Back to Basics: Damage Analysis - BodyShop Business

Back to Basics: Damage Analysis

Supplements are a waste of time. We need to learn how to write a complete repair blueprint to reduce supplements and cycle time.

Part 3 of a 6-part series. See Part 1 and Part 2.

In Parts 1 and 2 of my “Back to Basics” series in the Nov. and Dec. 2010 issues of BodyShop Business, we looked at marketing (everything you do to bring a customer to your door) and selling (getting the customer to sign the repair order). Now, we’ve got them to our door and obtained their commitment to allow us to process the repair, so it’s time to do the damage analysis.

Timing and Location

Many estimators still greet a potential customer, grab a notepad and head out to the damaged vehicle to write an estimate. But is that an efficient way to create a damage analysis? No! Our industry has a supplement ratio in excess of 70 percent. More than 50 percent of our ROs have multiple supplements! Supplements are indications of flaws in our damage analysis systems. 

The next time you have a supplement, track the total time spent processing it, from the tech notifying you of the need for the supplement until the supplement has been paid. You’ll immediately realize how much simpler it is to catch those items in the beginning of the process.

It gets worse. Our average close ratio, or the percentage of estimates we convert to ROs, is about 65 percent. That means for every 100 estimates we write, we convert 65 into repair orders. The other 35 go somewhere else. Perhaps the customer simply chose not to repair the vehicle. No matter what happened, writing those 35 estimates was a complete waste of time, unless you like practicing writing estimates.

A damage analysis should be written in the shop or in a damage analysis (blueprint) stall with good lighting, a lift, tape, a tram gauge and the time to do it right – after the customer has agreed to proceed with repairs at your shop. 

Blueprint the Repair

In the blueprint process, the vehicle is completely dismantled. All of the clips that are going to break are broken, and all of the damage is visible. With a vehicle in that state, a good damage analyst, working with a metal and paint tech, can write a complete damage analysis, which results in more accurate evaluations, less supplements and less cycle time.

But we continue to write estimates in parking lots. Some even write estimates from digital photos and e-mail bids to customers – which may become a valid marketing tactic. But the average close ratio I mentioned earlier shows that writing estimates in parking lots is a waste of time.

The Process

Just as with marketing and selling, creating a complete and accurate damage analysis is a process. If we follow the same steps over and over, we’ll improve our damage analysis skills, reducing the frequency of missed items. 

Step 1: Discuss the loss with the driver

This first step in an efficient damage analysis process begins with a conversation with the driver of the damaged vehicle. Ask for the details of the accident. How fast were they going? How many cars were involved? What was the angle of impact? How many separate impacts did they feel? How many people were in the car, where were they sitting and were they wearing seatbelts? Is their gas gauge still accurate? Are there any new noises?

The damage analyst should be able to mentally reconstruct the accident and begin looking for everything that may be damaged due to the loss.

Step 2: Examine the vehicle from 10 feet away

Beginning at the primary point of impact, look over the entire vehicle from 10 feet away. Look for differences in door to fender, deck lid to quarter panel and hood to fender gaps. Look for buckles away from the impact area. Get the big picture so as to avoid tunnel vision. Frequently, we go straight to the point of initial damage and focus only on it, missing many items like chips at door gaps or small buckles in a roof or quarter panel. Those items won’t make it to the initial damage analysis, resulting in a supplement later or, worse yet, work we do for free.

Step 3: ID the vehicle

Take time to fully record the VIN. If you have a DRP assignment, confirm that the VIN is correct. Document the build date, mileage and all options. Don’t trust the VIN decoder! Many options are added at the dealer or somewhere else in the automotive aftermarket. The VIN decoder won’t catch non-factory installed options.

If the customer drove the vehicle in, ask them to start the engine to confirm SRS and Check Engine light conditions. Record the paint code and any trim codes. It’s a good idea to take good digital images of all ID plates and decals. 

Note radio settings on a card and ask the customer to sign it. Resetting the radio is a not-included item. Negotiating compensation from the insurer is easier when you have the radio setting card, signed by the vehicle owner.

Step 4: Record initial damage

Begin at the point of impact and record all of the exterior damage. Note all of the clips, bulbs and adhesives as well as the obvious stuff like fenders, headlamps, grilles and hood. Take your time and look at the gaps for broken paint, tight gaps or expanded gaps. Open the doors, deck lid and hood.

Make a complete list of every item that’s damaged or needs to be R&I’d to perform the repair. If R&I moldings is required, ask yourself about the clips. Have a tech take those moldings off to discover if new clips are needed, and if so, how many.

