Shops report measurement issues with some steering columns

By John Yoswick

Safety inspections required by some automakers as part of post-collision repairs sometimes include measurement of the steering column to ensure it was not damaged as part of the accident. Speaking at a recent virtual Collision Industry Conference (CIC), Jason Bartanen of CIC’s “Emerging Technologies Committee” said such requirements have led more shops to measure steering columns — and in some cases to find discrepancies in the OEM information.

Bartanen said General Motors, for example, has a requirement to inspect the steering column for “bending, twisting, buckling or any type of damage” after any collision. In one instance, Bartanen said, a shop found the steering column in a GMC Sierrra appeared to have collapsed slightly because it measured 273 mm, not the 286 mm called for in the GM collision repair information. But the new replacement column the shop received measured 278 mm, also short of the measurement in the automaker’s documentation.

Another shop, he said, similarly found a steering column in a Nissan Versa was shorter than indicated in that automaker’s collision repair information — only to then find that it was the same length as several replacement columns the shop ordered.

So what should a shop do in such instances?

“That’s the question we’re trying to get some clarification for from the vehicle manufacturers,” Bartanen said, saying in the case of the GM column, the shop installed the replacement part given that the column in the car was even 5 mm shorter than the replacement part.

“The people I’ve talked to are, for the most part, putting the old column back in if it’s measuring the same as the replacement column.”

Troublesome issue

Bartanen said the discrepancy could be based on data from OEM engineering drawings not matching the actual part once it went into production. In some cases, it could be shops are not measuring the columns correctly; he said Subaru is one automaker that provides better illustrations than some other automakers as to what distances on the columns are to be measured.

But any incorrect measurements in the OEM information, he said, may be impacting cycle time and repair costs, damaging credibility with consumers, fostering tensions between shops and insurers, and placing undue burden on the parts supply chain.

“All those things aside, my biggest concern is we finally have this momentum of people starting to read and follow OEM procedures, and if they’re getting bad information, we’re going to have technicians and repair facilities and insurance personnel start to ignore those OEM procedures,” Bartanen said. “They may think: ‘If this is bad, what else in the manual is inaccurate? What else can I just arbitrarily ignore because maybe it’s wrong? Maybe that sectioning procedure was put in the wrong place. Maybe the material type or thickness was wrong.’ If we’re ignoring the procedures, ultimately we’re going to compromise customer safety. That’s not okay. We need information that’s accurate, and we need collision repair professionals following that information to ensure we’re putting our customers back in vehicles that are safe.”

General Motors this past summer also said its published requirements for inspections that it currently says must be completed “after any collision” to see if they can be scaled back for vehicles needing only minor repairs.

“We recognize that the requirements and processes we had laid out … are extremely labor intensive and vehicle invasive,” GM’s John Eck said.

A survey of 17 automakers showed that GM and Subaru are the only two that require extensive inspections following any collision, regardless of severity. But Eck emphasized that prior to its new procedures being finalized, GM’s current post-collision inspection requirements remain in place.

“Until then, nothing has changed,” Eck said.

Same part, different name

The CIC “Parts and Materials Committee” is continuing to push for more consistency in how parts are defined and described within the industry. During the recent CIC, the committee showed how the list of parts categories varies among parts platforms and estimating systems. The committee showed several flowcharts that demonstrate how all these variations in parts categories can result in the exact same part being described two different ways on estimates.

In the first example, a vendor selling OEM parts outside of the authorized OEM channel enters those parts into a platform that uses the “OEM Surplus” category for such parts. That platform feeds into an estimating system that uses the “Optional OEM” label for those parts. California regulators, however, prohibit the use of the “Opt-OEM” label.

“So while that part can go into the estimating platform as ‘Opt-OEM,’ the end-user is required to choose what they are going to call it on the estimate,” Aaron Schulenburg, who co-chairs the CIC committee, said. “You then have a situation where a shop repair plan, and an insurance company estimate, may each potentially choose different nomenclature for the exact same part. One may identify that as an aftermarket part, and one may identify it as an OEM part, and you have an estimating platform that allows for that choice.”

In a second example, a parts supplier may refer to a part as a “Tier 1 Replacement” part because it is manufactured and sold by Tier 1 suppliers to the automakers, such as Denso and Bosch. That’s a parts category none of the systems currently use. So that part might be identified as “OE Discount” in one parts platform and estimating system, and as “Aftermarket” in another parts platform and estimating system, resulting in the same part being labeled differently on estimates.

In another example, the committee showed where an “OEM take-off” part can end up categorized on an estimate as “Recycled” or “OE Surplus.”

Confusion — or intent to confuse?

Ken Weiss, who co-chairs the CIC committee, said parts suppliers may be genuinely unclear as to how to identify parts they are putting into the parts platforms (or directly into the estimating systems).

“But there are others who deliberately will elevate their part to the highest possible scenario they can,” Weiss said.

“This is where specific terms with specific definitions benefit the industry, rather than leaving things open to supplier interpretation or decision,” Schulenburg said. “We need to be doing our best to be as transparent as possible. There’s a big difference in someone looking at something called an ‘OE Surplus’ part and assuming that’s an OEM part, versus the impression of what a ‘recycled’ part is. I think we need to do everything in our power to make sure we are distinguishing parts appropriately.”

The committee, however, has had difficulty reaching a consensus on what definitions and names for the parts types should be.

“That’s the struggle we got hung up on last year,” Weiss said.   (AP)