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What’s Driving the Costs to Repair Today’s Top Selling Car?

—September 17, 2015
What’s Driving the Costs to Repair Today’s Top Selling Car?

Article by Greg Horn | Vice President, Industry Relations | Originally published in Industry Trends Report, Spring 2015

We are seeing an increase in average repair severity across the U.S. and Canada, and that increase has the industry focusing on what is driving that increase. Looking at the three components of an estimate—parts, labor and paint and materials—helps us find the underlying drivers to overall average severity. But focusing in on particular vehicles and their place in the life cycle of that body style can provide additional insight.

Vehicle Styling: A Brief History

The life cycle of vehicle styling has always fascinated me. At the dawn of vehicle mass production we didn’t have model year-based styling. Legendary GM stylist Harley Earl is credited with creating the annual model year change in vehicle styling, helping fuel sales by tapping into the consumers’ desire to have the latest thing. The strategy worked well, and old car buffs recognize changes to grilles and lamps as a determiner of model year. European manufacturers never bought into this idea and their vehicles, most notably the original Volkswagen Beetle, appeared never to change styling. In fact, one of the few ways to tell a 1959 Beetle from a 1960 model year is that the color of the Wolfsburg badge on the hood changed from blue to black.

Annual styling changes are expensive, and there is a thought that they had a detrimental impact on resale value. So domestic manufacturers now have lengthened their model styling from four to six years with a modest face lift of the grille and other plastic components to freshen their offerings. Longer product cycles also benefit aftermarket and salvage parts, as the aftermarket companies can make a part that will fit a larger potential population and that domestic used hood can fit four to six model years when it would have only fit one year back in the 1960s.

Styling Life Cycle Comparison: 2014

We have selected four very popular 2012 model year mid-size sedans for our comparison for this article at various ages in their styling life cycle. We surveyed all repairable estimates for the 2014 calendar year. The VW Passat was newly introduced in 2012 and the 2012 Ford Fusion was in its last year of styling before the radical restyle of 2013. The 2012 Malibu, like the Fusion, was also in its last year of styling cycle and the 2012 Camry was a carry-over to the 2013 model year.

In looking at overall repair cost, the mid-cycle Camry has the highest repair cost on average of the four surveyed vehicles with the all-new for 2012 Passat second place with the two end-of-cycle vehicles coming in third and fourth place. When we look at part utilization by part type (percent of parts dollars by part type) we see that in the 2014 estimating year the vehicles with the highest OEM part dollars were the all-new for 2012 Passat and the mid-cycle Camry. The two vehicles in their last year of cycle had the lowest OEM parts spend, validating that styling life cycle influences part choice and availability.

Parts are only a part of the estimate, but they are the only portion of the estimate that is not subject to a labor guide or local repair hour standard.

What I mean by that is that replace labor times and refinish times are dictated by the Mitchell information database. Those times are based on time studies and OEM information. Repair time is based on an agreement between the estimator and repairer on the amount of labor it will take to straighten a panel. So, when we look at labor hours (both repair and replace) and refinish materials costs, we see that in somewhat of a contrast to parts performance, the newest styled vehicle does not have the highest pricing, the mid-cycle Camry does. However, the Fusion with the lowest parts cost also has the lowest overall labor and refinish costs.


What conclusions can we draw from this? The data seem to show that when a vehicle enters the end of its styling cycle the vehicle is less expensive to repair, but we also have to note that the two lowest priced repairs are for domestic vehicles, and the best-selling car of the group (and best-selling car in the U.S. period) is the most expensive. So, does life cycle have an influence on repair costs? When it comes to parts selection and overall parts cost, yes it does.

You can find out more about industry trends including Average Length of Motor Vehicle Markets, Total Loss Data, and Canadian Collision Summary in the Spring 2015 issue of the Auto Physical Damage Industry Trends Report.

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