Changes, Challenges & Conquests: New England Automotive Report’s Survey Results

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

Ask almost any collision repairer to name some recent changes in their shop, and they are likely to spout off a series of shifts in the business, ranging from subtle to significant, due to advancing technology, insurer interactions, customer expectations and so much more. Auto body professionals are constantly plagued with a cacophony of changes, challenges and conquests, and when your time is consumed with merely keeping your head above water, it’s easy to forget how many others are in the same boat. 

Of course, no two shops are exactly the same, but have you ever wondered just how different – and similar – your facility is in comparison to other shops around Massachusetts? Are other shops in the Commonwealth still participating in referrals and programs? How do they educate their customers about vehicle complexity? How are they contending with ADAS, EVs, consolidation and OEM certification? Maybe, you’re wondering if you’re the only shop balance-billing vehicle owners. Wonder no more! 

The New England Automotive Report Industry Survey 2023 provides an easy way for shops to get a glimpse into the inner workings of other local collision businesses and learn what problems other local shop owners are facing. The answers to the previous questions and many more fill the following pages, so keep reading to check out this year’s survey results. Thank you to all the shops who participated in this survey. We hope that you find this information enlightening and useful. 

How long have you been in business?

1-5 years: 8%

6-10 years: 2%

More than 10 years: 90%

Are you on a referral or program?

Referral: 13%

Program: 6%

Both: 23%

No: 58%

If you selected “yes” to being on a referral, how many referrals are you on?

1-5: 89%

6-10: 0%

More than 10: 11%

If you selected “yes” to being on a program, how many programs are you on?

1-5: 100%

6-10: 0%

More than 10: 0%

When the survey debuted in 2021, 52 percent of shops responded that they did not participate in any referrals or programs, and given the pressures that insurers place on shops engaged in these contracts, it’s not surprising that an additional four percent of surveyed shops report refusing to participate in either type of relationship. 

How many full-time employees do you have, including yourself? 

1-5: 42%

6-10: 23%

11-20: 23%

More than 20: 12%

How many part-time employees do you have, including yourself? 

1-5: 92%

6-10: 4%

11-20: 2%

More than 20: 2%

What is the age of your oldest employee?

30-40: 2%

41-50: 8%

Over 50: 90%

What is the age of your youngest employee?

18-25: 46%

26-35: 25%

Over 35: 29%

Year over year, the effects of the technician shortage can be seen in the number of full-time employees in shops as well as employee ages. In 2021, 37 percent of shops had 11-20 employees, and 27 percent employed no more than five individuals. Those numbers inverted to 39 and 27 percent, respectively, last year, and in 2023, we see even fewer employees in a larger number of shops. While the oldest employee’s average age has remained fairly constant (90 to 94 percent being over 50), shops with an employee between 18-25 years old dropped from 64 percent all the way down to 46 percent in the past two years. 

Where do you look to hire new employees?

Word of mouth/referrals: 67%

Online: 60%

Local vocational schools: 45%

Everywhere: 52%

Not searching: 12%

Desperate times call for elevated searches. More shops are utilizing various means of searching for new employees with a 40 percent increase in word of mouth referrals, 23 percent increase in online searches and 16 percent more shops relying on local vocational schools compared to last year when only 15 percent of shops indicated they were searching “everywhere.” Tragically, many new hire searches are futile because as one shop owner dismally indicated, he “can’t find any qualified help.”

What is the annual salary of your lowest-level employee?

Less than $25,000: 15%

$25,000-$35,000: 31%

$35,001-$45,000: 25%

$45,001-$55,000: 14%

$55,001 or more: 15%

What is the annual salary of your highest-level employee?

Less than $70,000: 14%

$70,000-$85,000: 19%

$85,001-$99,999: 19%

$100,000 or more: 48%

While around 70 percent of the lowest level employees continued to make $45,000 or less, appreciation for experienced employees was expressed in 2023 with a 19 percent increase in salaries over $100,000 and a 25 decrease in salaries under $70,000.

Are you familiar with AASP/MA’s legislative agenda for the current session?

Yes: 100%

No: 0%

Do you feel that your customers care about the issues facing the collision repair industry?

Yes: 26%

No: 74%

Nearly three-quarters of shops are convinced that consumers are indifferent to the industry’s plight, up from 57 percent in 2022. Many shared their thoughts on the topic:

“The majority of customers do not care, but some do.”

“Mainly they don’t because they are not aware of our issues.”

“Customers’ reactions range from ‘I don’t want to pay anymore than insurance’ to ‘let me know what I need to do to make a difference.’”

“They just want their cars fixed; we have to deal with their insurance if there are any problems. The idea of getting the customer involved is total BS.”

“The insurance companies poison them with threats of increasing rates.”

“Customers only want to know three things – how cheap, how fast and can they avoid paying the deductible.”

“They do not care until we explain to them why they should care.”

As an industry, how do you think we can better educate customers? 

