Executive Spotlight – Deputy Chief Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas was appointed to serve as deputy chief of the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Field Operations and Enforcement Division in April 2022. A self-proclaimed, “car guy” since high school, Bill has enjoyed working on cars, teaching others about cars, and pursuing a career in the automotive repair industry. We recently caught up with Bill to learn more about his work and his vision for BAR’s field operations and enforcement activities.

What work did you do prior to your employment with BAR?

Prior to BAR, I spent 25 years in the automotive repair industry as a technician, service manager, and store manager. For nearly 10 years, I was also an adjunct instructor of automotive technology at two California community colleges in the Central Valley. I have remained an ASE Certified Master Technician since 1988 and maintain active Smog Check inspector, Smog Check repair technician, brake adjuster, and lamp adjuster licenses.

How long have you worked at BAR and in what roles?

I joined BAR fifteen years ago as a Program Representative in the San Jose Field Office. Since then and prior to my appointment as Deputy Chief, I served in a variety of roles including Program Representative III (Supervisor) in the Hercules Field Office and Program Manager of the Enforcement Operations Branch.

What are some of the accomplishments during your time at BAR that have advanced BAR’s mission to protect California consumers from Smog Check and automotive repair fraud?

I was the first to report a fraud case based primarily on Smog Check data. Since the filing of that first “clean plugging” accusation in 2010, BAR has used this data-driven approach to revoke the licenses of hundreds of technicians and stations fraudulently certifying vehicles and harming both the public and the industry.

I also led a collaborative effort to develop and implement regulations allowing automotive repair dealers to send electronic estimates to customers via text or other electronic communication and to receive electronic authorizations from customers. The regulations, adopted in 2018, made a major impact on operational efficiency for automotive repair dealers (ARDs) and increased convenience for customers.

What are some of the trends in illegal activity you have seen over the past few years and what is BAR’s response to those trends?

One of the greatest challenges is the prevalence of “bandit” tow and storage services. Unscrupulous tow truck operators scan police channels and are the first to show up on the scene of an accident. Under the guise of “helping” the consumers involved in the accident, the vehicle is towed to a storage facility where thousands of dollars in towing and storage fees are immediately charged. This practice not only affects insurance companies, but it also causes significant harm to the public. BAR has investigated ARDs who have engaged in such practices and has filed several accusations seeking discipline.

What are some of the things that BAR has done to ensure licensees are informed about the laws and regulatory requirements that impact their business?

BAR utilizes various outreach programs to inform the industry about the statutes and regulations governing the automotive repair industry in California. Upon initial ARD registration, we offer an Education First Program to businesses to review the statutory requirements for ARDs. ARDs can also request, at any time, a Write It Right presentation where a BAR representative will review the requirements for estimates, authorizations, invoices, and records retention. BAR also holds public, quarterly Bureau Advisory Group meetings that address topics impacting the industry.

What is your vision for BAR’s Field Operations and Enforcement Division?

My staff constantly hear me talk about the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of outcomes are a result of 20% of inputs. With BAR enforcement, I adjust the ratio to 95/5, meaning that 95% (or more) of BAR’s enforcement activities are caused by 5% (or less) of businesses taking advantage of and illegally profiting from unsuspecting customers or performing sub-substandard repairs that do not comply with industry or Bureau accepted trade standards. I continually remind staff that supporting the large majority of industry who provide quality service to the public is equally important. My vision is to work with industry to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace for those who comply with the law.

As automotive technology continues to evolve, how does it impact enforcement endeavors?

Advancements in automotive technology require the Field Operations and Enforcement Division to stay abreast of automotive repair trends and practices. We have a highly effective Technical Training Unit that provides training to our program representatives and helps us advance our enforcement efforts and regulatory oversight.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I have been involved in the automotive repair industry since I graduated from high school. I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue a career in the industry and work with so many dedicated employees at BAR. I also value the collaborative work that I have been able to undertake in this position with Bureau staff, industry leaders, and other stakeholders to advance positive changes both within the Bureau and the industry. It has been a truly rewarding experience.

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