Fleet News

Fleet services: Taking on car repair cowboys

ACROSS the land, a dangerous scene is unfolding. Spurs are jangling, six-shooters wielded and the lives of innocents threatened by cowboys up to no good.

It’s car keys that are jangling and the six-shooters are more likely to be hammers and welding torches. But the cowboys are real, as is the threat to lives.

Responsible bodyshops are having their good name sullied by those out for a fast buck. There’s little profit margin in bodyshop repairs and it’s leading unscrupulous businesses to cut corners, with potentially fatal results.

Luckily, a new hero is on the way. But it’s not a sheriff badge that our champion wears – it’s a Kitemark, the familiar heart-shaped logo that adorns thousands of products and means that crash helmet, fridge or electrical plug is certified safe to use.

‘Kitemark has been around for over 100 years now and people recognise it as a mark of quality and safety,’ says Alastair Trivett, global managing director of BSI Product Services, the body that decides whether or not the Kitemark is handed out.

And with the quality of car repair more important in modern vehicles than ever before, a new Kitemark – PAS 125 – has been developed for bodyshops.

Decent bodyshops want to be able to prove that they can do a good job. And insurance companies want to be sure that when they send a customer’s vehicle for repair it’s going to come back as safe as it was before it crashed.

Pierre Lefevre, chief executive of Groupama Insurances, says: ‘When you have complexity, you have risk, and we are in the job of reducing risk. This scheme is about making sure that repairers use quality practices, recognised methods and the correct equipment. In my view, it is long overdue.’

The task is getting more difficult because vehicle technology is developing at a rapid rate.

Jason Moseley, chief operating officer for vehicle standards group Thatcham, says manufacturers are being forced to add more and more safety equipment to cars, all of which adds weight.

‘Consequently, they have to take weight out of the vehicles and the key area for that is the structure,’ he says. ‘We’re seeing new materials being used that are causing issues in terms of repair.’

Modern cars are far more complicated than those of just five years ago. The structure of an early Ford Focus used three different types of steel, but the latest Vauxhall Astra uses six. A new Audi A6 uses many more, as well as aluminium and composites.

Thatcham’s OEM programme manager, Andrew Marsh, says the increasing complexity doesn’t make much difference for minor knocks, but for more substantial damage the repairs require specialist skills and knowledge.

‘A cowboy repair could seriously affect the structure of the vehicle,’ he says. ‘It’s vital that the repairer knows what materials are in a car and what processes are required to repair it. New alloys are arriving on the manufacturing scene and there will be a dramatic increase in challenges presented to the repair industry.

‘A vehicle of the future will have stainless steel, a variety of aluminium and magnesium alloys, plastics and anything you can think of in any combination. Consumers have to be sure that their vehicles will be returned to the pre-accident condition.’

Insurance companies and repair centres predict chaos if no action is taken.

‘The Kitemark scheme has been driven from inside the insurance and repair communities,’ says Mr Mosely.

‘It’s something for the future to make sure we have robust standards and that vehicles are repaired safely. It’s very important to Thatcham. It’s our role to raise standards and raise skills and this is the hub of that.’

Kitemark assessment

Each bodyshop is assessed by inspectors on its people, its methods and its use of materials, as well as its equipment and its process management. Kitemarks for bodyshops come in three categories.

  • COSMETIC: Ensures that staff are competent at repairing basic damage such as dents, scuffs and minor paint or panel damage.

  • STRUCTURAL – STEEL: Requires repairers to be skilled at traditional panel and paint skills as well as accredited bonding, joining and welding methods.

  • STRUCTURAL – ALUMINIUM & COMPOSITE: Covering vehicles with specialist structures requiring specific repair methods. Staff must prove they have advanced joining, welding and bonding skills, as well as up-to-date expertise in specialist materials.
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