Lowest Common Denominator = Disaster

by Evangelos “Lucky” Papageorg, AASP/MA Executive Director

In the collision repair industry, the pursuit of quality and safety should be paramount; however, there exists a concerning trend where some repair shops opt to work to the lowest common denominator, sacrificing quality for the sake of cost-cutting measures.

This mindset, which is being driven by the insurance industry, MUST change. This approach not only compromises the integrity of repairs but also poses significant risks to vehicle occupants and undermines consumer trust in OUR industry. The implications of being forced to work and be compensated at the lowest common denominator has been devastating to the collision repair industry. Our mindset must be changed. We must advocate for a commitment to upholding quality and safety standards, while being fairly and reasonably reimbursed for the service we perform and the liability associated with it. 

One of the primary concerns associated with working to the lowest common denominator in collision repair is the compromise in the quality of workmanship. When repair shops are forced to prioritize cost-cutting measures at the expense of the vehicle owner over quality, they may be forced into using inferior materials, cutting corners in repair processes or employing unskilled labor. As a result, the repairs performed may not meet the necessary collision industry standards as opposed to those “standards” set by insurers, leading to subpar outcomes and potential safety hazards for vehicle occupants. Remember the John Eagle case in Texas? There is a significant lesson to be learned there!

The safety implications of substandard repairs cannot be overstated. Vehicles that have undergone inadequate repairs may not provide sufficient protection to occupants in the event of another accident. Structural integrity may be compromised, airbags may fail to deploy properly, and critical safety features may malfunction. Consequently, occupants are at a heightened risk of sustaining injuries or fatalities, highlighting the critical importance of upholding quality and safety standards in collision repair. When something like this occurs on a vehicle you repaired, you WILL be the one ultimately responsible for the devastating outcome, not the insurance company that said, “We don’t pay for that!”

Contrary to popular belief, opting for the cheapest repair option does not necessarily result in long-term cost savings. In fact, choosing inferior repairs may lead to recurring issues or premature wear and tear, necessitating additional repairs in the future. These additional costs can quickly accumulate, outweighing any initial savings achieved by opting for substandard repairs. Insurers are forcing the vehicle owner to lessen the value of their vehicle, while the insurer maximizes its profits in the process. Vehicle owners need to understand the long-term benefit of investing in quality repairs from the outset. They must understand the concern of all quality collision repairers is the best interest of the vehicle owner, their customer, NOT those of the profit-driven insurers.

Empowering consumers with knowledge about the importance of choosing reputable repair facilities is essential in addressing the issue of working to the lowest common denominator in collision repair. Consumers should prioritize quality over cost when selecting a repair shop, considering factors such as certifications, reputation and adherence to industry standards. By making informed decisions, consumers can play a crucial role in driving demand for quality repairs and holding repair shops accountable for upholding safety standards. The informed consumer, then armed with the proper documentation, can pursue their chosen insurer if they so desire. There is NO reason the collision repair industry should continue to subsidize the insurance industry which continues to tout record-setting profits, all while demanding higher premiums.

The collision repair industry and the insurance industry are governed by a set of standards and regulations designed to ensure the safety and integrity of vehicle repairs to protect the vehicle owner and the passengers; however, enforcement of these standards can vary, and insurers in particular tend to attempt to circumvent regulations under the guise of cost cutting to maximize their profits. They do so with little, if any, concern for the safety of their insureds. Advocating for stricter enforcement of industry standards and regulations is essential in deterring unethical practices and promoting a culture of compliance within the insurance industry’s demands. Rather than seek ways to circumvent their individual responsibilities, all those involved in the claims and repair process should collaborate to identify and address gaps in existing regulations to further enhance consumer protection, i.e. putting safety above the desire for profits. 

At the heart of the collision repair industry lies the professional integrity of repair technicians and shop owners. Upholding ethical standards and prioritizing customer safety should be non-negotiable principles in every collision repair facility. Technicians should take pride in their workmanship and resist the temptation to compromise on quality for short-term gains. This can be achieved through proper training and compensation for the skilled technicians in our industry. This only comes from the repair shop being adequately compensated by way of a fair and reasonable labor reimbursement rate. Someone – be it the insurer or the vehicle owner – must pay the fair and reasonable charges on the final bill representing the cost of proper, safe repairs. By maintaining professional integrity and committing to excellence in their craft, collision repair professionals can build trust with consumers and elevate the reputation of the industry as a whole. Only the collision repair industry can make this happen. Addressing the issue of working to the lowest common denominator in collision repair requires collaborative efforts from all participants in the collision and claims process. Repair shops, insurers, vehicle manufacturers, regulators and consumer advocacy groups must come together to promote higher standards of quality and safety in collision repair. By having open discussions, sharing best practices and implementing collective solutions, the collision industry can overcome systemic challenges and ensure that consumers receive the quality repairs they deserve while allowing the collision repair industry to keep pace with changing technology and to thrive, not just survive.

If working to the lowest common denominator in the collision repair process is allowed to continue unchecked, the significant risks and end results will continue to undermine the integrity of the collision industry. Repair shops must prioritize quality and safety over cost-cutting measures to ensure the well-being of vehicle occupants and uphold consumer trust. By advocating for stricter enforcement of collision and insurance industry standards, empowering consumers with knowledge and fostering collaborative efforts among industry participants, we can collectively address these issues. Together, let us commit to upholding the highest levels of quality and safety in every aspect of collision repair, safeguarding the well-being of consumers. This in and of itself will raise and reinforce the integrity of the collision repair industry, garnering it the respect that it richly deserves.

Become a part of the solution! Join the growing number of collision repairers in the ALLIANCE! Find the AASP/MA membership application on page 7 or join online at aaspma.org.

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