Concerns are being raised about standards in the smart repair industry.
While many repairers are capable of doing an alloy wheel refurbishment or knocking out a ding in a door, there are some ‘cowboys’ in the industry that fleet managers and their drivers need to be aware of.
Take the example of a driver who wanted some scratches touching up.
He found a local smart repairer who carried out the paintwork – but it ended up costing a small fortune.
Not because the rate the repairer charged was expensive, but because in the process of carrying out the repair they had removed the door seal, damaged it and tried to fix it using glue.
The glue had seeped out on to the door and run down the window.
The owner ended up paying to replace the glass, paint the entire door and replace the door seal.
“It’s an extreme example of a botched smart repair,” says Alan Philpott, service manager at Stratstone in Amersham, who helped fix the damage.
“But it happened fairly recently. And it shows that some smart repairers haven’t had the right training.”
Mr Philpott has been in the motor trade 15 years and has seen hundreds of sub-standard repairs.
“Say I had 10 smart repairs done by 10 different smart repairers, half of them wouldn’t be up to standard,” he suggests.
And that’s not just Stratstone standards.
Mr Philpott believes fleet managers wouldn’t find them acceptable either.
A common ‘botched’ repair, according to Phil Newstead, general manager of Manheim SMART Repair, is holes being drilled to the rear of a panel in order to gain access for a paintless dent repair.
This invalidates any panel warranty and may compromise the strength of the panel.
Other mistakes by poorly-trained technicians include overspray and mismatched colours.
But how big an issue is this for the fleet industry?
“It’s a massive issue, but one that is difficult to quantify,” says Mr Newstead.
“There appears to be an increased number of sub-standard repairs being seen on vehicles at the point of defleet.”
Keith Rogers, director of BCA, sees it as more of a problem for smaller fleets: “It is rare, but not unknown, for vehicles to come to auction with previously carried-out repairs that are now unserviceable and require re-doing.
“The most frequent examples are from smaller, wholly-owned fleets who are more likely to seek the services of repairers based on price or locality.
“The bigger fleets with full-service remarketing programmes will more often use the professional services available at the point of sale,” he says.
But even large fleets may inadvertently encounter sub-standard repairs – some of their drivers may try to cover up damage, either by using a touch-up pen themselves or by going to a smart repairer who is not properly trained.
Difficult to spot
Mr Rogers points out that the difficulty with sub-standard repairs is that the problems are not always immediately visible, as they deteriorate over time.
Mr Philpott agrees: “You might not be able to tell when a repair has just been done, but the question is: how does it look after a month when it’s had rain and road grime on it?
"It’s like a plaster – it stays on initially but then it starts to fall off.”
Some fleet managers have found out the hard way that a repair is not up to standard. John Chatto, managing director of Dentfix, told Fleet News about a fleet customer who fell foul of sub-standard repairs in the past.
“She’s in charge of a fleet of eight cars used by sales reps, and they’ve got typical damage like bumper scuffs, kerbed alloy wheels and dings from proximity parking,” Mr Chatto explains.
"She had the vehicles smart repaired but when the assessor from the leasing company came to inspect them they weren’t up to standard, and she was charged.”
Had the vehicles been owned and she had tried to sell them at auction she would have lost money there too.
Mr Rogers says that, at auction, a car with badly repaired bodywork will almost certainly achieve a reduced price compared to a similar vehicle in clean condition.
Or it may fail to sell at all.
“The problem with faulty repairs is that the work has to be stripped out and done again,” he says.
“What might have been originally repaired with a smart repair now requires a more expensive trip to a bodyshop.”
One way of choosing a reputable repairer is to see if they are members of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association (VBRA).
Dentfix has paid to be a member and has to adhere to strict health and safety guidance as well as signing up to a code of practice.
Malcolm Tagg, director general of the VBRA, says it has about 90 smart repair members. But, although the VBRA seeks to improve standards, it is not a regulatory body.
Here lies the crux of the problem – smart repair is an unregulated industry.
“There is no body of smart repairers that we can be affiliated to,” says Mr Chatto.
“That needs addressing, and then we’d do away with the cowboys.”
There are signs that things are changing, however.
Towards the end of last year a group of reputable smart repairers, including Manheim-owned Dent Wizard and Autorestore, approached the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) about setting standards.
Glenn Cutter, standards manager at the IMI, explains: “There are standards – known as NOS (National Occupational Standards) – in place now.
"We’ve been looking at smart repairers and have established what they must be able to do and to what standard. It’s not just knocking a dent out of a bonnet, it’s more complex than that.
“The standards are now waiting for government approval, which could take a couple of months.”
Having the NOS rubber-stamped by the government will lead to smart repair technicians being assessed against that standard.
“I welcome the move,” says Mr Newstead. “But the standard will be for technicians, not for companies. This is only the first step.”
So it will be a while before the smart repair cowboys are run out of town.
Choosing a smart repairer
1 Is it a member of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association? Find out by searching on the website www.vbra.co.uk
2 How much experience do the technicians have? Manheim and Dentfix both have experienced paint technicians that have been through bodyshop training and the companies’
3 Can it provide two trade references that can be followed up?
4 Will it do a demonstration of their work before the contract is signed?
5 Have the technicians been through any training, either in-house or external? For instance, Manheim has a six-week internal programme and also runs external training courses.
6 Can it provide a copy of its insurance certificate? As a minimum, it should have a full motor trade policy and public liability for £5 million.
7 Can it provide a copy of its health and safety policy?
Making a complaint
Unhappy with a smart repairer’s work?
If the operator belongs to the VBRA you can complain to that organisation. Alternatively, complain directly to the repairer and ask them to re-finish the repair. Trading Standards may also help.
What about a kitemark?
No smart repairer has yet been awarded the Thatcham BSI Kitemark for Vehicle Body Repair.
However, BSI says that it has one smart repairer going through the application process and would welcome applications from more smart repairers.