Did You Break Free in ‘23? Get More in ‘24!

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

From the Hollywood strikes to climate disasters, economic uncertainty and even war on the other side of the globe, most of the news this year has left society feeling shackled to negativity…but body shops located in the Commonwealth received a different message, a message of positivity and peace, as the Alliance offered guidance on “Breaking Free in ’23!” 

“With the momentum we created on many key and critical issues in 2022, coupled with the attention we have received in the media, both locally and nationally, we are poised to see even more advances and successes than we experienced over the past year,” AASP/MA Executive Director Lucky Papageorg said in January, promising “The Alliance will continue to build upon the lessons learned and the relationships developed in the legislature, the media and other potential methods of effectively changing our situation for the better.”

And that’s exactly what AASP/MA has done as the organization hit the ground running by reintroducing two key pieces of legislation. The first advocates for amending the Auto Damage Appraiser Licensing Board (ADALB) so it can more effectively protect consumers by having the Board housed under the Division of Occupational Licensure (DOL) rather than the Division of Insurance (DOI).

“The auto damage appraiser license is a highly technical license, not an insurance license nor an insurance-carrier related license. Simply put, the auto damage appraiser license is a license of a technical professional who is neither an insurance company nor an insurance producer. The Division of Insurance is there to oversee the business of insurance, not collision repair,” Papageorg explains, stressing that the need to add two additional Board members who would “represent the interest of the consumers and avoid partisan disagreements that come up between the insurance industry and the collision repair industry.”

AASP/MA’s other legislation seeks to reform the labor reimbursement rate because it’s obvious that the approximately $40 an hour rate at which insurers currently reimburse claimants does not sufficiently cover all the labor and training costs that go into fixing today’s vehicles, which are substantially more technically advanced then they were in 1988…or even five years ago. 

Although some insurers responded to the 2022 legislation by offering $1 or $2 increases, the nominal raises do little to keep pace with inflation from one year to next…never mind doing anything to account for nearly 40 years of stagnancy. Papageorg calls it what it is: “The insurance industry’s attempt to pacify us with minimal increases is really just that – an insulting attempt at pacification.”

Most recently, members of the Alliance joined Papageorg this fall to testify during the Joint Committee on Financial Services hearing. AASP/MA will continue educating legislators and encouraging them to support these key initiatives to help free auto body shops from the undue third-party influence too often exerted by insurance companies. 

Papageorg promises the association will deliver “education meant to empower independent thinking and help educated shop owners and the vehicle owners they service understand that there is a price to pay for quality safe repairs, to help them realize that the price is not what insurers set; it is the price that is dictated by the changing technology, training and equipment required to repair today’s vehicles. True collision repair professionals cannot be expected to work on today’s vehicles at 30 year old rates.”    

Education has certainly been the key to breaking free in ’23, and many shops have combated the low reimbursement labor rate by educating their customers about the egregious under-indemnification issues that run rampant amongst insurance companies and collecting a copay to get reimbursed for the hard work exerted into safely and properly restoring vehicles to their pre-accident condition. But an email circulated near the end of 2022 via the Division of Standards (DOS) frightened shops with allegations that, by doing so, they might be behaving illegally and could potentially lose their collision shop registration!

“It is quite clear that the DOS has been weaponized by the insurance industry against the collision industry and specifically against those shops who have made the bold move to collect what they are worth for the repair procedures they have performed on a vehicle to restore it to road worthy functionality, to restore these vehicles to as close to pre-loss condition as possible, while accepting the full liability in doing so,” Papageorg insists. “There is nothing wrong with getting paid fairly and adequately for the work that you do and passing on any costs not covered by the vehicle owner’s insurer in the form of a copay.”

AASP/MA engaged the assistance of at-the-time legal counsel Attorney James A. Castleman, Esq. to defend shops’ right to charge customers a copay when insurer payment falls short of covering the cost of a repair. (Get the full details on Castleman’s letter to the DOS at grecopublishing.com/near0523coverstory.)

