OEM repair certification is more important than ever

March 30, 2020
If you’re thinking about pursuing OEM certification for your collision center, know that qualifying for an OEM repair program requires a 100 percent commitment — financial and otherwise.

If you’re thinking about pursuing OEM certification for your collision center, know that qualifying for an OEM repair program requires a 100 percent commitment — financial and otherwise. Depending on the manufacturer, it can be a drawn out and costly process, but obtaining OEM certification can be worthwhile for facilities that want to stand out from the competition, increase their visibility and position themselves as repair experts for specific makes of vehicles. Acquiring OEM certification can generate significant business rewards and return on investment, but neither is guaranteed nor automatic.

Currently, there is a growing emphasis on repair methods and procedures that fully comply with OEM standards. When a manufacturer certifies a facility, it’s essentially saying that the facility is qualified to restore a vehicle to pre-damage condition. The facility has the advantage of marketing itself as having factory-approved capability to repair vehicles to OEM specifications.

This is a critical distinction, since certified facilities are viewed more and more as the authorities on collision repairs. If a collision center is OEM-certified, its technicians have received the training required to use OEM repair procedures to provide the high-quality repairs that meet the manufacturer’s standards. It also means the facility has the specialized equipment and tooling necessary to perform those repairs, and it uses only OEM-approved parts and supplies in the repair process.

Given the choice between an OEM-certified facility and one that isn’t, most savvy consumers would choose the former. According to Tom Wolf, PPG Refinish director of business development, OEM certification is a trend growing as a necessity, not an option

“Car owners, particularly those with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) equipment installed, prefer collision centers that are OEM certified. Using an OEM-certified shop is a consumer’s best choice in keeping with the original equipment manufacturers preferred and mandated parts, procedures and tooling to complete the repair. Bottom line, OEM certification programs give consumers confidence that the repairs meet OEM standards.”

What does it take to obtain and retain OEM certification?

Obtaining OEM certification often starts with a manufacturer reviewing what a facility already has in place. The facility may need to acquire additional equipment for work on a particular vehicle make. In some cases, that could mean remodeling—changing a building’s entire footprint or expanding certain work areas to accommodate the new items. It also means training personnel to use the new equipment and understand the technology and construction of the vehicles. And it means working exclusively with OEM parts and approved products such as paints and coatings.

Some OEMs require that facilities use a refinish system that’s been reviewed and certified for warranty work on their vehicles. PPG, for example, works closely with OEMs to establish refinish systems that meet their approval requirements. As a result of thorough testing, each of PPG’s premium solvent and waterborne systems—the DELTRON®, ENVIROBASE® High Performance and AQUABASE® Plus brands—is approved by all major OEMs. To further ensure quality repairs at certified facilities, most OEMs require that a trained paint technician be on staff at the collision center. PPG additionally requires that technicians renew their training every two years to retain their PPG paint certification.

It should be noted that obtaining certification isn’t a one-and-done procedure. A facility’s investment in and commitment to OEM certification is ongoing. There are initial and recurring on-site inspections, evolving requirements and continuous updating of equipment, tooling and training. Don’t forget to throw in customer satisfaction protocols. This all translates into a significant outlay of time and money; however, OEM certification can effectively serve as a competitive advantage and can be viewed as a long-term investment in a facility’s future.

For some, certification has made a difference

For Car Crafters, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based multi-shop repair facility, OEM certifications have contributed to its business success. The company is currently certified by 14 manufacturers including such high-end marques as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Tesla as well as popular makes like Honda, Ford and Kia.

Sean Guthrie, Car Crafters’ vice-president, director of operations, had definite objectives in mind when he approached Mercedes-Benz for his company’s first certification in 2013. “We wanted to elevate our shop’s branding, increase our luxury line visibility and take on elite status. We wanted to set ourselves apart from our competition. We chose Mercedes-Benz because it was the best-selling luxury brand in our area; we wanted that market for certified repairs.”

Obtaining the certification meant making sure that everything fit the OEM’s expectations and demands: It took eight months, numerous and expensive equipment acquisitions, far-reaching technician training, repeated facility inspections and other measures to ensure quality work and ultimate customer satisfaction. In the end, Car Crafters achieved Mercedes-Benz OEM certification for aluminum bodywork. Once that was set, Guthrie pursued other makes.

“Mercedes-Benz broke ground for us,” he explains. “It added to our credibility, and it showed us what we had to do to qualify for other brands.”

Today Car Crafters is the only Mercedes-Benz certified facility in New Mexico.

Guthrie adds that there’s another good reason for certification. “Going through the process every year, you’re building a relationship with the OEM. As the relationship grows, you become partners of sorts and gain insight into the OEM’s processes and procedures. This helps us prepare for the future by understanding what’s coming down the road.”

At the Tom Wood Group Collision Center in Indianapolis, an expansive 75,000 square-foot facility that handles the repair and refinish work for the company’s multiple new car dealerships, OEM certification, currently at 14 brands, meant getting a leg up on the market and the competition.

“We wanted to ensure that we were fully qualified to repair the cars we sell,” says Aaron Colburn, the center’s general manager. “With certification we have access to up-to-date OEM information to properly repair vehicles. When those cars are correctly restored to pre-damage condition, that helps lock in brand and customer loyalty. For some brands, Lexus and Jaguar, for example, if you aren’t certified you don’t have access to proprietary parts and equipment that you need for making the repairs; repairs are simply impossible.”

As far as the investment he’s had to make, Colburn acknowledges it’s been expensive. “We’ve had to regularly invest in updating equipment and sending techs off for training, but as a business we’re properly structured, and our ROI has made us profitable.”

For anyone considering OEM certification, Guthrie and Colburn have some advice. Guthrie recommends building a relationship with a dealership that sells the brand you want certified.

“Start with the one brand, get to know what’s needed and move ahead from there. Be sure to build more than just a parts-buying relationship. A relationship with the service department and sales team is important to ensuring an ROI from referral business.”

Colburn adds that’s it important to think through the whole process.

“Look at your current business model and determine what you are trying to gain by certification. Then ask yourself, can you handle the challenge?”

Ready for the commitment?

The challenges in acquiring OEM certification are time, money and knowledge. Time and money are obvious; but how do you learn about the ins and outs of certification and the demands the OEMs will make? Obviously, experience helps and successive certifications become easier, but in the beginning, where can you turn for assistance?

Other collision centers that have gone through the process can provide insights and so can the dealerships you’re working with and the OEMs themselves. There are even companies that specialize in guiding collision centers through the procedure. Suppliers can also help. PPG and others have assisted numerous customers in the certification process. PPG can give advice and provide tools in helping collision shops to make decisions regarding certification and which manufacturers to pursue.

In the end, is it worth it? The simple answer is yes. Because of the rapid advancement of technology and the complexity of materials, a facility will need to invest in equipment and training regardless of certification to properly repair a vehicle to pre-accident condition, so if certification makes sense for your facility for a certain manufacturer or multiple manufacturers, it should be pursued to help drive business to your facility.

Certification is beneficial for the OEM and the facility. Manufacturers want to refer customers to shops where repairs are done properly. Today, consumers are making significant investments in their vehicles: They want them repaired correctly, and they’re influenced by automakers to go to a certified facility—not just to a facility that their insurer recommends. They are less likely to go to a facility that isn’t certified, and that may be all the reason you need to decide if certification is right for your shop.

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