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Building a better estimating toolbox

Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 08:00
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The standard ways of performing damage analysis and writing estimates are becoming antiquated as quickly as vehicle technology is accelerating. Depending on the car and the damage, it may not be sufficient for your estimator to simply walk up to the car with a clipboard and a camera and start writing the estimate. Doing so would assume that you know how to fix the car. This style of estimating allows prior experience and preconceived ideas to prejudice the repair plan. Repair procedures change all the time. To keep up with vehicle technology and perform safe and proper repairs, you will need to utilize all of the OEM tools available today. These tools are informational tools such as body repair manuals, parts diagrams and electrical wiring diagrams. OEMs go through great effort producing the online repair procedures and parts information that are available today, and it is up to you to add them to your toolbox and leverage them.  Once you learn where to look and how to research, you will be able to change your estimating processes to encourage learning and will reap the benefits tenfold. 

What if the first step to writing an estimate was to research how to work on the vehicle, before taking a single note or photo of the damage? What if the estimator read the body repair manual with the intent to be influenced, the intent to learn? What affect would that have on the safe and proper repair of the customer’s vehicle? OEM body repair manuals contain the holy grail of dos and don’ts in collision repair. They provide the road map with which estimates need to be written. Critical information such as metallurgy, non-reusable parts and part assembly configurations can be gleaned from OEM body repair manuals. Once the knowledge has been gained, this information can be leveraged during the estimatics process. The problem is estimating databases are often incomplete and not always graphically accurate. This presents an opportunity to leverage yet another OEM tool — parts diagrams.   

Some OEMs, such as Honda and Acura, offer their estore parts diagrams for free, while others charge for access. Having access to complete, VIN-driven parts diagrams are indispensable during the estimating process and can reduce both supplement rates and cycle time. Parts diagrams are a supplement to the body repair manual. They can provide a visual aid to help understand vehicle design and panel overlaps, as well as a resource to find part numbers for non-reusable parts, wiring connectors and parts not found in the estimating database. Once you begin reading body repair manuals, it will become clear that OEMs can’t write repair procedures for every part and every collision repair situation. This is where it becomes important to utilize the body repair manual metallurgy information and leverage the OEM parts diagrams to make the proper replacement decisions.

For example, an OEM may only offer a procedure for a partial replacement of a rear frame rail. What if the vehicle requires the entire rear rail to be replaced? This will require significant amounts of research to estimate properly. The first step will be identifying the metallurgy of the undamaged adjacent panels using the body repair manual. This will help guide you in assessing undamaged panel removal and welding techniques required. Then using the OEM parts diagrams it will be necessary to identify panel overlap configurations, so the estimate can be written to include the necessary removal or replacement of adjacent panels to access the entire rear frame rail. This again will send you back to the body repair manual to research additional panel replacement procedures. Once all of the replacement panels have been identified, it is time to research the service procedures for all components attached to these panels. This will again require the reference of the OEM parts diagrams to research part numbers for non-reusable parts and components not in the estimating databases. It is important to learn how to leverage both body repair manuals and parts diagrams simultaneously to get the most accurate information possible.  

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