The DOS’ attempt to intimidate collision repairers for all intents and purposes failed; only the less knowledgeable paid the threat any heed,” Papageorg recounts. “It was revealed that the many ‘consumer complaints received’ were actually just three letters of complaint to insurers about their failure to pay a fair and reasonable amount, causing the vehicle owner to pay for what should have been covered expenses, yet since Attorney Castleman wrote a rebuttal letter written by Attorney Castleman challenging the DOS attorney’s position, NOTHING has been heard from them on the subject. Those who have chosen to charge a copay report positive effects to their bottom line and a continued backlog of work, despite the efforts of insurers to steer work away. Educated consumers understand the issue and know at whose feet to lay the blame.”

Staying up-to-date on what’s happening in the collision repair industry throughout the country is a vital part of keeping Alliance members informed and moving forward with stronger Commonwealth shops. Papageorg stayed active on the national scene in 2023, attending all three AASP National Board meetings and even being named to the executive committee of the AASP National Board of Directors as Chair of Executive Directors. He attended his first Collision Industry Conference (CIC) over the summer and was thrilled with how much he was able to learn. SEMA 2023 rounded out his travels for the year. 

“I am truly fortunate to be able to meet with leaders from across the country at AASP-National events, CIC and SEMA,” he shares. “In doing so, I am able to hear about trends in the industry and about ways to assist our members in moving from just surviving to thriving. In turn, I share our successes with programs like ‘Breaking Free In ’23’ and how we will help our members succeed in ‘Getting More in ’24.’ There is no way to put a value on the information gathered at these events.” 

All of that jet-setting provided Papageorg with an opportunity to network with some of the industry’s best-known movers and shakers from coast to coast – some of whom traveled to Massachusetts this year to share their knowledge with shops during the Alliance’s three-part “Breaking Free in ’23” series. 

Shops learned “How to Take Back Control of Your Business” from collision industry consultant and well-known speaker Barrett Smith of Auto Damage Experts, who told shops, “You are just as important as a surgeon, doctor, accountant or attorney. You have an immense amount of responsibility to consumers because you are dealing with their safety, their economic well being and the proper restoration of their vehicle.” 

Renowned national speaker Kristen Felder (Collision Hub) urged shops to know their rights and to back it all up with proper documentation. “At the end of the day, there is the truth, there is what you believe to be your truth and then there’s what you can actually defend and work with in court. Sometimes those things are the same. Sometimes they’re not. And sometimes even if you’re right, going to court isn’t really where you want to be because you don’t have the pockets necessary.”

The third part of the series featured Rachel James (Torque Financial Group) who shared financial perspectives, as well as an ADAS exploration by Ed and Scott Rachwal (Designer Office Systems) and Mike Johnson (Crown Collision Solutions). 2023 also saw the return of AASP/MA’s chapter meetings in addition to another successful golf outing. 

“Those who attended the three meetings in the ‘Breaking Free’ series have been provided with the foundation and the keys to being the go-to shops of the future,” Papageorg predicts. “They will continue to solidify their position in the marketplace as the shops who work for their customers and not insurers. In doing so, they have the peace of mind that they are repairing vehicles properly and are being compensated at a rate which allows them to reward their highly skilled employees while accepting the liability for the work and service they have been entrusted to do by the vehicle owner.”  

All of the Alliance’s efforts this year added up to one thing for shops: the knowledge, support and confidence to break free from the shackles that were binding them and preventing them from moving forward as successful businesses. With the chains broken, Massachusetts shops now have the freedom to “Get More in ’24!” 

“I am excited for what will be accomplished in ’24 by those who ‘flicked the switch’ in ’23 and have been adding to the success of their businesses,” Papageorg exclaims. “They do so with the knowledge that it may not be tomorrow, next week or even next month, but change is coming and those who have been kowtowing to insurers will no longer be able to survive. The continued changes in technology will leave the so-called ‘competition’ in the dust, and only those who embrace the new business model being dictated by today’s vehicles will be around to reap the benefits…

“Where will you be in ’24?”

Want more? Check out the December 2023 issue of New England Automotive Report!