Television/radio commercials: 50%

Social media campaigns: 68%

One-on-one conversations with the customer on-site: 71%

Office signage: 47%

Emails and letters sent from shops and the Alliance: 47%

By better educating shops so they can educate more customers: 56%

Nearly 90 percent of survey participants agree that the shop needs to take a multi-pronged approach to consumer education, meeting the customer where they’re at and making sure pertinent information is available on a regular and consistent basis, not just during the high-stress shop visit following an accident. “Each shop needs to be a consumer advocate,” one shop owner insisted, while another suggested it might be beneficial to “have a journalist investigate the Department of Insurance (DOI) and Auto Damage Appraiser Licensing Board (ADALB) and report to the masses.”

Do you balance-bill customers (charge a copay) when insurance reimbursement does not cover the entirety of your invoice?

Yes: 62%

No: 38%

The Alliance has been educating shops on the benefits of balance-billing, and it’s obvious the message is reaching Commonwealth shops with nearly two-thirds of respondents subscribing to this practice according to the debut of this question. 

What do you think is the most pressing issue affecting shops today?

Despite ongoing legislative efforts, training and the increasingly common practice of balance-billing by shops, labor rate suppression continues to have the largest negative impact on shops with 70 percent of survey respondents lamenting this issue, up from 61 percent in 2022 and just over 50 percent in 2021. The workforce shortage also causes significant concern for 21 percent of shops; however, one repairer believes vehicle complexity is linked to the technician shortage, noting “Over-engineered vehicles are pushing techs away from this field.”

Are you currently certified/recognized by an OEM to perform collision repairs?

Yes: 38%

No, but I’m working toward it: 18%

No, and I do not plan to become certified/recognized: 44%

If you answered that you ARE certified/recognized by one or more OEMs, please list them below. 

Certified shops mentioned 17 distinct manufacturers for which they’ve received the necessary training, tools and equipment to achieve their certification. The most prevalent OEM certifications referenced by survey participants included GM, Subaru, Honda/Acura, Nissan and Kia. Those who refrained referred to OEM certification as “a money grab” and indicated the “programs are trash.”

If you answered that you ARE certified/recognized by one or more OEMs, what is your incentive to continue with the program?

The benefits of OEM certification vary from shop to shop, but nearly 70 percent of shops indicated that enhanced access to OEM procedures and a positive impact on the shop’s reputation are the main draws for maintaining certification. Additional incentives include access to OEM training, direct marketing through the OEM and better access to OEM parts, as well as increased workflow and revenue. “The differentiation of being certified supports our labor rate and justifies a co-pay,” according to one shop. 

How do you feel OEM certification programs will impact your business?

My business will be affected in a POSITIVE way: 47%

My business will be affected in a NEGATIVE way: 9%

My business will not be affected: 44%

For the first time, less than half of surveyed shops indicated that OEM certification positively impacts their business, while the number of participants who feel there’s no impact increased from 31 percent in 2021 to 37 percent in 2022 and now has jumped up to 44 percent. Those who do not believe their businesses will be affected offered comments:

“Currently, the expense outweighs the return.”

“It’s not that I am against being certified. It’s just that there is no financial incentive to do it.”

“Been there, done that…It’s a sales gimmick for OEMs.”

How would you rate your current state of business?

1-3: 9%

4-6: 21%

7-8: 47%

9-10: 23%

It seems that the current state of business for shops in Massachusetts is on the upswing. In the previous two surveys, 57 percent of shops gave a rating of seven or higher, compared to 70 percent in the 2023 NEAR Industry Survey.

Over the past year, have your sales increased, decreased or stayed the same?

Increased: 68%

Decreased: 12%

Stayed the same: 20%

In your experience, which insurer do you find the most difficult to deal with, and why? 

Shop owners identified 10 insurers in response to this question, but the three most commonly mentioned carriers were Progressive (35 percent), Allstate (29 percent) and Liberty Mutual (18 percent). 

Shops indicated that Progressive “lacks communication,” “delays paperwork,” “does not return calls” and “fails to negotiate in good faith.” One respondent provided a list of Progressive’s flaws: “Cycle time is abysmal. Blatant refusal or inability to exercise any shred of common sense. Zero concern for their customer. Inability to define customer service.” Objections about Allstate included parts selection and low labor rates, while Liberty Mutual was described as “cheap and doesn’t care about customers” and “refuses to pay for OEM procedures.”

Additional insurers identified as creating difficulties for shops include Esurance, GEICO, Hanover, MAPFRE, State Farm, Travelers and Vermont Mutual; however, 18 percent of respondents indicated that all or most of them are difficult to deal with. 

“They are all about the same. They want us to use the least expensive part and let the shops struggle to make it fit.”

“They don’t follow state guidelines when requesting supplements. They’re making us do more of their job without reimbursing us.”

“They’re all the same; they just want to squeeze the most out of every penny.”

“Lack of negotiation, unresponsiveness, disregard for laws and regulations.”

In fact, several respondents indicated that various insurers refuse to negotiate or respond in a timely manner, citing CMR 212 as the regulation insurers neglect to abide by. 

