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NSF announces 200 certified ABRA shops, describes its vetting process

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Associations | Business Practices | Education | Repair Operations

NSF last month announced that its tally of certified collision repair shops has climbed to more than 200 ABRAs in the year and a half since it joined OEMs and other third-party programs in certifying the industry.

All but one ABRA on NSF’s master list early Monday evening had both steel cosmetic and structural certifications. The other ABRA, located in Blue Island, Ill., was only certified for non-aluminum cosmetic work, though the shop’s website indicates it handles “major auto body damage” as well.

No ABRAs had yet been certified by NSF for aluminum cosmetic or structural repair, based on the list.

“We are pleased to have more than 200 of our repair centers now certified by NSF International and continue to work toward earning NSF certification for every ABRA repair center location,” ABRA operations Executive Vice President Scott Krohn said in a statement on Jan. 11. “Independent NSF International certification is confirmation of our ongoing commitment to providing superior quality repairs and exceptional customer service.”

No other shops besides the ABRA facilities appear to have achieved NSF certification, based on the list.

Asked if any ABRAs applied but didn’t make NSF’s cut yet, NSF senior technical project manager Dave Parzen replied via email:

More than 200 ABRA Auto Body & Glass shop locations have earned NSF International certification.  There are other locations that are currently going through the NSF International certification process.  Any shop that applies and meets all NSF International certification requirements can earn NSF certification. 

NSF provided us its criteria last year for a closer look at the program. (Unlike competiting certification programs, NSF’s isn’t publicly available; contact the organization here for a copy.)

The broad strokes of the NSF program are similar to those of other non-luxury automakers with certification programs — Assured Performance’s OEM partners and Honda’s ProFirst program with VeriFacts and Axalta. (ProFirst gets further into shop minutiae than the other two programs, listing demands like “large hammer.” However, in terms of major equipment — for example, a squeeze-type resistance spot welder — all three are similar.) Still, a few things caught our eye:

Equipment

Minimum “cosmetic” equipment is a bit limited, based on a NSF appendix — all one needs is a respirator, paint booth, VOC-compliant guns, headlamp aiming and plastic repair capability for steel non-structural certifications.

However, similar to the controversial “Class A” Collision Industry Conference requirements, NSF built in a hedge to guard against these minimums producing certified but underequipped shops. The organization also requires that any certified shop must have all equipment demanded by cosmetic or structural OEM procedures:

11.3.1 If an OEM repair procedure is relevant to the repair work and the OEM repair procedure requires that specific brand equipment be used, then the automotive collision repair shop shall either:

− use the equipment brand specified in the OEM repair procedure; or

− use alternate equipment not specified in the OEM repair procedure that meets or exceeds the capabilities and specification of the equipment brand specified in the OEM repair procedure – the equivalency or superiority of the alternate brand equipment must be supported in writing by the alternate equipment’s manufacturer.

11.3.2 If no relevant OEM repair procedure exists for the repair to be made then the automotive Collision repair shop shall follow I-CAR recommendations or industry best practices when selecting equipment to repair a vehicle. (Minor formatting edits ours.)

Thus, if repair procedures demand a repairer “MIG-braze part X” during “cosmetic” repairs, then a shop would need to have a welder with MIG brazing capability and properly MIG-braze part X. Otherwise, it’d be violating the terms of its certification – and risking being caught in one of NSF’s unannounced audits.

Audits

“For a shop that has a major breakdown in its systems, NSF International would either place the shop on probation or suspend its certification,” Parzen wrote.

He said that NSF doesn’t offer coaching to the shops failing to make the cut.

“As an ANSI (American National Standards Institute)-accredited certification body, NSF International auditors do not coach or consult with companies seeking certification,” Parzen wrote.

We asked if audits check for adherence to OEM repair procedure, and Parzen replied via email: “Yes, to the extent that OEM procedures are available.”

“NSF International’s independent certification program goes beyond a typical validation program to evaluate a shop’s ability to conduct quality repairs,” Parzen said in a statement related to the ABRA announcement. “Repair shops certified by NSF International have been thoroughly evaluated to verify they provide high-quality repair and service to their customers.”

Repair procedures

NSF also frequently describes a requirement that certified shops adhere to any “relevant OEM repair procedure.” Otherwise, the organization insists that “the repair must align with industry best practices and/or recognized repair procedures.”

As OEMs and I-CAR will tell you and Parzen indicated above, it’s impossible to produce repair procedures that meet every collision scenario, and so automakers and I-CAR offer general guidelines on what to do when such specific instructions don’t exist. (Both also have helplines for shops as well.)

Unfortunately, NSF’s language isn’t limited to such expert sources, and as such seems to inadvertently open the door to letting the collision repair industry — instead of the vehicle — dictate the repair process. This could lead to problems if a tech making the determination as to a good repair means well but hasn’t kept current; it’s very possible for “recognized repair procedures” from the past to be completely wrong for modern vehicles. Or worse, the tech determines that achieving “industry best practices” means meeting a low, possibly incorrect standard, and going no further.

We put this concern to NSF and asked if the organization intended this clause to be a reference to I-CAR and manufacturer/equipment guidelines. After all, it explicitly mentioned I-CAR in one similarly worded statement found in the equipment section quoted above.

Parzen replied: “I-CAR guidelines is one option that a shop can use if OEM procedures are not available.”

NSF certification program details: 734-214-6290 or autocert@nsf.org.

More information:

“Over 200 ABRA Auto Body & Glass Centers Earn NSF International Collision Repair Shop Certification”

NSF, Jan. 11, 2017

NSF collision repair certification program

NSF certified collision repair facilities

Featured image: ABRA and NSF International’s logos are shown. (Provided by ABRA; Provided by NSF via PR Newswire)