OEM Repair Procedures: Debate Over Recommended vs. Required Continues

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

“Review and follow the OEM repair procedures on every car, for every reason, every time.” The instructions sound simple enough, yet collision repair shops often encounter challenges in regards to insurer reimbursement, largely based on which of two simple words the vehicle manufacturer opted to use: required or recommended.

Since “required” translates into “essential or indispensable,” repairers experience less pushback when performing those procedures, but what about “recommended,” a word that merely means “advised or suggested”? For many, this subtle shift in semantics grants permission to skip a process, but industry leaders disagree and have expressed the opinion that the two words are synonymous when it comes to repair procedures.

A position statement from the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) indicates, “It remains SCRS’ position that if an OEM documents a repair procedure as required, recommended or otherwise necessary as a result of damage or repair, that those published procedures would be the standard of repair until such time the documentation changes. Disregarding a documented procedure that is made available to the industry creates undue and avoidable liability on the repair facility performing the repair.”

So, does that mean the shop could be liable for neglecting to follow an OEM recommendation? If a shop neglects to follow a “recommended” repair procedure and legal action is pursued, the judge and jury will definitely understand why the shop didn’t follow that process…right?! Most likely, that assumption would be wrong.

On multiple occasions, AkzoNobel’s Tim Ronak has stressed that the term “recommended” OEM procedures will be considered the same as “required” if a subsequent accident lands a shop in court over this issue, and he’s not alone.

“Consider it a requirement whether they’ve used that word or not,” attorney Erica Eversman (Vehicle Information Services) has said many times, observing that OEMs use the verbiage in question “for legal reasons, [but] you can pretty well equate that with a standard.”

Well, that doesn’t create any confusion whatsoever, right? It seems imperative to find out what the OEMs say since they’re the ones who manufactured the vehicle, wrote the repair procedures and indicated whether they are required or recommended.

“One word explains the difference between recommended and required: lawyers,” according to Mark Allen (Audi). “All of us – manufacturers, insurers and body shops – have to function within the framework and legal constructs we’re given.”

Allen went on to explain that Audi and Volkswagen develop repair procedures while their vehicles are being prototyped and during production by crash testing and repairing them in order to develop the service information they issue to the industry.

“We’ll take a Lamborghini valued at nearly half a million dollars and run it into a wall, so we can repair and document it. Then, we recrash it so we can validate the repairs. Audi does this work to demonstrate a repeatable outcome and in order to provide documented tools, equipment and consumables. Basically, the idea is ‘if you follow this process, this is the outcome you can expect;’ however, we function in a system that allows people to exert their own opinions into the process to conduct a repair that may look good to the naked eye of an undereducated consumer, but there’s been no validation of the process.

“So, we can only make a recommendation to avoid conflicts with individuals’ freedoms and interpretations,” Allen continued. “But realistically, from a manufacturers’ standpoint, if we’re saying we ‘recommend’ this, that recommendation is coming from a better understanding of the vehicle structure, the materials used and the process of reconstruction than a mere opinion of ‘I can just do it this way.’”

John Willis of General Motors (GM) made a similar observation:

“For collision repair procedures, General Motors does not make distinctions between recommended and required. Our viewpoint is we do what is necessary to perform a safe and proper repair. Our customers and their safety are at the center of everything we do. GM publishes the appropriate procedures to restore vehicles back to the condition as designed for repair shops.

“To support technicians in their effort to provide safe and proper repairs, GM also provides ADAS-support documents to help repairers identify when calibration is required and regularly improves inspection documents,” Krueger added.  “We’ve also developed more detailed content for procedures to show precise repair requirements, including 3D-shaded graphics and embedded videos, and we continuously coordinate with industry-supporting organizations, such as I-CAR and DEG, to ensure all this information is readily accessible.”

Other manufacturers seem to take the same stance.

Recommended procedures are those that we feel should be done to ensure the best outcome, but they have other alternatives or possible processes that would catch any missed items,” explained Benito Cid (Mercedes-Benz), offering an example related to pre- and post-repair scans.

“We recommend a pre-scan on every vehicle involved in an accident, but we require a post scan. The pre-scan would help in catching any possible damage that is not visible (i.e. electronic damage, deployed seat belt buckles, sensors, etc.), which improves the initial estimate and likely the cycle time of the repair. It can even catch pre-existing conditions to ensure they are not included as part of the current loss/damage estimate. Ultimately, the post scan is what would ensure the customer is back in a safe vehicle.

“Unfortunately, by not doing a pre-scan, if a problem is found in the post scan, there is likely a delay in completing the vehicle and a high likelihood that multiple post scans will need to be completed as the vehicle needs to be given a clean bill of health before it is returned to the customer,” he added, clarifying, “The post scan must show no issues to ensure the issue was corrected.”

It sounds like “recommended” actually means required, but if that’s the case, it seems that OEMs could avoid confusion by simply clarifying the matter. Why aren’t all repair procedures identified as required?

“Great question!” Allen quipped. “Entities exist that claim to do research and present alternative ways to do repairs, but I’ve personally witnessed several such situations where the vehicle structure didn’t perform to the same level as it would have by following the suggested repair. The concern is often related to the cost of our tried-and-true process compared to the option being proposed. Unfortunately, nothing says that repairers have to follow OEM recommended procedures.”

But should they?

“Yes, recommended procedures should be done. Ultimately, it is to the benefit of the customer and could save the insurance carriers rental costs by catching potential issues early,” Cid expressed. “Mercedes-Benz constantly reviews and evaluates our stance on these issues based on industry feedback. We have and will change and adapt as needed, based on what’s best for our customers to be put back into a safely and properly repaired vehicle.”

Allen agreed.

“From my perspective, following and documenting the recommended procedures gives the shop something to fall back on. OEM procedures aren’t opinions or some sort of black magic; they are tested processes that we’ve developed based on factual data and evidence. Repair procedures are developed from a point of research that includes understanding the vehicle structure and how it was engineered, not simply because someone thinks it’ll work.”

Hammer & Dolly also reached out to five insurance companies (State Farm, Allstate, Farmers, Progressive and Liberty Mutual) to ask, “From an insurer standpoint, what’s the difference between OEM-recommended repair procedures and OEM-required procedures, and why are these viewed differently despite many collision experts indicating that both ‘recommended’ and ‘required’ procedures should be considered the standard of repair?” None of the insurers responded to our query.

“There’s a disconnect between the estimating and repair processes at times,” Allen offered another kernel of wisdom. “Some materials are sacrificial and designed to conserve or redirect energy. Part of understanding the repair is understanding facts about the vehicle like this, but the end goal is to protect the customer and ensure they’re safe for as long as they’re driving that vehicle.”


Want more? Check out the May 2022 issue of Hammer & Dolly!