Keeping Up and Keeping Informed
June 2, 2022—When thinking about some of the most pressing issues at play in the automotive industry, many different topics come to mind. It doesn’t matter what you think of first. It could be vehicle technology, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions or something in between. The takeaway is the same: Everything is happening at once.
As a result, not only has there been a lot of change, but that change has also happened quickly. As technology innovates, as less people enter the trade, as supply gets backed up and as labor rates fall behind, everything gets compounded.
Donny Seyfer, Executive Officer at the National Automotive Service Task Force, encourages shops to see the bigger picture by assessing, understanding and staying informed on what’s going on and why.
“I think the biggest issues we've got right now are in education. We are not keeping up with what's coming out,” Seyfer says. “Even if classes are written for that, a lot of times they're not written in such a way that they are current, and I'm not blaming the instructors for that. Their problem is that oftentimes they don't have all the information they need to build a class. So they're making assumptions.”
This begs the question as to why education in this industry is unable to keep up. Seyfer says that, in part, some of this is due to outdated information, or the fact that technicians struggle to get relevant information at all. This struggle, in turn, bogs down the repair process.
“Even if they’re the very best technicians, they are dead in the water,” says Seyfer. “If a piece of information that's necessary to initialize a computer or replace a component on the car, if that's not available, you're not finishing that repair until it is available. We're seeing examples where that can take days. Sometimes if the automakers are not on point with it, it can take weeks and months.”
Further conflating this phenomenon is the dialogue surrounding the Right to Repair. This effort to allow customers to choose where they get repair work done while simultaneously having confidence that it will be done to standard regardless of where they go is undoubtedly important.
From the perspective of an independent repair shop owner, the Right to Repair would allow access to up-to-date, accurate repair information on vehicles from the automakers themselves, and it would also grant an opportunity to allow more customers into their shop.
“The unfortunate part is that many manufacturers do a really good job, and they're very cooperative, and then you've got a few that just are outliers that just don't,” Seyfer says. “Those are the ones that all the others pay for, in effect. So I think it'll continue to be an issue. It needs to be an issue because we’ve still got 70 percent of the repairs or more…being done by independent repairs.”
It’s not getting any easier, either. In Massachusetts, for example, a decision on a legal challenge to its voter-approved Right to Repair law has been delayed for almost a year. The most recent delay marks the sixth time a result has been pushed back, and the judge hopes to have a consensus finalized no later than July 2.
The constant rigmarole associated with this major decision in particular has a far reaching effect in the industry. The Right to Repair goes beyond repair shops, because automakers play a crucial role in allowing access to information.
“Automakers don't completely understand what it is they're responsible for doing,” Seyfer says. “They also have got, as far as they're concerned, an extinction-level situation going on if certain information is required from that, because they're expecting to make all their profits off of vehicle information, that data. How do we use it? Who do we sell it to?.”
It would be an understatement to say that this topic is complex, but that is exactly why staying informed on it is one of the ways shops can most accurately understand the scope of the repair industry’s future. But it clearly impacts what’s happening right now, too.
“In the meantime, cars get wrecked and collision shops have to deal with those cars, potentially the day that they're sold,” Seyfer says. “How do we do that If we don't have these things in place? Some automakers are holding information because they can and because they don't know what's going to be required, so they're sitting on it.”
Additionally, data is a massive component in all of this, contributing to much of the push and pull from automakers all the way down to the customer.
Ultimately, the customer’s opinion is of huge concern to everyone involved because that is what truly affects every component of this industry. Plus, at the end of the day, the customer perspective is one that we can all understand.
“I will always be and always have been of the opinion that whatever comes out of my car, that's my information.” Seyfer says.