By: Bob Glose – Senior Vice President, Operations & Enterprise Resources

Fleet managers are constantly pressed for ways to control costs, and saving money on collision repairs is one legitimate way to do it. But repairs are more than simply putting the vehicle back into service. The key objective is to make the vehicle safe to drive. That’s why the prudent fleet manager shouldn’t compromise on repair costs when it comes to safety. The goal should always be to make the vehicle safe again, in the most cost-effective ways.

So, how can you cut repair costs without compromising safety? Avoid purely cosmetic repairs and utilize high-quality used parts and certified aftermarket parts, for starters. New vehicles may not have many options for LKQ parts (like kind and quality), but when LKQ parts are available, the savings can be significant.

Other cost saving methods include authorizing repairs quickly and routinely picking up repaired vehicles as soon as they’re done, which shorten the time it takes to make repairs and keep replacement rental vehicle costs down.

The real test, however, comes when you’re dealing with judgment calls and what you don’t see – damage that isn’t obvious to the naked eye. If hidden damage goes unrecognized or if repairs are completed in a cost-saving way that leaves the vehicle unsafe to drive, the risk is another accident, life lost, and liability that could reach millions of dollars. Assessing the risk of a proposed repair is often a matter of having the experience to know what could lurk below the surface. A few examples will illustrate the point.

Frame damage. Unibodies and traditional structural frames are made to crumple in certain places in order to absorb the shock of an impact and protect a vehicle’s occupants. If the “crush” zones aren’t compromised, repair to the unibody or frame is acceptable, as long as it follows the maker’s standards and guidelines. The risk, however, is that what looks on the surface to be minimal damage can be something more, and the right choice is to replace the part or section of the unibody instead of repairing it.

Suspension damage. Suspension systems are a complex network of different parts bolted together to keep a vehicle stabilized to maintain proper control. Damage in severe impacts can be obvious, like bent parts that make it impossible to align the wheels. But in less severe accidents, suspension damage can be difficult to see or diagnose until the vehicle is repaired and aligned.

For example, suspension damage is sometimes overlooked when all that appears to be damaged is a wheel. In those cases, the shop may repair or replace the wheel without checking the wheel alignment, which would have indicated damage to the suspension. While the repair cost less, a system vital to maintaining safe vehicle control goes unrepaired and the driver is left at risk.

Steering system damage. A critical component of steering systems are the gears in a sealed unit called the steering rack, which transmits driver inputs to the wheels and tires. Depending on the severity of the impact the rack absorbs in a collision, those internal gears can be damaged. If so, the proper decision is to replace the entire steering rack. The key is knowing how to interpret the severity of the impact from the visible damage to other steering system components.

There are safe ways to save money on collision repairs, and there are risky ways. At CEI, the safety of repaired fleet vehicles is our first priority, and we manage to deliver on that priority while still saving fleets, on average, 8 to 12 percent per year on collision repairs. In 2016, CEI found nearly $16 million in savings on parts and labor alone. Still, whenever we’re in doubt about the integrity of a critical part, our philosophy is to replace it, because savings are never worth the lives at stake if something were to go wrong. We think that’s the same position every fleet manager should take.

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