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COLLISION REPAIR: What operators need to


When and why should an operator call a collision repair specialist? BUSRide called on the leading heavy duty-collision repair facilities throughout North America for their recommendations and best practices, as well as pitfalls to avoid in dealing with damages from accidents, collisions and other circumstances.

Photos courtesy of Midwest Bus Corp.

What do bus and coach operators need to know about collision repair and collision repair companies that they may not know already? Bus and coach operators should understand that the extent of the damage to a bus or coach involved in a collision may not be apparent on first inspection. Assessing the layers and depth of damage is the first step in a heavy-duty collision repair. Returning the vehicle to operative condition requires specialized knowledge, experience and skill, along with the specialized equipment needed to address a wide range of repairs and reconstruction. Collision repair typically takes more time due to the need for a thorough evaluation before beginning the actual repairs. Unless the damage is minor, the work can easily stretch out for months. As operators generally prefer to keep their buses in service, as opposed to lengthy downtime, some anxiousness is understandable. Nonetheless, in the event of an accident or collision, bus and coach operators should remain flexible in their expectations relative to the turnaround time for repair. More often than not, the extent of the damages cannot be determined until the vehicle is taken apart in the shop and the results carefully traced to the affected components and systems.



What are the common pitfalls in such cases? The do-it-yourself approach comes with plenty. The idea that a company or agency can handle the more serious repairs in its own shop is not always the most efficient or cost effective solution. For instance, unless it is fully equipped to do the work, major collision will invariably tie up a service bay for a long time. It might be wiser to work with an outside collision specialist and keep that bay open for maintenance that keeps more buses in service. Also, the work on that bus may not be performed in a timely fashion, with techs doing the repair work only when they have the time; if there is nothing else to work on. The tendency for operators is to keep the focus on what is necessary to keep the most buses in service, rather than dedicate the manpower to complete a major repair. How does your collision repair operation typically differ from an operator’s maintenance facility? For most bus and coach operations, the mission of maintenance is to keep the buses running and in service on a timely schedule, whereas the primary objective of a collision repair facility addresses damages associated with the more serious accidents and long-term wear and tear. Collision repair work generally necessitates a team of certified technicians with a wide range of specialized knowledge and skills to assess and repair damages – not only to the body, but every other system, component and part; from frame to chassis, electrical, engine, transmission and HVAC.

What other types repair and maintenance services do collision shops provide? Bus and coach operators unable to perform their own maintenance for whatever reason may turn to a collision repair facility for basic maintenance service, as well as any necessary repairs, installations and conversions (such as CNG) or for a complete refurbishment of older vehicles as an alternative to purchasing new vehicles. What special equipment and tools does collision repair require? Collision repairs deal with much more than just body and paint. Repairs often require specialized services, so shops need equipment that is all-inclusive and wide-ranging. The principle equipment for the heavy-duty work of a collision repair facility rarely shows up in the average bus garage, such as frame straighteners and higher-grade welders, as well as full-bus paint booths and more sophisticated spraying equipment. The general sentiment of specialized collision repair centers is this: While the equipment is necessary, it is the technicians with the training, certifications, knowledge and experience that drive this area of the industry. What do operators need to understand about insurance companies and claims adjusters involved in collision repair? Each collision repair company approaches insurance companies and claims adjusters differently when determining how they will work together. Typically, the repair facility works directly with the major insurance companies on behalf of their customers and communicates all related costs for the most expeditious and cost-effective return of the vehicle.



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Not every insurance claims adjuster understands the nature of the damages that buses and coaches typically endure. It is advisable for operators to work with insurance adjusters who understand the specific repair processes in terms of parts and labor. Insurance companies tend to get nervous over large estimates that list little more than the total time for the work and the estimated cost. Operators are within their rights, and advised, to “shop around” for professionals who have done their homework and researched the full scope of bus and coach damage and repair costs.

There is a threshold when insurance companies will elect to total the vehicle. Typically, after 70 to 80 percent of the value they will total the bus and sell it for salvage. What is the range of down time for work done by collision repair shops? Naturally, it depends on the degree of the damages. The most severe repairs can range anywhere from six to eight months. Minor damage ranges anywhere from a week to 90 days. Keep in mind, a sizeable segment of the timeframe time is in the initial disassembly and evaluation of the damages. Another is in the

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sourcing and waiting on the needed replacement components and parts. How does an operator determine whether to repair or replace a damaged vehicle? Generally, an estimate is done on the bus for the repairs that are required and it is up to the operator to understand what the bus is worth. Operators must determine if it is cost-effective to make the repairs. It may depend on the time left in the life cycle. An early replacement with a refurbished or used bus in good condition may prove more cost effective. Aside from collisions with major damages, what circumstances may require the services of a more specialized collision repair company? Heavy-duty bus and coach body work and repair is not only complex, it is much more regulated than ever before. Environmental and safety mandates from EPA and OSHA are in place to protect workers from toxic chemicals in paint and hazardous waste, while the paint and graphics on today’s buses and coaches are more sophisticated than before. What was once standard procedure is now so specialized that much of it requires skilled professionals working in controlled environments. In addition to minor to major accident damage, corrosion caused by salts and chemicals used to de-ice roads and highways (such as the harsh winters that operators experience in the Northeast) creates dangerous structural issues that can turn disastrous. If a company is not involved in this type of work on a regular basis, it is hardly worth the expense and responsibility of trying to keep it in in-house.

Midwest Bus Corporation has evolved into one of the largest companies in the industry dedicated to bus repair, replacement parts, used bus sales, bus leasing, and field services to the transit industry.

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