One shop owner offered a unique perspective: “Insurers are not my problem. The vehicle owner deals with insurers because they picked them, not me!”

What is the current hourly labor rate you are being reimbursed by insurers?

Less than $40: 0%

$40-$59: 94%

$60-$79: 3%

$80-$99: 3%

$100 or more: 0%

What do you think your labor rate should be?

Less than $60: 0%

$60-$79: 38%

$80-$99: 38%

$100 or more: 24% 

Efforts to combat the egregiously low labor rate in Massachusetts has led to some increases, though it’s obvious that shops have a long way to go. When this survey debuted, 12 percent of shops reported making less than $40 with the remainder falling into the $40-$59 bracket. Last year saw only seven percent making less than $40, a number that dropped to zero this time around. But while only six percent report making more than $60 an hour, all respondents believe they are worth at least that much.

How do you promote your business to current and potential customers? 

Word of mouth/referral/reputation: 97%

Internet (social media/website/Google/Yelp): 68%

Local advertising (cable/radio/community involvement): 62%

None: 3%

Similar to responses about attracting new employees, shops in the Commonwealth use a variety of methods for promoting their businesses to current and potential customers. Of those who indicated that they advertise, 88 percent utilize multiple forms of marketing, yet the most common advertising method remains the good old-fashioned referral. “After more than 40 years, we don’t need any other advertisement,” one participant boasted. 

How do you feel social media and digital platforms like Yelp have impacted your business?

A positive impact: 68%

A negative impact: 0%

A mix of both: 9%

No impact: 23%

Do you feel that your shop is prepared to repair electric vehicles (EVs)? Why or why not?

Yes, we are prepared: 26%

No, we are not: 74%

Progress marches on, but fewer shops in 2023 indicated being prepared to repair EVs compared to last year’s 37 percent who felt prepared. This decrease could very likely be connected to shops beginning to acquire a better understanding of exactly how complex these vehicles are. “EVs are emerging technology, and it’s difficult to get proper facts,” one respondent acknowledged, while another lamented the “poor access to training.”

Comments like “We are getting there. We’re sending technicians to I-CAR’s week-long class this winter” and “We need additional tooling and training to be 100 percent ready for all EV repairs” suggested that some shops are in the process of getting ready. On the other hand, several survey respondents indicated that they have no interest in preparing for the EV evolution. “I don’t intend on repairing them,” one shop owner reported.

Have you and/or your employees undergone any training in the past year?

Yes: 62%

No: 38%

Although technology advancements continue coming at astronomical speed, less than two-thirds of shop owners indicated that they or their employees had attended training over the past year. While 65 percent included I-CAR training in their agenda, others trained with ASE, OEMs, paint companies and jobbers. 

As a shop owner, do you feel that MSOs (Caliber, ABRA, Crash Champions, etc.) are:

A threat: 18%

Irrelevant: 64%

An opportunity: 18% 

Massachusetts shops continue to be largely unimpressed by consolidators, indicating that the names are unfamiliar to local vehicle owners and that they aren’t worried about losing clientele to MSOs that may enter the market. After all, if quality is king, no one’s throne is being threatened; as one respondent shared, “A porterhouse at Applebees will never compare to Del Friscos.”

With technology changing more rapidly than ever before, where do you see this industry 10 years from now?

It’s impossible to talk about the collision repair industry without discussing rapidly changing technology and how it will affect shops going forward. Survey respondents shared some of their thoughts on how that may shape the future and what the industry could look like in 2033. Many predictions were bleak, suggesting that the industry will be “in the toilet” or “in the dumpster.”

“Those who don’t train and who spin their wheels on the uncontrollables will be in trouble. Those who stay the course, train and don’t get caught up in the ‘noise’ will thrive.”

“Small shops will die due to the stranglehold on labor rates.”

“Consolidated, less small shops. Fewer incorrect repairs if we can get rid of DRP, but way more incorrect repairs if DRP stays. Huge sales and profits into the foreseeable future.”

“Major problems for those who choose to ignore the signs we are seeing today.”

“Obsolete and out of business if the labor rate and insurance practices don’t change. There are also not enough employees to fill vacancies due to the inability of shops, especially small ones, to pay a competitive wage.”

Some see a brighter future for the shops that are willing to invest in the training and equipment needed to repair today’s complex vehicles.

“More professional because the shops that don’t keep up will slowly disappear.”

“I see fewer shops with more emphasis on OEM certifications.”

“I believe this industry will be better for technicians and shop owners who stay current in 10 years.”


The constant changes that shops face can feel overwhelming, and it’s easy to let those challenges beat you down, but it’s important to remember that there are always ways to navigate those issues. We hope this year’s survey results help guide you to making business decisions that will benefit your customers and employees as you continue to safely and properly repair vehicles, and while challenges will always exist, we hope you find strength to stand your ground in the knowledge that you are not the “only one” fighting this battle. 

Want more? Check out the February 2024 issue of New England Automotive Report!