By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- May 4, 2018 -- In today's Friday Fun: B.C. collision repair centres fixing “drilled gas tanks” in wake of record high gas prices, an Albertan switches genders to save on insurance, and much, much more.
Toronto police arrested a driver involved in a pair of collisions recently. The alleged perpetrator fled the scene of a collision in the city’s west end. As he tried to get away he crashed into a nearby TTC bus, halting the escape. The first collision saw the driver strike a moving vehicle. A short time later the same vehicle struck a TTC bus in the area of Dundas Street West. Not content to let things be, the driver took off once more – this time on foot. It didn’t take officers long to find him. A male in his 20s was taken into custody and transported to hospital to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries according to media reports.
Gasoline prices are again a topic of discussion. This week GasBuddy.com price analyst Dan McTeague told a radio station in Vancouver that gasoline prices have, “beat the previous record held by Los Angeles in 2008,” and that, "it looks like these prices are here to stay." Drivers in the city are now paying $1.619 a litre. According to McTeague, this is, “the largest price point ever paid at any gas station, or any regional gas station across North America in the history of fuel.” Some quibble with that claim. Apparently, drivers in Churchill, Manitoba were paying $1.70 this past November. Whatever the case, drivers are suddenly paying much more for gasoline, and that’s worrying. The last time prices were this high was in 2008. At that time Americans began crowding on to public transportation. Retail sales fell off a cliff. The mortgage security business melted down. The Great Recession settled in. It will be interesting to see what happens this time.
One consequence of the high gasoline prices seems to be a rash of fuel thefts. A local newspaper in Langley, B.C. contacted collision repair centres and found that, “at least five people who drive trucks with large plastic gas tanks have been robbed of gas by somebody with a drill that drained their tanks.” According to the story, the thieves were targeting trucks or vehicles with larger capacity gas tanks. The thieves would drill into the tank to get the gasoline. Owners of the vehicles would find a puddle on the ground and the gas tank empty. One owner of a Dodge Ram pickup lost about $100 worth of gas and was quoted as saying, "I thought, 'What a dumb thing. It would have been easier just to give the thieves $100.’” Replacing the tank on a truck can cost well over $2,000. According to the news report, “Calls to five other auto body repair shops in Langley confirmed at least five cases of punctured tanks in the past two weeks alone.” A shop owner was quoted as saying that he is seeing a rise in the number of incidents at his shop. "We are getting this more and more because of the cost of fuel. It seems to be getting worse,” the shop owner was quoted as saying. He went on to say the thieves, “mostly target pickup trucks – Dodge or Ford vehicles – with large, expensive to fill plastic fuel tanks. That way, there's no risk of sparking while drilling a metal tank.” Another vehicle owner was quoted as saying, "I lost a tank of gas, but I'm not going to lose my mind over this. I would have rather they siphon it because drilling a hole in somebody's tank of gas is just worse than ever. You already stole my gas. Now you ruined my vehicle."
A commenter on the popular website Reddit created a bit of a stir this week when he explained how it is he changed his gender to get cheaper insurance in Alberta. In a lengthy post the frugal driver explained how he came to the decision to legally change the sex indicated on his license. “I’m in my early twenties. I live in Alberta, Canada. I just bought a new car. When financing a new vehicle, it’s required that you have full insurance coverage on it (includes collision insurance). So I get a quote from my insurance company. I’ve had a minor collision, and a couple speeding tickets. How much for my auto insurance? $4,517. I was disappointed to say the least and this was after we did everything to bring the premium down. So I ask, ‘Out of curiosity, how much would my premium be if I was a woman?’ The broker comes back with a quote of $3,423. I was shocked. I was thinking it would be, you know, $50 to $150 difference. Nope! Over a $1,000 difference annually.” The poster then claims he went on to change his gender with the provincial government (and offered proof in a scanned image of his license) resulting in a much lower insurance bill. According to the post, “The broker explains to me that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to basic auto-insurance. When it comes to collision, however, it’s still legal to discriminate against genders on the basis of contrast in driving statistics. So I began asking more questions and digging deeper into what would happen to my auto-policy if I did change my gender. The broker assured me they would re-adjust my auto-policy on the day my gender changed. Right then and there I was determined to change my gender.” He went on to explain that to change gender on his auto-policy he needed to change the gender on his driver’s license. “To change my gender on my driver’s license I first needed to amend it on my birth certificate. So I called the Government of Alberta and they said they’d send me the forms to get the process started. After that she said they will send me another batch of forms which included a requirement being a physician must write a letter saying that I am a woman. I thought I was stopped right there. I don’t want surgery! I thought gender was a state of mind in Canada and Alberta now. I was let down, but thankfully I was mistaken. Gender is a state of mind in Canada and therefore Alberta. As the form stated, I was allowed to change my sex if my gender didn’t match my body. Doesn’t make much sense. But whatever. I followed the requirements: one being the doctor’s letter, and two getting an affidavit notarized. The whole process was easy. Overall, it cost me [about] $100 to change my gender,” said the poster. Technically he is now a woman in the eyes of the provincial government. But when he called up his insurance company they adjusted his rate and he claims he, or she, now pays $1,100 less for auto-insurance. The story was picked up by a couple of online publications, but it didn’t make it into the mainstream media. Replying to those who cried foul at his move, the poster said, “For anyone who thinks it isn’t gender-discrimination, [or thinks this isn’t] justified, the broker (a woman) actually agreed with me… [she said] it is in fact discrimination against men because the insurance companies are not insuring all men collectively, they are insuring the individual... poor driving is a behavioural trait, not a biological one. Seems like a double-dip.” One wonders how long it will be before others try a similar stunt.
