Write It Right…From the Start: The hidden dangers of rushing through damage estimations

By Kelly Roberts

In this industry, we too often get off to a bad start with our customers.

When they ask, “When is my car going to be ready?” we hear, “Please get me my car back as quickly as possible so I don’t have to deal with this anymore.”

By trying to provide clients with that answer they think they need as quickly as possible, the collision industry—too frequently—sets itself up for failure.

Industry Consultants teach “don’t over-promise and under-deliver.” This is sage advice, yet, who is listening to it?

In far too many repair shops in Canada, we rush through a haphazard triage process in order to provide vague answers as quickly as possible. Why?

I believe most if not all shops do not agree with how this “lack of process” is the status quo, we all want better and our collective clients deserve better.

As a result, our “only-by-eye” assessments tend to be performed under pressure in a ten minutes or less—only enough to determine the most obvious damage, and perhaps whether a temporary repair can be made to let the driver keep their car.

Unfortunately, these cursory inspections are dangerously insufficient. Modern automobiles are engineered to absorb impacts, and spread them throughout a vehicle—meaning damage most always isn’t going to be apparent.

Sufficient would be keeping any vehicle for a time to allow a proper triage process. Enough time to properly assess mechanical, electronics (avionics), structural and suspension and safety systems.

When we don’t, we’re risking our business, our relationship with insurers and our customer’s lives.

It is a model being used by more and more top-tier repair facilities—and the reason is quite simple. The benefits of pleasing the customer in the short term are far outweighed by the benefits of correctly assessing the damage, planning all necessary parts and procedures and documenting them all properly—from the start.

On the front end, it may cause a customer some disappointment if not delivered legibly and intelligently. On the back end, it measurably speeds the entire repair process, reduces the amount of downtime required—and thus cuts overall repair costs.

In this industry, repairers tend to encounter undiscovered and undocumented damage in a high percentage of the vehicles they fix—damage missed in the original estimation.

It is news that no client—and no insurer—likes hearing.

It also causes procedural delays, and it wastes everybody’s time!

Had all the damage been appropriately assessed, all vehicle repairs would be scheduled much more tightly, capacity and throughput dramatically improved. It is profit 101.

It is, however, better than the alternative situation—allowing unsafe vehicles to go unregistered and uninspected to be driven down the roads. Some studies have found that, after thoroughly reviewing vehicles, the number with unsafe and undocumented hidden damage that is found on, is at least six-out of-ten vehicles leaving bodyshops “deemed” as safe to drive.

Of course, that isn’t just money being left on the table, that is unsafe vehicles being let on the road—and possible business-ending legal liability issues too.

Don’t get me wrong—in my long career of collision repairs, I fell into the same trap.

I also had a ‘holy heck’ moment—not so long ago.

A Honda came into a shop where I was coaching, with what looked like light cosmetic damage to the front right side. It had a clean pre-scan, and no dash lights were reporting anything. When we looked under the front cover, however, I could see the driver’s side front impact sensor bracket had been disrupted—and the sensor fully compromised. I hate to think what could have happened if we’d let it roll onto the road.

It isn’t like auto insurers are really pushing us on this issue either.

In my conversations with insurers about the issues caused by rushing through initial assessments, they have all been hesitant to suggest that it is a pressing matter.

As more than one put it: “Nothing is going to change until someone is killed.”

Unfortunately, that standard isn’t one repairers should accept. For one thing, we face the most pressing legal risk—and, unlike auto insurers, very few repair facilities are likely to be able to recover from judgments in the tens-of-millions. For another, there is no information available about whether or not missed repair procedures are killing people—or how often.

Lastly, I never want to be the mechanism of another person’s untimely end.

If—as traffic analysts say—a single driver tapping their brakes on a busy highway can cause a traffic jam, what havoc can thousands of vehicles with undetected damage wreak?

At the end of the day, the risks posed by damaged vehicles may be unknowable. I am not sure that matters.

As collision repairers, we are legally obliged to provide customers with the expert assessment of vehicle safety and drivability based on our professional capacities. For businesses involved in DRPs, that isn’t just a moral obligation, it is also a contractual one.

We cannot give safe & accurate professional opinions without conducting proper and thorough assessments of damage.

_______________________

Involved in the collision sector since 1989, Kelly Roberts is a vice president of sales at AirPro Diagnostics. During the course of his career, in which he has been involved in many areas of the collision sector, team member, employee and owner/manager, Roberts been an advocate for the improvement of the collision repair industry as-a-whole. He previously served on the Axalta National Business Council under Tom Parnell and Mike Anderson.

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