Information on the Cheap

Getting the OEM collision repair information you need – when you need it – does not have to cost a fortune.

Cheap Collision Repair

For the independent collision repair shop trying to equip itself with automaker collision repair information, expenses can very quickly add up. Buying annual access to the OEM service and repair information websites is no small proposition, even if you forego access to the most expensive sites, such as those of BMW (at $2,500 per year), Mercedes-Benz ($2,950), Volvo ($2,600) and Porsche ($5,200).

Sign up for annual access to the repair information websites for just nine of the most common vehicle makes on America’s highways – Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and Volkswagen – and you will be plunking down an average of just shy of $1,000 per month.

The good news is that there are ways to get a lot of OEM collision repair information without spending the equivalent of a detailer’s salary. Here are INSIGHT’s suggestions for finding the information you need less expensively.

The websites

Kia vehicles are not likely a large part of your shop’s business, but the company remains the only automaker to make access to its service and repair information website absolutely free. The bad news is there is not a lot there for collision repairers: some dimension and frame specs, but not much on sectioning points, weld locations or metal types.

GM, however, is among the automakers providing the most comprehensive collision repair information – and like Kia, has made it available at no charge. The secret, however, is to bypass the $1,200-per-year ACDelco website and go to www.goodwrench.com. There you will find all the GM collision repair technical information, at no charge, organized by vehicle make and model.

Are there times you think you could find the answer you need if you only had an owner’s manual for a particular vehicle? Those manuals and technical service bulletins are available at no charge at the Nissan, Infiniti, Honda and Acura websites.

For other information from any of the other automaker websites, you’ll face a fee for access. At $350 per year, the Toyota/Scion site is among the most reasonably priced. A number of others – Honda, Saab and Suzuki – are $500 per year. Most of the rest are $1,000 or more per year, but all offer daily, weekly, or monthly options if you do not need ongoing access.

National Automotive Service Task Force

A chart on the National Automotive Service Task Force’s website: (www.nastf.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3291) summarizes the subscription options and charges, and provides links to the websites. And although it has not been updated for about a year, a matrix showing what collision repair information is included at each automaker’s website is also available from the NASTF website (http://www.nastf.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3450).

Another option for finding links to the information websites is www.OEM1stop.com, which automakers created in recent months specifically to give collision repair shops a 1-page link to all the OEM information websites. The site does not contain any technical information nor helps shops find what they are looking for once they reach the specific automaker’s site. In some cases, however, the links at www.OEM1stop.com will get users a click or two closer to the login page of an automaker’s website. But the site is still not yet as complete as the NASTF listing; a handful of the automakers, including Subaru, BMW, and Audi, had not yet approved links to their sites from www.OEM1stop.com as of mid-April.

Manuals and CDs

Although Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Plymouth collision repair information is available through Chrysler’s $1,200-per-year website (www.techauthority.com), collision repairers may instead want to order printed or CD copies of the automaker’s collision repair guides. Although that is not as convenient as the instant access to the information available through the website, the price is right: Each guide is available for just $2 (plus shipping), offering significant amounts of information for a fraction of the website access fee.

Some examples of what is available for purchase at the www.techauthority.com website (under “Special Products’):

  • CDs with body repair manuals for many vehicles, including the Sebring/Avenger and Sebring convertible.
  • Publications on such topics as welding and weld bonding, sealer and sound-deadener, plastics repair and non-structural sheet metal repair.
  • A structural-sectioning procedure guide, that provides frame dimensions and front frame rail sectioning procedures for multiple vehicles; a truck floor partial replacement procedure; and a front lower radiator cross-member replacement procedure. Chrysler notes that most of these procedures are specific by vehicle make, not generalized across Chrysler platform vehicles. The guide also includes Chrysler’s position on the use of reconditioned wheels and recycled airbags.

I-CAR online and classroom training

I-CAR Chrysler

Just as ordering the Chrysler documents in advance is not as convenient as being able to look information up online at the time you need it, I-CAR classes too have the disadvantage of only being available at certain times. But while the classes in the past have been more generalized to apply across a variety of vehicles, I-CAR’s agreements with auto manufacturers in recent years has made vehicle-specific training more readily available to independent repairers.

For example, I-CAR now offers five Volvo-specific classes, including structural and non-structural repair, and overviews of XC90 and S40/V50 models. There also are collision repair overview classes for the 2006 Corvette Z06, the 2004 Ford F-150, and for Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles.

But I-CAR also offers online training (www.i-car.com) that may help you get the vehicle-specific repair information you need for a car in your shop without the full expense of the OEM website access. Need to replace a front frame rail in a Lexus IS300, Dodge Caliber, Cadillac DTS or Ford F-150?

Replacing Boron steel panels on a Volvo XC90, or a roof on a Mazda 626? These are among the topics covered by the more than three dozen I-CAR online classes. Each 30- to 60-minute class is available 24/7, costs $45, and earns you a quarter-point toward your Gold Class requirement (provided you pass the online post-test).

Third-party option

Alldata Collision Connect

A relatively new option for access to OEM collision repair information is ALLDATA’s “CollisionConnect,” a subscription service from a company more familiar as a source of OEM information on the mechanical repair market, where it has more than 70,000 customers.

ALLDATA essentially has agreements with the automakers that allow it to access OEM repair information, repackage into some standardized formats across the manufacturers to make it easier for users to locate what they are looking for, and sell monthly subscriptions to access this online information.

The product includes whatever mechanical and collision information is available from the automakers for 2000 and newer vehicles: sectioning procedures, restraint system, opening and frame dimensions, weld locations, wiring diagrams, recalls and technical service bulletins, aluminum and alternative metals usage, etc.

Subscribers who are unable to locate needed information can call ALLDATA, and its support staff will try to locate the information and get back to the shop within three hours. Such calls, a company spokesman said, help ALLDATA prioritize what types of information it adds first to the system as it arrives from the automakers.

The company said the product can help shops get OEM information for many automakers’ vehicles for less than it costs to subscribe to just one or two OEM websites. The information, ALLDATA said, can help shops create or “justify” more complete estimates, and helps demonstrate its interest in completing repairs according to OEM recommendations.

The system has been adopted by two larger collision repair chains – FIX Auto and ABRA Auto Body & Glass – and a total of about 1,000 customers, according to Dan Espersen, a former ABRA employee who is now ALLDATA’s senior program manager for the its collision product.

Espersen said the product is not a substitute for I-CAR or other training (the company even offers a discount on the product to I-CAR Gold Class businesses as well as members of some associations and franchises), but is another tool to help shops stay on top of quickly-changing vehicle technology and repair procedures.

Take your pick

Whether it is to improve your shop’s productivity, reduce your liability, better match OEM quality and safety, or justify your repair estimates and pricing, access to OEM information is likely to become increasingly important in the years ahead.

The cost of getting that information will not be insignificant, but there are options that can help keep it from becoming prohibitively expensive.