Horror Stories

by Clint Wilson —

Body shops, take note! You don’t want to become someone else’s horrible memory.

If you are employed in the collision repair industry, it is almost certain that you have ordered and used recycled parts. But how many body shop employees or owners have ever spent a day at an auto wrecking/recycling yard to witness firsthand what goes into selling a used part?

An auto recycling company that is doing the job correctly must first fight furiously at an auction to acquire quality salvage. Once the vehicles are towed in, often from a considerable distance, the company must inventory and grade all of the salable parts and process them in an environmentally responsible manner, draining the engine oil, transmission fluid, and all other liquids. The company must also have the office infrastructure and professional sales staff to monitor requests, answer phone calls and emails, and make sure that all of the necessary criteria are discussed and questions are asked. Once an order is placed, the part needs to be removed. Sometimes it is only a matter of undoing nuts and bolts. At other times, custom cutting is involved, or specialty tools are required. The part needs to be cleaned, inspected, and, in some cases, tested. Then it needs to be delivered in such a manner that it arrives at its destination in the same condition that it left in. This often requires extensive and expensive wrapping, packaging, and/or crating.

Collision repair shops can greatly assist in the process by making sure that the recycler gets all the pertinent information regarding year, model, options, left versus right, etc. Most importantly, shops should make sure that they have the proper authorization to go ahead with the repairs, including a signed work order or a deposit from the customer. If any one of these steps is missed, things can unravel very quickly for everyone along the supply chain.

The following are some true “horror stories” from my more than two decades in the used parts business. I hope you find them, if not helpful, at least somewhat entertaining.

The Box That Bounced Back

One horror story happened over a decade ago, but to this day I can drum up the same frustration just thinking about it. I received an order for a Ford F-150 pickup box from a large chain shop in Burnaby, B.C. Since I am in Chilliwack, B.C., this would mean at least an hour trip in each direction. Due to the size and the difficulty of handling such a part, I made sure every “t” was crossed and every “i” dotted. I sent pictures to the shop manager showing how clean my part was. I asked him repeatedly if he was sure he would use the part because, after all, we would be making a special trip just to get him the box. He assured me that “all systems were go” and readily gave me a purchase order. The next day, when my driver delivered the part, a bodyman came out of the shop and told him to take the part back. Then the manager came out and told the bodyman very sternly that he would indeed be using the box, and he should help to get it off the delivery truck.

The next weekend, I was up in Penticton, B.C., playing in an Automotive Retailers Association golf tournament, when I received a text from one of my employees. The text informed me that the shop had called to say it was returning the box — so we needed to pick it up and write the shop a credit. I would be lying if I said that did not partially ruin the rest of my weekend. I had crossed every “t” and dotted every “i,” and yet still somehow the sale had blown up in my face.

Monday morning, I placed a call to the shop’s manager to ask what had gone wrong. He informed me that his customer had refused the box based on rust. I sat there in disbelief. I reminded him that I had taken pictures of the box, inside, outside, front, back, and underneath, and I had seen no rust of any kind. But it seemed I would not win any arguments that morning, so we made another special trip into Burnaby to pick up the box. When it came back to the yard, I crawled around, over, and under the thing. There was no rust of any kind anywhere. Knowing it was pointless, I still called the shop manager once more and told him, “I’m all over this box, and I’m failing to see any rust.”

If any one of these steps is missed, things can unravel very quickly for everyone along the supply chain.

He claimed that the rust was underneath, along the floor ribs. Shaking my head again, I explained that on a white box such as this, there will always be a little brown discolouring along the underside where the road grime hits it, but that this was in no way a rust issue. I even went out and took a picture of my Chevy pickup to show him that even on a brand new truck there was already the same discolouring. But again, I knew that I would not win the argument, and I had no choice but to write the credit. By this point, I was only trying to prove that I was right. Through a little bit of detective work, I was able to ascertain that the shop had ended up repairing the customer’s box.

So what’s the moral here? No matter how clean that part was, there was no way it was going to stick. Obviously, the shop’s manager and the bodyman were at odds regarding how the repair was going to be done, and somehow I had got caught in the middle of it. It was a horror story for me, but not for the body shop manager. He merely had to tell me a lie, knowing that on a bill that was only charged to the shop’s account, I did not have a leg to stand on.

What should have happened differently? Obviously, the shop should have had its act together and reached a final decision before it wasted my time, effort, and money. Will this kind of thing happen again? Undoubtedly. Can it be avoided? Of course, it can.

The Rocker Shocker

This story also goes back a few years. It involves another large chain shop, this time in Vancouver. One day, I received a call from the fellow in charge of ordering parts for the shop and was informed that the shop required a rocker panel for a late model Nissan Pathfinder. I inquired as to the cut requirements and was told that the shop needed all of it, from the A pillar all the way back into the dog leg.

I had crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i,’ and yet still somehow the sale had blown up in my face.

I should not have to state that this was to be a big job. To ensure the shop received the cut as requested, we had to strip almost the entire vehicle, drop the suspension out of the way, and pull out the carpet, dash components, seats, and trim panels. Also, since the shop required the piece cut into the dog leg, it meant that I was ruining the quarter panel as well. Knowing all this ahead of time, I charged accordingly, quoting a retail price of $695 for the part.

The shop happily agreed to the deal and gave me a purchase order. We went ahead and did the work, and the part was delivered the next day.

That should have been the end of it. The shop used the part and paid the bill within thirty days — right? Of course, not.

