License loophole: Auto-body owners wants more government oversight

Posted: March 18, 2014

IT'S LIKE A KID asking the teacher for more homework.

When I heard that South Philly auto-body repairman Domenico Nigro wants more oversight and regulation by the city or state, that's what I thought. What business owner wants more government involvement in his or her affairs?

The answer: One who cares about the safety of customers and other citizens.

People who do heavy repair work on your car are not required to be certified to guarantee their competence. That just floors him.

Nigro's wife, Victoria, is a hair stylist and is tested and certified by the state. The worst that a hair stylist can do is to cut your hair wrong and make you look bad, "but anyone can get licensed to cut your car," and that can have tragic consequences, he says.

Car-repair and auto-body shops need business and other licenses to operate, of course, but "there is no true certification" to test competence of repairs, Nigro, 37, complains. Competence should be tested because "I'm in an industry where people can die" if a job is done wrong, he says.

Hard to argue with that.

To get certified to install children's safety seats, Nigro took a 40-hour course over five days. But to weld together the frame of a wrecked car? No certification is required.

His in-the-biz knowledge tells him that most bodywork isn't done to the manufacturer's specifications, and he says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will back him up.

Unfortunately, the NHTSA doesn't keep such records and suggested I try the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which does not keep such records and suggested I try the Certified Automotive Parts Association, which didn't get back to me.

Keystone AAA's Jim Lardear says he's not aware of any national tracking system. AAA has a list of AAA-approved shops, and the staff at those are certified by the Automotive Service Excellence organization, which provides the only national licensing of automotive mechanics, AAA master mechanic John Ryder tells me.

Nigro's shop has certified mechanics, for whom you should always ask.

Another Nigro complaint concerns insurance companies, which are not high on his "favorites" list.

"They don't look at it as what you should be doing, to do it well," he says. "They absolutely want the lowest price they can get."

That's not how he was taught business by his father, Aniello, an Old World artisan who launched the business 30 years ago. The most important things Aniello taught his son were safety and customer service.

It's Domenico's business now, but his retired dad comes in every day to keep his eye on things. Old World.

I'm not the first person to whom Nigro has brought this issue. He's talked with a few City Council members and state senators.

Councilman Bill Greenlee told me that he hasn't had time to delve into it yet and wonders whether it should be done on the city or state level. State Sen. Larry Farnese's office said it believes it should be at the state level "for a more-level playing field for Philadelphia business." I agree.

With the city and schools practically collapsing around us, this issue doesn't get the highest priority.

Maybe this column will nudge certification to the front burner. It's not something that has to be done immediately. But it is something that should be done, even if it means more homework for auto-repair and body shops.


Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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