The truth about the smash repair industry

There are several contributing factors which impact on why the smash repair industry finds it difficult to consistently provide crashworthy compliant motor vehicle collision repairs.

One of many serious deficiencies confronting the smash repairer industry is their continued use of antiquated and non manufacturer approved collision repair equipment.

The collision repair equipment used in smash repair shops today is enormously outdated. It is fundamentally the same old conventional equipment used to repair motor vehicles in the 1970’s. What also are archaic are the subsequent collision repair methods and processes.

These methods and processes may have been acceptable in the 70’s and 80’s possibly because there was insufficient technical data available to recognise how inferior and dangerous such methods are.

Smash repair equipment and the subsequent repair methods used to repair collision damaged vehicles today have definitely not kept pace with the technology that applies to modern motor vehicle manufacturing. Nor should it be acceptable to try and repair late model vehicles on thirty (30) year old technology.

For example: Older model cars were built primarily from one tensile grade of steel where a Mig welder was all that was required to weld this grade of steel. This is contrary to late model vehicles which are built with several different grades of steel with each having a different tensile strength. This allows for the vehicle to have a stronger structural and crashworthy integrity in areas where required and lighter tensile steels in areas where life and limb is not at risk. Building a vehicle with multiple grades of tensile steel also has performance and efficiency related benefits. 

If you have a Collision Repaired VE Comodore you must have the structural integrity checked.    
Some European vehicles popular with Australian consumers are built with up to thirteen different grades of steel and the use of conventional repair equipment such as the Mig welder will in these circumstances be totally ineffective, yet many repair shops continue to use such antiquated equipment creating dangerously weak welded joints and collision repairs.

In instances where there are numerous grades of steel present an inverted welder is required to be used. Costing between $30,000 - $70,000 per unit the inverted welder is possibly the cheapest item of modern repair equipment, however with more modern vehicles on our roads built with multiple grades of tensile steel, the Mig welder has now become obsolete and the inverted welder has become an essential ‘must have’ piece of equipment in all smash repair shops. Unfortunately many repair shops simply cannot afford to purchase the cheapest of inverted welders.

Another compounding problem for the smash repair industry is the non existence of any monitoring or licensing protocols of persons wanting to become smash repairers.

Current legislative laws are such that they allow for anyone to open a smash repair shop without the need of any formal trade qualifications. Consequently the smash repair industry is full of ‘dodgy’ operators who are primarily unskilled and operate without any formal technical trade qualifications at all.

This is most disturbing when we as motorists expect the authorities to ensure that stringent check measures are in place to identify inexperienced rogue operators and to prevent them from entering and operating in the industry. We have also come to expect for the authorities to acknowledge their Duty of Care responsibilities and ensure we (the public) are better protected when we travel in collision repaired motor vehicles. It is a ludicrous situation where someone could simply close a milk bar one day and open a smash repair shop the next with no need to produce relevant credentials.

Whilst some of these ‘dodgy’ operators have certainly learnt the ‘tricks of the trade,’ it does not mean that they have become competent smash repairers, they have simply learnt how to repair collision damaged vehicles to what is termed the ‘industry standard’. It is apparent they still cannot deliver safe crashworthy collision repairs.

However the ‘industry standard’ is a sham. It is nothing more than words which imply a minimum acceptable standard of repair. The truth is there has never been any legislative or executive instrument produced by any government or motoring body to identify exactly what the ‘industry standard’ is.

Conventional collision repairs are conducted on antiquated equipment and with archaic methods.

Note the floor rack apparatus which provides no finite measurement or jig points for accurate repair tolerances.
Note the chain has no guide facility to determine specific measurements.

Modern Jigging equipment has zero tolerance standards which leave no margin for error of measurement or repair. All vehicles collision repaired on Carbench branded smash repair equipment are reinstated to manufacturers recommended specifications.
The real problem within the industry however does not stem from inadequate work skills or from the lack of formal qualifications alone.

Not having a formal governing or controlling mechanism operating has created a very concerning situation where there is now a surplus of smash repairers for the amount of collision repair work available.

Although this situation significantly impacts upon the food chain for the entire industry, it auspiciously falls into the lap of the insurers. Having an oversupply of smash repairers allows insurers to tender the same collision repair job to many repairers to lower the collision repair cost. The reality is the repairer with the lowest quote usually wins the job. Whilst this method of quoting conveniently keeps the average repair cost low for the insurer, it conversely creates intense completion amongst repairers as they compete amongst themselves to win more work.

Quoting for new collision repair jobs is very stressful for the repairer as their foremost priority is to win the work on which they are quoting at a reasonable tender price. Each repairer knows they are competing against many other repairers to win the same job and it is not uncommon to spend many days submitting multiple quotes and not win one job.

All smash repairers are aware there is an oversupply of hungry smash repairers in the industry. They also know there will be reprisals if they formally complain about the injustices of the tender quoting repair system, yet their fears are rational and not wanting to be the next hungry repairer, they remain silent.

Unfortunately to be successful and win the tender it seems repairers need to give little or no thought to the real cost considerations involved when quoting, which apart from the collision damage also includes operating overheads i.e. Wages, rent, profit, consumables etc. Reasonable considerations are rejected when it becomes a matter of survival and consequently cheap and usually inadequate tender quotes are submitted.

Submitting ‘low ball’ quotes creates another problem, there is little likelihood that the winning quote will be quantum sufficient to rectify all collision damage to a safe and crashworthy standard or for that matter, cover operating overheads and make a profit. Sadly however the industry's attitude seems to largely be that they hope to make up their loss on the next quote, in reality however, the next quote is much the same as the previous.

The following may help explain why collision repair quotes are inadequate to reinstate crashworthy collision repairs.

The average hourly rate for smash repairers has remained at about $25 per hour whilst the average collision repair budget has remained at $1,650 - $2,100 per vehicle for the past two decades. This has been attributable to repairers being taught to keep their quoting costs to a minimum to win new insurance controlled repair work. The lowest quote generally wins the work and it’s safe to say that smash repairers were making more money in the 80’s and repairing fewer vehicles than they are today.

When you consider a genuine replacement bumper bar for an average priced vehicle costs nearly $2,000, one must wonder how smash repairers could possibly repair all collision damage and meet overheads and make a profit, on the cost of an average collision repair budget. The truth of the matter is, they don’t and it is why smash repairers are prepared to cheat and cut corners to stay in business.

Lets put this into perspective,

    * There are approx 1.500,000 recorded collisions each year in Australia
    * There are approx 6,000 smash repair shops in Australia 
    * This averages to 250 jobs per annum per repair shop. 
    * The average gross profit margins are four percent (4%) of turnover.

This equates to smash repairers receiving the measly gross profit of $20,000 per annum per repair shop, it’s hardly worth the effort for the responsibilities required. It is now easy to understand why smash repairs cut corners during repair (it is simply to stay alive) and why insurers can continue to approve inadequate repair budgets. However neither situation releases either stakeholder from their Duty of Care responsibilities. (See Duty of Care link)

The industry stakeholders know the overall quality of collision repairs do not meet the minimum safety standards required and conversely the individual repairers know, they face a very real possibility of being charged with industrial manslaughter.