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Golden State is state-of-the-art collision center in Yuba City
• LOCATION: 996 Klamath Lane, Yuba City (shops also in Sacramento, Orangevale, Roseville and Lincoln)
• HOURS: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; Saturday by appointment
• PHONE: 755-0990
• WEBSITE: www.goldenstatecollision.com
You're at a stoplight and everything's just fine.
But you glance up to your rearview mirror and you see the bumper on the van behind you growing to an unbelievable size just before it slams into your back bumper.
After taking a couple of breaths to cool down, you step out of your car and check to make sure everyone is OK.
Then you exchange information and contact your insurance company.
So far — not too bad.
But what now? Where do you take your car to straighten the frame, weld on a new fender and repaint your ride so that it looks like new?
One possibility is Golden State Collision Center on Klamath Lane in Yuba City, where your car could be one of the 80 or so vehicles they repair every month.
Dave and Michelle Finkelstein, co-owners of four collision centers in the Sacramento area, opened their fifth shop in Yuba City three years ago.
"I saw a need in the community. The technology on the cars just continues to advance, and a lot of the shops in this market hadn't invested in the equipment or the training," Dave Finkelstein said.
Collision repair is a specialized endeavor that requires expert technicians and expensive equipment. Finkelstein said the cost alone would be enough to stop him from entering the industry today.
A big reason for the cost and the expertise is to keep up with the rapidly evolving technology.
"Several times a year, the manufacturers come out with new cars. And each time a new car comes out, there's new technology, new metals, new repair methods, more computers and more air bags. It's amazing ... the technology." he said. "That's why the welding is very critical. We rely on the vehicle manufacturers for repair information like where do we cut and replace a part."
He gave an example. "Most people don't realize that the glass in the windows is part of the structure of the car. That means if the car rolls over and the window — if it's not put back into place properly or it's not a good piece of glass — it affects the way the car absorbs an impact."
In order for a shop to be able to repair the various makes, models and model years, training and oversight are vital.
Finkelstein explained the danger of hybrid cars. "It's very, very important that, if you're working on one of these models, you know what you're dealing with because they can create electricity even when they're not running. If you push the vehicle, it can generate electricity which makes it very dangerous — and it can even kill you.
"We have a person that we use at all my stores who's a specialist who deals with all electronics, air bags, anytime we're dealing with hybrids. We let him disable the batteries because anytime a vehicle has a battery pack, or any type of a regenerative system, you have to know what you can and cannot do and how to disable them," said the owner.
He said the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) recommends that people working with such units wear lineman gloves for extra protection.
According to its website, I-CAR develops and delivers technical training programs to professionals in all areas of the collision industry.
While a few auto manufacturers like Toyota provide training for their vehicles, Finkelstein said that most farm out their training to I-CAR and similar companies. He explained that's easy to do today because "most of the repair techniques are very similar from vehicle to vehicle."
Finkelstein said he encourages his 17 employees in Yuba City (and 100 total at all five facilities), especially the technicians, to continue their training, which means that most of his technicians are ASE-certified.
He explained that ASE is the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which works to improve the quality of vehicle repair and service by testing and certifying automotive professionals. He also sends his techs to I-CAR, where they receive certification in all aspects of auto repair including welding.
"In our business, training is ongoing. I-CAR has 'gold class certification' for auto repair businesses that (must be renewed) every year. In order to earn that certification, all of the technicians in that store have to meet a base-level of training and have specific individuals named as master technicians in each category."
"If a technician takes the training, they have the opportunity to rise to the highest levels of our company; if they're not taking the training, they could be an apprentice forever," he said. "We invest a ton of money on training."
But training is needed even before applying for a position in an auto repair shop, Finkelstein said. He suggested that anyone interested in being a repair tech should complete the auto repair program at Yuba College. "It's one of the better known in the area," he said. Or they could travel to Sacramento to attend either Universal Technical Institute or Wyoming Tech.
"These classes are really the foundation for someone to get into this industry; they give a person the repair knowledge to enter the field, but a person still needs to come into the shop and work as an apprentice," he said.
In addition to the training, to ensure work is done properly, Finkelstein said they use Verifacts, an outside company to do random inspections of the work. "They'll show up unannounced on any given day and they'll audit our repairs," he said.
It's a challenge for Finkelstein to oversee five shops. But, he said, that challenge isn't overwhelming because "I know I have good people and good managers who know the right and wrong way to do things."
He said he likes being a business owner. "It's a couple of things: being able to chart our own course and continue to look for ways that we can differentiate ourselves — to be unique to the customer and the community."
Golden State Collision Centers also helps people in the community, Finkelstein said. "The one big thing that we've really embraced over the last few years is our ability to give back to the community. We've supported local sports teams. A few years ago, we started our Benevolence Program where we take damaged vehicles that the owners or the insurance companies have abandoned, and we refurbish and donate them to needy families."
"We gave away five vehicles last Christmas. On May 17, we're giving away two vehicles that we're working on right now." The company worked with Casa de Esperanza to find a person who needed a car. He also said that last year USAA insurance donated a vehicle to Golden State to refurbish for a Beale airman.
One thing that Finkelstein wanted to clear up was the outmoded image of auto repair shops.
"I think the industry probably has had a shoddy reputation or maybe an undesirable — that might be a better word — reputation and people might think we have untrained or uninformed people working on their car. That might have been true years ago, but today the people are well-trained and that makes all the difference," he said.