About a week later, I received a call from the same parts man who had ordered the rocker section. This time he sounded very sheepish. “We’ve got a problem,” he said.

“Oh?” I asked. “What seems to be the trouble?”

He proceeded to tell me that I needed to lower my price by $400. What could I have possibly done wrong that would end up costing my company $400? The answer was: not a thing. He then told me the story.

Apparently, his bodyman had ended up skinning only a short piece from the front of the rocker section I had supplied. The rest of the section had been dragged out to a scrap metal area in the alley behind the shop. Across the alley happened to be an Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) claim centre. An estimator saw the piece sitting there, realized how little of it had been actually used in the repair, and inquired about the price paid for the part. When he saw that ICBC was going to be billed $695, he put his foot down. Now the body shop was telling me that ICBC had only authorized payment for $295 and I needed to adjust my bill or I wouldn’t be paid. What should I do? Pull my hair out? Get in a huge argument I wasn’t going to win? I gritted my teeth and adjusted the bill.

This all came down to poor communication within the shop — but I was the one who paid the bill.

The parts man thanked me profusely and said that he was going to make sure that everybody at the shop knew what I had done and that I would see a big influx of business because of it. I had great hope and optimism that this would be true. I tracked orders from the shop for a couple of years and noted a substantial decrease in business.

This all came down to poor communication within the shop — but I was the one who paid the bill. Was it frustrating? Yes. Could I do anything about it? No.

The Case of the Crispy Quarter

This final story is the oldest, going back 18 years to when my company was small and fledgling. It also goes back to a time when recycling yards had to pay the freight on any used part shipped within the province on an ICBC claim.

I received a call one day from the parts department manager for a new car dealership on Vancouver Island. He said he was looking for a late model Ford Explorer quarter panel for the dealership’s collision repair shop, and he had heard through the grapevine that I might have one in my yard.

I immediately shot the proposition down. It was true that I had the year and model he was looking for, with no accident damage. The problem was that the Explorer had been written off due to an interior fire. The majority of the flames had been in the front seat area of the passenger cabin, but the fire had still been hot enough to burn off most of the door trim panels front and rear. I told him flat out that a rebuilder might use this panel but that there was no way a body shop would use it on an insurance job. He asked me, “Is the paint blistered on the outside?”

I told him that it was not but that there was definite fire damage to the quarter panel’s inside and it was already brown with rust. This did not faze him in the slightest. He informed me that he could not find another quarter panel anywhere in the province, and that he would work with mine no matter what the heat damage. This was before digital photography was commonplace, or I would have most certainly sent him pictures. Instead, I did what I always did back then in such a case. I tried hard to talk him out of it, even making him talk to his body shop so that there would be no mistake about what they would be receiving. I got a call back an hour later. “They’re good to go,” he said. “They want it ordered.”

I took the order, feeling that there was no way this could come back to haunt me now after all the arguing I had done. Yet, still there was a gnawing foreboding inside me. We got to work, cutting the quarter panel to specifications, cleaning it as best we could, and strapping it to a pallet. Then I called a shipping company, and the next day off it went.

About a week later, I heard the beep, beep, beep of a large truck backing into my yard. As I previously stated, my company was still in its infancy, and I was not expecting a courier that day. I remember mumbling to myself, “This better not be what I think it is.”

Sure enough, there was my burnt quarter panel, still strapped to its pallet. It had been sent back to me without a phone call or other warning — “Collect freight.” I asked the courier to hang tight and furiously dialed the island dealership. I reached the parts department and asked for the parts manager who had ordered the part, only to be told that he was gone on two weeks’ vacation. I told my story to the person on the phone, only to be transferred to the body shop. There I was passed from person to person until finally I found somebody who knew something about the situation. He told me nonchalantly, “Yeah, we can’t use that. It’s all burnt inside.”

Swaying back and forth with my eyes closed, I gritted my teeth and told him I would refuse the shipment unless the dealership at least reversed the return freight charges. Meanwhile, the poor courier driver was standing there staring at me. Finally, I was transferred to the dealership principal. He tried to buddy, buddy the situation, telling me that if I ate the freight charges this time, the dealership would get me back some other time. Since this was the first and only time I had ever dealt with that dealership, I refused. I added that the driver was beginning to look mighty angry (which was the absolute truth). The dealership principal finally relented. He got on the phone with the driver and authorized him to change the waybill to “Prepaid.”

Do auto recyclers also make mistakes and create horror stories for collision repair shops? Absolutely, we do.

So, did I get back the initial freight charges that I had paid to get the part over to the Island? No, of course not. Did I get any kind of restitution for my time and effort? Not one iota. Did I wait two weeks and then phone that parts manager? You bet I did. Did it do me any good? Not one bit. He sheepishly apologized and gave me the lame excuse that it was a large dealership and sometimes one hand did not know what the other was doing. Really? This one still makes my guts churn all these years later.

The Bottom Line

Do auto recyclers also make mistakes and create horror stories for collision repair shops? Absolutely, we do. Are we working on doing a better job? I am trying every single day, and I know many of my contemporaries are as well. But every single person at every company in the automotive industry makes mistakes. My idea is that if we can educate one another about our situations from time to time, perhaps we can all make a little forward progress.

Remember that these were only three stories from one person at a mid-sized company. There are many other stories that could be told. Please do your part to not become somebody else’s horror story.

Clint Wilson is owner of Ideal Auto Wrecking Ltd. in Chilliwack, B.C. He can be reached 604-824-1822 or idealautoclint@shaw.ca.


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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Collision Quarterly.

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