By Gideon Scanlon
Toronto, Ontario -- July 5, 2019 - In short—for most drivers, repairing a vehicle is a lot like buying a new suit. Even the best brand name cannot compete with bespoke."
During a recent trip to the old country, I was invited for a lunch at London’s Royal Automotive Club—the United Kingdom’s oldest motoring society, headquartered in a luxurious London facility. With its footmen in white tie, and its guests in suits tailored on Saville Row, the RAC is considered one of London’s foremost private members' clubs.
The truth is, I felt somewhat out of place—and not just because I was dressed in an off-the-rack suit.
As the editor of a collision-themed magazine, I was well aware that my area of expertise regarding automobiles was—first and foremost—to repairing all types of vehicles, while many of the members were more interested in collecting the most prestigious of them. While in Canada the line between different areas of the automotive spheres blur in social settings, I suspected that this might not be the case in the heart of the U.K.’s austere capitol.
I am happy to report that I was wrong.
For fear of being politely indulged, I had carefully avoided talking about my work. It did not take long for me to wander into a conversation between two guests talking about vehicle repair—and the rising influence vehicle manufacturers had in mandating procedures.
During the course of the conversation, both shared—with some reverence—the views held by their own trusted body technicians. It was clear that, in their minds, repairers should be seen as the medical professionals of the automotive world. And whatever OEMs or insurers might recommend, these auto aficionados were going to be following the doctor’s orders.
It was an interesting perspective—though one which does make a lot of sense from the perspective of someone deeply invested in their vehicles. I wondered how widely held this faith in the professional expertise of repairers went.
To be sure, these were opinions held by those with a very different relationship to their cars than the average motorist. With the pair’s involvement in the club, it is a safe bet that they provided enough regular business to their repairers for a significant amount of trust to be fostered.
It is also clear that many drivers have a prejudiced distrust of repairers—thanks, I suspect, to the unreasonable amount of attention given to reports on a very few bad actors playing on customer ignorance.
I decided it was time I did some investigating. I began questioning my fellow hotel guests, London-based friends, and strangers on the street a series of question. How do you feel about the auto repair industry? Do you trust auto repairers? Would you listen to an auto repairer over the advice of a manufacturer? Do you have a regular repair facility? How much do you feel you know about cars?
The purpose of this exercise was not to make a statement on the increasing role of OEMs in the repair process. Under my editorship, Collision Repair has taken a broadly welcoming view of the increased OEM oversight of the repair process. In a country where the legal liability of an improper repair remains vague, it has applauded OEMs for providing repairers with documentation to show insurers what is necessary for safe repairs to be performed.
I would also point out that the magazine’s faith in OEMs is not absolute. It is amused by how frequently OEMs turn to external repair professionals in order to produce their own guidelines. It is also skeptical—though not adversarial—to OEM efforts to determine which facilities are, and are not qualified to repair particular vehicles.
My goal was simply to learn a little more about how the average motorist viewed auto repairers. After a few dozen of these little conversations, a picture quickly emerged.
More informed drivers had more faith in the expertise of repairers. Whether or not the trusted the collision industry as a whole, drivers with a favoured collision facility all had faith in those particular businesses.
While some two-thirds of these interviewed car-owners were somewhat suspicious of the repair sector, suspiciousness dropped with self-assessed auto expertise. Moreover, about half of drivers answered that whether they put their trust in an OEM over a repairer depended entirely on one thing—whether the repairer in question was their own trusted one.
So what should business owners glean from this? Simply that securing a customer’s trust goes a long way to securing their future business. If a business can provide a personalized, high-quality service to a customer, it will hard for an OEM recommendation to drive their business elsewhere.
In short—for most drivers, repairing a vehicle is a lot like buying a new suit. Even the best brand name cannot compete with bespoke.