The different world of Truck Repairs

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9th December 2016

Chassis cabOutsourcing the management of your commercial vehicle accident repairs is not the same as it is with cars and it’s important for fleet managers to understand the differences in the repair process.

At Selsia Vehicle Accident Centres, we centrally manage thousands of accident repairs for some of the UK’s largest commercial fleet operators and the overriding demand is minimising vehicle downtime. However, it’s important to understand the differences in the process of repairing a commercial vehicle in order to manage client expectations. To understand the problems a basic outline of truck construction is needed.

Very few trucks are built by one manufacturer. The truck will be known as something like a ‘Mercedes Benz Actros Refrigerated Box’. This would mean that the chassis cab, which is the chassis, engine, transmission, suspension and drivers cab are all built by Mercedes Benz.

The chassis cab would then go to a body builder who would build the insulated box to bolt on to the chassis. The body builder will not, however, manufacture all of the components to the body and they would buy in the refrigeration unit and controls as a minimum. If the vehicle requires a tail lift, this will have to be supplied by another manufacturer. The same applies to other body types which can range from a straight forward box body, through tippers, tankers to car transporters. All these body types will have various bought in components to make up the whole body from extrusions, cappings, roller shutters, through hydraulic systems including cranes and tipping rams, to racking systems. In addition, other variations on the final commercial vehicle can include parts such as underrun bars, cab air deflectors and low spray mudguards. There are several hundred companies who build bodies in the UK and many more all over Europe.

Commercial vehicle operators normally specify the design of the body to suit their business activities and the variations are endless. Given all of the permutations and variations in specifications, it can be seen that there will not be many ‘standard’ commercial vehicles on the road. This is the fundamental difference which has a significant effect on the accident repair process between cars and trucks. And this is why Selsia’s approved car repairers work in a different way to the approved commercial vehicle repairers.

So let us look at estimating accident damage to commercial vehicles.

For cars and light vans, there are several estimating systems which create estimates from a database of parts with prices, times for remove and refit, times for replacing and times for painting if required. They are also intuitive enough to list parts to be removed and refitted in order to replace a major part. Without being too disparaging, this makes the car repairer’s job of estimating much easier than it is for commercial vehicle repairers.

The problem in the commercial vehicle world is the limited number of models covered by these estimating systems and all of them are restricted to the chassis cab components and no such data exists for the body which bolts to the chassis cab. This means that, unlike for cars, there is no clicking on a graphic showing a door and getting an estimate as none of that data is available. So where does the truck estimator go to get his information?

As far as the times for the operations are concerned, the truck repairer has to use their experience and knowledge of the construction of the body they are looking at. Unfortunately, the repairer cannot simply use the time they used last time for a similar operation as various manufacturers use differing methods in the construction of their bodies, so replacing components could be three times as long from one builder to another.

The repairer then has to provide parts prices in order to complete an estimate. Again they cannot use prices for similar parts from another body builder as the variations on similar parts can be very large. So the repairer has no option but to ask the body builder for parts prices and that is not as easy as it sounds. There are several hundred body builders in the UK and many more all over Europe. Some of these are very large companies and some build very few bodies and consequently, there is not always an established parts supply chain. Obtaining parts prices can be a long drawn out process taking several days. In addition to this, some of the components required may not be obtainable from the body builder but from the original supplier of parts such as tail lifts and roller shutters and these will have to be priced up from those manufacturers. Additional complications occur when the original manufacturer is no longer in business. This would require the local agent going to the company who purchased the rights to the design, who hopefully has the specification drawings, and then obtaining the parts prices.

Carrying out the repair

Once authority is received from the client or insurer, the parts will be ordered by the repairer. This will normally be straightforward for chassis cab components as there are less than ten manufacturers selling chassis cabs in any numbers, within the UK. This does result in a reasonable parts supply although, with the vast majority being built elsewhere, if there is no UK stock there can be extensive delays.  The position is not the same for body parts and third party components. These have to be ordered from the body builder. Some parts are generic and can be ordered from a general supplier, which often means the body builder raises a pro forma invoice which the repairer has to settle before the parts are made and dispatched. The word ‘made’ slipped into the last sentence which was not a mistake. Because of the huge number of body builders, and their range, not many parts are retained in stock and this often means making the parts to order. Wherever possible, generic parts which are readily available will be used by repairers in order to speed up the repair process.

Clearly there are many problems in repairing trucks due to their sheer size. In addition, the skills and investment in specialist chassis alignment, cab jigs, heavy pulling and wheel alignment equipment as well as hard standing areas and commercial vehicle spray booths cannot be underestimated. Even special bodied vans are generally higher than production vans so require larger spray booths, ladders and trestles to gain access. Many parts are also very heavy so require more than one person to position them on the vehicle. All of the equipment for jacking and pulling needs to be bigger and stronger. Finally, obtaining the correct livery is an important part of the repair and as well as obtaining it, additional drying time is required for paint as all of the solvents have to be out of the paint prior to livery fitting to avoid paint problems at de-fleet time.

The differences in the repair process between cars and trucks are very significant and it’s important to understand the differences in order to manage expectations. There is no doubt however that the appointment of a centrally managed accident repair organisation like Selsia, together with our approved specialist commercial vehicle repairers who live in this world, will help to ensure this process is effectively carried out as quickly as possible and that heavy specialist vehicles are repaired safely and back on the road in the shortest possible time. 

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