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Ask the Expert: Charging for Estimates

A repairer is in the business of repairing vehicles, and a proper assessment of the damages is an extremely important part of that process and should not be taken lightly.

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Barrett has authored numerous industry trade journal/magazine articles, including several cover stories for BodyShop Business. Having grown up in a family-owned collision repair business and owner/operator of two successful collision repair facilities; his ongoing efforts as industry speaker and repairer coach-consultant are geared toward educating professionals and consumers to achieve equally successful resolutions to automotive-related property damage issues. Such issues include proper and thorough repair, reasonable repair profitability for repairers as well as equitable claim settlements for both claimants and the responsible/paying parties. ADE offers numerous professional services nationwide.

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Q: I’ve heard of shops charging for estimates. Is this is a good idea?

A: It really depends on what the consumer is getting for their money.

A Necessary Move

In 1997, I began charging for estimates in my shops, a move that was born out of necessity. Whenever we prepared damage/repair assessments, we were extremely thorough and accurate. As a result, it often took us a substantial amount of time to prepare them. With today’s technology, the need for researching OEM procedures is growing, and a truly accurate damage assessment can be even more time-consuming than in years past.

During the repair assessment process, we were proficient at both qualifying and edifying our customers so they understood that all insurers and body shops were not alike. Also, we educated them on the importance of a proper repair (safety, loss in value, etc.), all they were entitled to and how best to attain it. The prospective customer left armed and ready to seek full recovery for their claim if and when needed. These efforts earned our customer’s trust and loyalty and – more importantly – their referrals in the years to come. We were recognized as one of the top shops in and around our market area. It’s not necessarily bad to be “the only one!”

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Unfortunately, we learned that some other shops in our market area were sending their customers to us for a precise estimate to submit to the insurer and promising to do their repair for a lesser amount to cover their deductible or provide a cash-back incentive! Upon learning of this, we changed our ads and listings from stating “Free Estimates” to “Free Consultation.” Plus, we began assessing a fee for a comprehensive “Damage/Repair Assessment” of $50 plus 3 percent of the estimated amount with the understanding that if we did the repair, in full, we would credit their billing for the estimate fee…therefore, it became a “free estimate.”

While this stopped the “shoppers” and enabled us to serve those who were serious about obtaining a quality repair, we also found that it provided us the opportunity to educate our community members of things they weren’t aware of. They quickly learned that their family’s personal safety and economic well-being were our concern and, once again, this enabled us to earn their trust, confidence and referrals!

In many instances, our “consultation” caused those who were sent by our competitors to choose us for their repair! It didn’t take long before those shops stopped sending people to us for an estimate.

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The Assessment

Many times, we could do the assessment while the customer waited. Some of these assessments required an appointment, and others required them to leave their vehicle with us overnight because we had to remove or pull away parts to visually see all the damages. Because the dismantling was needed and liabilities were incurred, we would have the customer sign an “Authorization for Damage Assessment” that clearly pointed out the basis for our charge and what the customer should expect.

Some consumers considered paying for their repair out of pocket because they were scared their insurance rates would go up. Generally, once a vehicle was dismantled and the full nature of the damages (including safety issues) and repair costs were known, the customer would opt to make a claim and get their vehicle repaired properly. And they were prepared to ensure the insurer provided all that was needed to do so.

Generally, the damage/repair assessment fee was only assessed when a vehicle became a total loss or when the customer elected to cash-out rather than seek repair. Even then, the estimate was a value-added service due to the consumer receiving a proper and accurate settlement amount rather than an insurer’s low-ball estimate, as many consumers often did and which many still do with photo-based estimates.

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Today, many of ADE’s repairer coaching/consulting clients have adopted this process and have reduced the number of estimates dramatically. The free consultation enables them to edify the consumer of the various issues and how they can best protect and assert their rights while the repairer gains their trust.

I encourage our repairer consulting clients to perform the necessary research for the needed repair and provide copies of the acquired information (OEM specifications, ALLDATA info, etc.) to their customers with the assessment in a neatly prepared package. They also receive their “Limited Lifetime Warranty” and a listing of things the customer should know (i.e. ADE’s “What Are Alternative Parts?”) so they’ll be able to recognize potential concerns in other estimates such as a repairer intentionally underwriting their estimates to “seize the keys” and only then reporting additional “hidden” damage and repair costs.

Summary

A repairer is in the business of repairing vehicles, and a proper assessment of the damages is an extremely important part of that process and should not be taken lightly.

Like a doctor providing an exam, diagnosis and prognosis, a repairer must provide their customer their professional and expert opinion along with any options that may be to their benefit while also informing them of any downsides that the customer may incur due to their choices.

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Physicians must subscribe and adhere to the Hippocratic Oath, one of the oldest binding documents in history. The oath simply means that they must uphold specific ethical standards throughout the world. The Latin phrase “primum non nocere” means “first do no harm.”

While repairers may not have an “oath” or code of conduct they must adhere to, repairers do have professional, moral, ethical and fiduciary responsibilities to always do the right thing for their customers. The first thing is to be truthful and provide them the information they need to protect and assert their rights regarding their family’s personal safety and economic well-being. Every quality-oriented independent repairer should know what these are and how best to present them to the prospective customer to win their trust during the free consultation.

Most repairers will agree that a quality-oriented collision repair professional’s best customer is an informed one!

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