The UK car industry seems to be in full meltdown mode. Car sales are off from a peak in 2017, but in the U.K., where many are worried about the effects of Brexit, U.K. car production fell13.3 percent year on year, according to stats from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
An organization called the Auto Care Association this week announced the release of a new report, "Collision Repair Trends: Industry Statistics and Analysis.” The document delves into the latest data on the collision repair industry. The stats are gathered from industry sources, governments and independent research. According to the latest data, “Americans drove a combined 3.2 trillion miles over the last recorded 12-month period, which resulted in $45.8 billion in collision repair-related sales and services – representing nearly one in every five dollars spent in the automotive aftermarket (16.5 percent).
Many in the Canadian collision repair sector will know Rick Francoeur and his brother Daryl. The two are co-owners of CARSTAR 360 in Abbotsford, B.C., the longest-standing CARSTAR franchise in the province. The two were recently profiled in a feature that ran in a trade publication, Franchise Canada. They chatted about their business and future plans in the piece. Some of the interesting quotes from Rick Francoeur:
“I started my first business when I was 12 years old and looking to buy a dirt bike. I teamed up with my little brother, Daryl, and we started doing yard maintenance and lawn cleanup for our neighbours. We were young, but seemed to have a knack for business, pulling in $1,000 every month.
“My father, Denis, was one of the most sought-after and highly paid collision technicians in the province. I started going to work with him when I was 13 years old. Every afternoon, I would finish school, run three kilometres across town to the garage and work for an hour and a half until he went home for the day.
“When the Great Recession hit in 2008, we were worried about what it might mean for our business. We noticed our competitors started to scale back their operations. Rather than follow suit, Daryl and I opted for the opposite response. We kicked our expansion efforts into high gear, opening upholstery and car audio departments within 360 Fabrication. We introduced mechanical expertise to our shop and started offering wheel alignments and air conditioning repair services. Daryl and I became the local poster boys for diversification in the automotive business, with all repairs performed onsite.
“One benefit of franchise ownership is the networking is established and connections have been made. If I need to get in touch with a representative at an insurance company, my franchisor is often able to contact them directly. Today’s automotive business is all about consolidation, which makes it much easier for a franchise to grow, but also that much more difficult for small shops to stay in business.
“These days, Daryl and I split our efforts. He handles sales and services on the 360 Fabrication side of the business, while I oversee the entire CARSTAR operation. In total, CARSTAR 360 Abbotsford is a beast. I manage anywhere from 35 to 40 employees and we usually put 70 to 75 cars in the building each night.
“Daryl and I recently purchased the CARSTAR rights to South Surrey, Cloverdale and Aldergrove and we are looking forward to expanding into those locations by the end of the year. Ultimately, my long-term career goal is to become the largest CARSTAR operator south of the Fraser River. We have plans to open three more locations by year’s end.”
A local news report in a Colorado paper notes that, “Last year's hailstorm continues to slow down turnaround times at auto body shops as the Denver metro area braces for a new season of storms.” In early May of 2017 a major hailstorm caused an amazing $1.4 billion in damage. According to the news report auto body shops are still working through the backlog of repairs. One shop owner was quoted as saying, "We have already done over 200 cars.” The two factors have played a big role in the time it's taken for shops to get caught up: The volume of damaged cars and the severity of the damage to the vehicles. According to the story, “many of the cars damaged in the storm needed more than simple dent removal, instead requiring new parts and paint jobs.” They expect to complete work on cars related to last year's hailstorm by September. Other auto body shops told the news reporter that their work will wrap up in November.
The BBC has put together a documentary about auto crash investigators. You can find it on Youtube: youtube.com/watch?v=juCxnYSh5yI