Snow heating up auto shops

By Walt Frank

It’s a good time to be in business if you run an auto body repair shop.

When you are in the auto body business, a crazy winter is a good winter.

“Its been crazy. We are always busy, but it seems a little crazier. We are up over last winter, I would say by a fair amount,” said Rob Luciano, owner of Luciano’s Auto Body, Altoona.

“The collision industry is trying to keep the economy growing,” joked Dave Cumming, owner/president of Cumming Motors, Altoona.

Many local body shops said business is up this winter, the result of bitter cold, ice and snow.

“There is no question, business is definitely up this winter. We’ve been up eight months in a row. We are up easily 30 percent over last winter,” said Ron Perretta, owner of Professionals Auto Body, Altoona.

Perretta said there are other factors besides the weather that has led to an increase in business.

“We have seen an awful lot of deer claims. Back in September, we started to see deer claims and that hasn’t let up at all,” Perretta said. “Another thing is auto dealers are selling more cars. When there are more newer cars on the road, that impacts the collision repair business. They have full insurance so they turn in their claims. As auto sales increase, collision repairs increase.”

Business also is up at McClellan’s Body Shop, Tipton, and Randy’s Body Shop, Lakemont.

“I would say we are up 20 to 30 percent over last year [in January] and up about 10 percent for the entire winter,” owner Dennis McClellan said. “We have had a lot of snow. When we see both snow and ice, we see more business.”

“It has been one of the more crazy winters we’ve seen in the body shop. There have been a lot more wrecks this winter. We usually get a few from winter and some from deer hits, but it seems like a lot more; it has been colder, icier and snowier,” owner Randy Socie said. “I’d say we are up about 20 percent over what we normally do.”

Cumming said his business is up 5 to 10 percent over the typical winter.

Chris Marlin, owner of Marlin’s Body Shop, Altoona, said he has seen more cars totaled this winter than in previous years – vehicles that don’t get repaired.

Although shops have seen an increase in business, the harsh winter weather can lead to additional costs for body shops such as paying for snow removal and salt, Luciano said.

The extra work can lead to backlogs at body shops.

“We work weekends and overtime. We like to keep up with business. We don’t like to have a backup. We do what we can to get them through and get them back to the people. It has been a challenge to keep up,” Perretta said. “Some of our guys have been working 60-70 hours a week to try to keep up.”

“When it gets real busy, I have to be careful about scheduling. We try to avoid a big backlog. We try to start within two weeks of the accident, but it is hard this time of year,” Cumming said. “In the middle of the summer, we usually tell people we have a backlog of one or two weeks; now it is three or four weeks. We adapt our hours so it is not too long for a customer to wait. Sometimes we can do a temporary repair so they are able to drive their car and then they can come in for the full repair.”

Obtaining parts can be a problem, but most said they haven’t had any major problems this winter.

“We ran into some problems but nothing worse than any other time of the year. I didn’t see anything weather related this year except when the Midwest got hit real hard. The parts were available, but it just took a little longer getting them here,” Cumming said.

“We can have a problem with back ordering parts. When there are a lot of accidents, there is a run on parts. It can take a week or so to get the parts in,” McClellan said.

Peretta said he hasn’t had problems getting parts.

“We see more issues with insurance companies. A lot of them have been cutting staff, and it takes longer to get claims processed. The problem is they are understaffed,” Perretta said.

Shops are likely to remain busy throughout the spring.

“Spring is the busiest time. I encourage people to wait until spring if their car is drivable. If you are going to spend money to fix your car, you should wait until driving conditions are better,” Marlin said.

“People have tax returns coming back, and they may wait until then to get their work done. They may not have had the money to meet their deductible until they got returns back,” Perretta said.

Business will pick up once the snow melts, said Roger Hammel, owner of Hammel’s Riverside Garage, Hollidaysburg.

“If their cars are driveable and they are afraid of wrecking them again, they will wait until spring to get them repaired. People are also waiting for adjusters to look at them, and because of the weather, they can’t get out and that has slowed things up,” Hammel said. “When spring comes, we will have more work to do.”

Mirror Staff writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.