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The improvements to automotive technology that have been introduced the last few decades -- electronic fuel injection, traction control, electronic ignition systems, to name a few -- are starting to hurt the bottom lines of those who make their living repairing damaged or disabled vehicles.
"Cars are built differently than they were even 10 years ago," said Dave Gensler, general manager for Smitty's Automotive and RV service. "Cars don't really have the failures that we used to have [to fix] a decade ago. Some of the issues that we had then, those pieces don't even exist on vehicles today."
In recent years, nearly all large automakers have improved their manufacturing quality and reported declining warranty claims, a measure of initial vehicle durability. And though sales of new vehicles recovered slightly in 2010 from their massive fall in 2009, the average vehicle on the road today in the United States is still more than 10.2 years old, according to industry watcher R.L. Polk & Co.
While technology may keep cold weather from hampering the mechanical ability for vehicles to start and operate, the combination of snow and ice and poor driving habits are likely to keep collision shops busy for the foreseeable future. The Automobile Repair Association estimates that 42 million of the nation's approximately 248 million vehicles require collision work in a given year.
"December was a fabulous month for us, but the weather has to hit just right in order for us to get any business at all," said Robert Pennington, manager of Quality Collision, near West Sylvania Avenue and Douglas Road in West Toledo. "Summertime is usually a better season for us. A lot of people stay inside in winter; they don't go out, and they don't drive around."
Mr. Pennington said in the towing and collision business, the timing of winter weather has a much greater impact than whether it snows.
"If the storm comes in while everybody's at work and they have to drive home in it, that helps us out. If we get a lot of snow, we get damage from plows, from people hitting hard-packed snow," Mr. Pennington said.
For Ray Jeffers, owner of Ray's Service Inc. in Rossford, this winter's weather has been both a blessing and a curse for his 18 employees and four tow trucks.
"The snow and cold tear up equipment, and tear up guys," Mr. Jeffers said. "We've been busy. We've had to turn down or miss more work than we were able to do."
Mr. Jeffers said many of the vehicles that his trucks have had to rescue were in their predicaments for preventable reasons.
"With the economy the way it is, people have slacked off on preventative maintenance, and they get caught with low batteries or bad tires. Preventative maintenance could have probably stopped quite a bit of it," he said.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.