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MailTribune.com
  • Fender-benders pile up big business

    Auto body shops, tow truck firms have been swamped as drivers slip and slide
  • Tow truck companies and auto body shops have been slammed since the snowstorm Friday evening sent hundreds of vehicles skittering off the road and into one another.
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  • Tow truck companies and auto body shops have been slammed since the snowstorm Friday evening sent hundreds of vehicles skittering off the road and into one another.
    "It was pretty brutal out there, with lots of slipping and sliding," said Michael Jenkins with Star Body Works Collision Centers in Medford. "It's been pretty chaotic."
    He said dozens of vehicles have come in for repairs and more calls for repairs keep coming in.
    Tow truck operators have had a backlog of calls as they try to pull cars out of ditches and haul vehicles to body repair shops.
    "Busy, busy, busy," said Bill Aney, manager of Dick's Towing in Medford and Ashland.
    He received 350 calls Friday through Sunday, and he's been forced to put 58 calls on hold because of the backlog. "We're absolutely swamped."
    He still has 15 calls waiting from Sunday because he hasn't been able to schedule a tow truck. Aney said he called in tow truck drivers on their days off, and many have had to work through their lunches and dinners.
    "People are getting frustrated out there," Aney said. "Our drivers are going as fast as they can. Their attitude is starting to get a little testy sometimes."
    Drivers have complained of cold hands and feet as they wrestle with frozen metal throughout the day.
    Equipment used for towing gets balky in cold weather. Many drivers use flares to heat up metal pieces frozen together, finally resorting to a little pounding and jerking to free things up.
    Aney said no drivers have been injured, and their rigs haven't been damaged during the cold snap. Most of the accidents they've responded to have been minor.
    "We haven't gotten any fatalities yet, and that's the good thing," he said.
    Many insurance companies in the valley reported only a slight increase in business, possibly because many of the vehicles being towed out of ditches didn't sustain major damage.
    Star Body Works in Medford has been filling up its lots with vehicles damaged during the icy weather.
    "The towing guys have been going nonstop since Friday," said Travis Lamensdorf of Star Body Works.
    Lamensdorf said it's probably going to take at least a couple of days to retrieve all the vehicles that went off the roadway, particularly those in outlying areas.
    Many vehicles have been left on the sides of roads as their owners hope temperatures warm up enough to melt the snow and ice.
    Juan Lopez, an estimator at Star Body Works Collision Centers in Talent, said he saw 30 cars slam into each other on Springbrook Road Friday evening on his way home from work.
    Since then, the phones have been ringing off the hook as the dented cars fill up the lot behind Star on South Pacific Highway.
    Since Friday, 25 vehicles have been brought in for repairs — double or triple the average amount for an entire week.
    "It's just crazy," Lopez said.
    He said he received 12 new vehicle repair orders Monday morning.
    Five vehicles that came in Friday were totaled, then another six were totaled Monday.
    Lopez said that older models often are totaled if the air bags deploy because the repair costs exceed the value of the vehicle. Typical costs to replace air bags range from $3,000 to $7,500, he said.
    Most of the repairs he's seeing are in the $2,500 to $4,500 range, usually involving replacing plastic bumpers. Looking at the cars in the service bay, he pointed to the damaged areas. "Everything is plastic," he said.
    Brian McCullough, a body technician at Star Body in Talent, said he helped pull six vehicles out of the ditch with his own vehicle when he drove home Friday night.
    Since the storm, it's been difficult to keep up with the number of people needing repairs.
    "The phone's been ringing non-stop," he said.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.
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