair shops have a lot of work to do. Businesses are popping up in all aspects of repair, from business management and training to repair tools. Innovation is combining technology with industry needs.
Futuristic Customer Service
This video by Glasurit paints a picture of collision repair in a world with drones, holograms, remote controlled estimating and a self driving car. These technologies already exist, but aren’t yet being used this way.
Although dreaming of a Jetson’s like world with flying cars and automation, changing the collision repair business model doesn’t have to be so extreme today. Simple tweaks that incorporate technology into the business model now can make a world of difference.
Modern marketing can go a long way in boosting any business and ignoring it altogether can be a big mistake. Maintaining a digital reputation is key. According to a publication by PPG, “one bad review online could destroy the reputation they’ve worked decades to establish.”
As the age of the average tech rises over time, the industry is losing its ability to connect with younger generations, both as employees and consumers. Simply incorporating modern marketing techniques like content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, and even niche marketing, can help bridge this gap by meeting this audience where they’re at.
This niche repair shop that markets specifically to women has been wildly successful in the last few years by understanding how to utilize technology to reach their target market: women. In 2017, 51% of licensed drivers in the US were women, yet how many repair shops have you seen that market to them?
One big change that’s required is finding the right people who know how to use the technology the industry needs, whether it’s reading scan tools or implementing a content marketing strategy.
It requires more than repair technicians to implement strategies like these; experts in marketing, content writing, digital marketing, and web development are more likely to get results. This is another way to reach younger generations who are looking at a professional career – but who have yet to look to the collision repair industry to find it.
Targeting the Younger Generations
There is a labor shortage in the collision repair industry and there has been for several years. Using technology to reach those who have never known life without it may be the smartest thing collision businesses can do.
If these young, educated people are not looking at collision careers, then collision businesses need to reach them where they are – in the digital world – and show them what’s available to them. The industry needs experts, and the trained job seekers need to find viable career paths.
The technician shortage can only be solved through connecting with younger generations, both as consumers and employees.
Consolidation, OEM Certifications, and Training
Although MSOs have grown rapidly and it’s “predicted that in the next four years the top four MSOs and those with revenue of $10m or higher would encompass nearly 45% of the collision repair market”, that leaves 55% of the market open to independent repair shops. According to Vincent Romans, founding partner of The Romans Group, consolidation in MSOs slowed in 2017.
Shops that consider OEM certifications have to stay on top of requirements for training, tools, equipment, and OEM repair procedures among other requirements. This may be one of the best ways to get OEM repair training for one specific manufacturer.
There are numerous ways to stay on top of training, and new ones are popping up all the time. I-CAR is a trusted standard, OEMs are creating programs of their own, and new programs, like the Collision Career Institute, are finding innovative ways to meet industry needs.
Subaru announced this year that it’s requiring participating repair shops to contribute volunteer hours to collision related causes. Shops might consider donating hours to things like mentoring local students that also serve to bring young techs into the industry.
Repair Tools of the Future
When it comes to tools of the future, collision repairers probably have the most variety and the most restrictions, especially as OEMs are gaining power over the repair process. However, both computerized and mechanical repairs are growing in complexity and require more precise tools and training.
The tools and repair processes required are largely dictated by the automotive manufacturers today (as insurance companies slowly lose influence), but there is no guarantee it will stay that way. As mobile technology and software becomes more important not only to the vehicle’s features but the purchasing process, more control is in the hands of software companies.
“Deloitte’s consumer research suggests that drivers of the next generation want their cars to act as smartphones on wheels, like to remain connected and productive while on the go, consider fully connected vehicles among the most beneficial futuristic technologies, and are ready to pay a sizeable amount for a vehicle that meets all their technology needs and wants,” said this report by Deloitte, “ We expect the impacts on the industry to be transformational, not incremental.”
Scan tools are no longer news to the industry, but they’re still not used as much as the OEM repair procedures call for. Nearly every safety feature, from lane departure warnings to LIDAR and backup cameras relies on these scan tools to diagnose potential problems. The problem with failing to scan is that the average consumer trusts these systems with their life every day. The smallest misalignment or undiagnosed error could result in fatal collisions.
Many of the systems that are affected most often have sensors and cameras located in the bumper, which is affected in a collision more often than any other part. Failing to follow specific paint OEM procedures can affect this too.
When it comes to tech like LIDAR that are necessary for the autonomous car of the future, improvements in the works, like paint that LIDAR can ‘see’, will require additional specifications in OEM procedures and repair materials. Testing the visibility of systems like LIDAR may require additional steps, like test drives and calibration checks even for minor repairs or maintenance.
New Body Materials
Computers aren’t the only tech in today’s cars – the materials used in the frame are changing too. From carbon fiber to aluminum, cars are lighter, faster, and more efficient than ever before. According to this report by Ducker Worldwide, aluminum is the fastest growing material in today’s cars. However, it’s usually used in conjunction with other materials, like carbon fiber, magnesium, and “thinner but lighter steels” says this Ducker Worldwide report.
The key here is safe repairs. Carbon fiber may be a lightweight material, but repairing damaged carbon fiber parts is nothing like repairing damaged steel.
The move toward autonomous vehicles means none of the new technology used to make cars lighter, safer, and more sustainable is going away. The new joining methods and repair tools are here to stay.
As OEM repair procedures have evolved and failure to follow them has led to disasters like the John Eagle lawsuit, legislation has been introduced to mandate adherence to OEM repair procedures 100% of the time.
Not only would this require additional tools and training, but it requires vast areas of empty space, test drives, and specific materials.
According to a report by The Romans Group “Identifying, repairing or calibrating some can be difficult since, in some cases, only OEM dealer-owned shops possess the necessary scanning equipment to perform this work.”
Nicole Wildman is a Detroit-based freelance writer. She frequently writes for various publications in the auto, legal, insurance and travel industries.