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Bad winters good business for body shops

Friday, February 7, 2014 - 7:36 am

SOUTH BEND – The white that has some of us seeing red has others seeing green.

Nearly everyone involved in the snow removal or snow enjoyment business is obviously doing well. The same is true for those who repair our cars after collisions, slide-offs and even slide-overs.

Whether it’s the low-base cars scraping their undercarriages and damaging tie rods, struts or plastic protective shields as they go over icy snowbanks or into ditches, or the cars following too closely and smashing into the vehicle ahead of them, it has been a busy winter for car repair shops.

“In the last 17 years, by far, it’s been probably one of the busiest years,” said Wayne Boocher, owner of Boocher’s Body Shop in South Bend. “I hate to say it, but it’s been a great year for people crashing.

“There’s not a shop around that doesn’t have some type of work coming in and out the door.”

There have been a lot of collisions, he said, not to mention people damaging their cars from potholes. Damage underneath can also come from snow that has turned rock-hard after melting and freezing again, said Greg Barth, president of Barry’s Seat Cover, Auto Body & Glass in South Bend.

“This time of year we see more suspension damage than the summer because the snow is so hard and icy now. When you hit it, it’s like hitting a curb, cement or a small tree,” Barth told the South Bend Tribune.

Today’s cars have a lot of plastic shields underneath, Barth said, which make the car more aerodynamic while also protecting the engine from road realities.

“You get a lot of that broken off this time of year because of the snow,” said Barth, adding that accidents change as winter progresses.

“Early in the year, it’s tough for people to drive on snow again,” said Barth. There’s always a big increase in accidents with the first snow around Thanksgiving, and then people start to drive more cautiously, he said. “Right now we are seeing more slide-offs, more so than car-to-car accidents. More slide-offs and rear-end collisions where people can’t stop is what’s going on right now.”

But even trucks are not immune to accidents, noted Mike Mills, vice president of Jefferson Auto Collision Service in Mishawaka.

“We just had a really large Dodge 250 diesel pickup roll in that was a roll-over,” Mills said. “He just lost control on black ice and flipped it over in a ditch.”

He has seen vehicles big and small brought in, he said.

“There’s really no consistency with anything,” he said, including the type of damage.

The only consistent thing is how busy he is, usually a couple of days after a major snowstorm, he said.

People will come in and say they need an estimate right away, he said. But often there are four people ahead of them.

“It’s kind of like when you go to a restaurant on a Notre Dame football weekend,” he said. “You think you can get right in on a Friday night. Well, there’s going to be a wait. We have to make appointments there’s so many people coming in for estimates.”

The snow keeps coming, and so do the repairs.

“We’re always busy in the winter,” Barth said. “People drive crazy.”