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Documentation is key to communicating the collision repair process

Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 08:00
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Just like the automobiles we repair have changed, so has the way we document the repair process. We can’t just write estimates anymore, we must create assessments that clearly communicate a collision repair process to many people.

Remember in high school English class when the teacher talked about journalism, and how you had to clearly define the who, what, where, when, why and how to have a complete story? Well, I hope you paid attention because the same questions must now be answered to create a complete damage assessment.

Creating a damage assessment requires complete identification of the who or the vehicle being repaired. Complete identification includes make, model, trim level, exterior color, interior color and production date. We are not working on a red Chevrolet Nova anymore we are working on a Ford Explorer Platinum painted in Ruby Red Pearl Tri-coat.

The what is essentially the damage being repaired on the vehicle. However, we cannot just write “replace right quarter.” We need to determine how the quarter must be replaced and what additional operations might be required. This involves researching the OEM repair process to determine where to cut the quarter panel, how the new quarter panel must be attached, where and what type of adhesives/corrosion protection materials are needed and why they must be used.

I mentioned that the damage assessment must be communicated to a variety of people. Think about who will be reading the damage assessment. My thoughts include the vehicle owner, insurer covering the loss, repair planner, parts personnel, body technician, paint team and at least one or two others. Looking at the list it’s easy to see that our assessment will be read by several people at different levels of responsibility.

Our job is to create one damage assessment that clearly describes the repairs needed and how the repairs must be performed. To accomplish that we must use the estimate line, line notes and photos to illustrate what is expected. We also become an educator as I discussed in my April 2017 Aftermarket Business World article, Effective Collision Repair Negotiation Starts with Education, Training. We must share our knowledge to those reviewing the assessment as the repair authority. We cannot assume the recipient knows how the vehicle should be repaired. We must give them the information they need to make an educated decision.

In many cases the damage assessor can visualize the repair in his or her mind but doesn’t always move that visualization to the damage assessment. It would be great if we could huddle everyone involved in the repair around the vehicle for discussion. That generally isn’t possible -- techs are busy on other vehicles, insurers are most often off-site and the vehicle owner is at work. In my Effective Estimating and Basic Blueprinting classes I talk about using the estimating system generated line, explain the process as necessary in a line note and add photos required to clarify the repair when needed. Those three areas are all we have available to describe the repair process so remember to maximize their use.

During a training workshop, I handed out photos showing damage to a Hyundai and had the attendees write their assessment based on what they could see. As you can imagine there was a broad variance in the assessments, but what caught my eye on one was the use of line notes. This assessment had 58 lines and 49 of them had line notes. It seemed extreme but the writer clearly defined what was damaged on the vehicle and how it needed to be repaired. This is where the who, what, where, when, why and how comes into play.

Let’s use corrosion protection and seam sealers as an example. I often see corrosion protection and seam sealer added to the bottom of estimates with a material cost and sometimes a labor value. A generic line does not really communicate anything to anybody, especially if there were a couple of opportunities for corrosion protection or seam sealer needed in the body of the assessment.

A door skin replacement requires four different products to complete the repair; door skin adhesive, intrusion beam adhesive foam, seam sealer and cavity wax. Adding a generic seam sealer or corrosion protection line to the bottom of an estimate will not cover your costs or explain to anyone what is being done. Proper placement for these items would be right under the door skin replacement line. Including line notes describing product type, quantities and application method would further explain to all involved the why.

I’m often asked in my classes about paint materials and how to get paid properly for some hard colors. I used the Ruby Red Pearl Tri-coat color above for a reason. It is a multi-stage color that is expensive to replicate and in some cases, is a four-stage process. The key to proper reimbursement is in the documentation.

To explain the procedure, I use an inquiry submitted to the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG). DEG Inquiry 10051 provides the documentation needed to justify a four-stage refinish process and what constitutes the fourth stage. Adding a line under the Tri-coat refinish entry for “Add for four-stage,” using half of the tri-coat time as a labor value, a line note explaining that Ruby Red Pearl Tri-coat is a four-stage process. Adding the documentation from DEG in the line note validates your need for additional materials and labor.

 To get information on how to document scanning procedures, please read my December 2017 Aftermarket Business World article, Documenting Scan Procedures is Key to Receiving Equitable Insurer Payments.

I hope this article will help you look at the assessments you write a little differently because the role of the damage assessor has changed. You now must research, educate and communicate effectively to a variety of recipients. Think about the journalism education we all received in high school and ensure you are answering the who, what, where, when, why and how. Finally, to be respected you must be consistent, thorough and provide documentation to justify your process.

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