• Expert Panelists

    - article submitted by Andrew Hooker - Thatcham

    EP Thatcham

    The first operation we carry out at Thatcham Research for any vehicles is to review the vehicle manufacturer’s methods, if these are available, and the parts information. This gives us an indication of how well it has been prepared for repair in the market once launched. Then we order in the panels from a dealer, just as a bodyshop would, so we can review the service condition, prices, and availability.

    The price is naturally important and this can be compared with other vehicles to create a benchmark, and can often be compared against a predecessor model. Unfortunately, pricing discrepancies do occur even between LH and RH panels. Or, a boot floor panel can be very cheap, while all the smaller parts such as spare wheel brackets cost more than the floor itself. Added up, these can be enough for the vehicle to become a total loss in many circumstances.

    Often the vehicle manufacturer will feed back that these discrepancies are simple pricing errors, and as long as it is corrected to sensible levels that enable the car to be repaired, everyone’s a winner.

    Service condition can be more of an issue. We often find a panel is provided in a condition that does not enable the vehicle manufacturer’s own repair method to be carried out. This is one of many reasons we provide an alternative method; one that works for the panel supplied.

    We may, for example, order LH and RH chassis legs and two RH legs are delivered due to incorrect parts information and labelling. This can frustrate our research, but it allows the manufacturer to be alerted to the issue, allowing it to be rectified before a bodyshop has a car to repair and has the wrong panel delivered, extending the wait for an increasingly unhappy customer.

    We’ve even seen panels provided in an unfinished condition recently, where they had clearly been taken out of production at too early a stage. The manufacturer expected the bodyshop to recognise this and to finish the panel themselves. This is not an acceptable solution; as a bodyshop you need to be confident the panel is appropriate for a safe repair.

    Very often a panel is supplied as part of an assembly. One manufacturer would provide two complete rear chassis legs as an assembly with the crossmembers, when the repairer would need 12 inches to section the leg in a rear impact. As the assembly price was many hundreds of pounds the car would probably be written off at the assessment stage, so the panel would never be ordered or supplied. As the chassis leg had a natural join we persuaded the manufacturer to divert some from production at that stage and provide the panels to the UK so more vehicles could be repaired.

    And, of course, optimal service condition and price is irrelevant if the panels cannot be supplied within an acceptable timeframe. Waiting many weeks when the customer is in a hire car or courtesy car is not ideal, neither is the car sitting idle in a bodyshop waiting for panels.  Expecting every panel for every vehicle ever made to be kept in stock is not reasonable, but core panels should be available, particularly if the vehicle is still in production and is on sale in the UK. Recently a manufacturer was diverting panels and there was no availability in the UK because the car was selling well in another country. This means that UK customers may lose their car, insurers have to pay out, and bodyshops cannot earn money from repairing that car because it’s doing well overseas.

    Much of this work goes on behind the scenes, but it is important that we function as a backstop to ensure that having invested in training, tools, equipment and methods, that the bodyshop at least has the panels to be able to repair!

    *The contents of and any opinions contained in this article may not necessarily reflect the opinions of Capricorn Society Ltd.