Many estimators stop here and write the estimate or a “visual damage quotation.” Some insurers require shops to “write what they can see.” In both cases, we’re setting ourselves up for supplement after supplement.

Step 5: Record secondary damage

Secondary damage is the damage to inner parts or parts adjacent to the primary panels damaged by the movement of the primary damage. Look beyond the initial impact parts to everything they attach to: core supports, aprons, rails, floors and wheelhouses.

Look for bends and buckles, cracked or broken seam sealer and broken spot welds as indicators of secondary damage. List everything, both the repair of the part as well as any R&I of parts required to repair or replace the damaged part or panel. If electrical components must be disconnected and reconnected (D&R), document that. List R&I of any electrical component, especially SRS sensors and computers within 12 inches of any weld area.

Check for inertial damage, damage resulting from things like bodies, groceries, fuel in the gas tank, car seats, golf clubs and bowling balls. Look inside at knee bolsters, dash and center console components.

Hint: To see secondary damage, the vehicle frequently needs disassembly. If there’s structural damage, perform diagnostic structural measurement to discover all damage prior to generating a damage analysis. Diagnostic structural evaluation is a not-included item and not necessarily part of the repair.

Step 6: Record mechanical damage

Many supplements are caused by the discovery of mechanical damage during the repair. Take time to inspect all mechanical parts, brackets, mounts, cans, fans and cooling components. Document everything, including fluids, bolts, wiring and connectors. Don’t forget required mechanical R&I and D&R.

Frequently, the assistance of a tech is required to discover all of the mechanical and suspension damage. The vehicle should be disassembled and the entire damage found to not miss anything.

If mechanical work is to be sublet, list it and schedule it now.

Step 7: Record paint materials and associated products

Make a list of all refinish operations. Identify everything that will be painted: clearcoat, tri-stage, gravel guard, two-tone and blend. Look for and list any weld burn damage, both inner and outer panels. List any seam sealer or sound deadening material. List the removal and replacement of any urethane or rubberized undercoats. List any feather, prime and block on repaired or welded panels.

Ask an experienced painter to review the entire repair at the beginning to avoid finding out about missed operations later.

List associated items and supplies separately. Seam sealer, for example, is not included and is expensive. List it with a part number and the number of tubes required. Sell it at the product’s list price, just like you do a fender. There are many of these associated items that should be listed individually to complete an accurate damage analysis. 

Step 8: Create the damage evaluation

Now it’s time to sit at your computer and generate the damage evaluation. If the damages have been recorded in a systematic way, moving the damage notes into the computerized estimating system should be easy. If you’re required to do an operation without compensation, list it anyway with “n/c” or a zero in the parts or labor column. 

Know your P-pages! There’s money in those pesky little lists of what’s included and not included. They change constantly, so continually check! 

Remember that the times in all of the databases are for the installation of new, undamaged parts on new, undamaged vehicles. If you have to move damaged parts out of the way or pull a panel for access, it’s not included. Ever put a spare tire on a vehicle to make it moveable? That’s not included.

Create the damage analysis using all your inspection notes and documentation. Include sufficient detail and explanation notes in the body of the estimate so that the estimate “tells the story.”

A word of warning: Documenting an operation as not included doesn’t guarantee you’ll get paid for it. If you can document the operation as not included and required to restore the vehicle to its prior form and function, you’re in a better negotiation position.

Step 9: Audit the damage evaluation

The damage evaluation needs to be audited to make sure it’s complete. Ask a metal tech and a paint tech to review it to ensure everything is there.

If you’re a DRP, confirm that the damage evaluation conforms to your DRP guidelines before you upload it. Look into the “scrubbers” available today to highlight not-included items.

Look on the damage evaluation for required operations that have no metal or refinish time. Many call these “jump on parts” because they must jump on since there are no labor times.

There are two reasons that operations have no time listed on an estimate. The first is they may be “variables,” or operations that aren’t given a time because there’s no way for the database to know how much to allow. For example, “drain and fill fuel tank” is a variable because the amount of fuel in the tank is unknown. Refinish time on a sectioned part is a variable as the amount of refinish depends on how much of the part was sectioned.  

Then again, the item may have no time simply because the database has no time recorded. The time should be determined and agreed to by the estimator on an individual basis. 

Audit the damage evaluation by looking for welded parts, fillers, closing panels and rails with no time for installation, refinish and corrosion protection.

Hank Nunn, president of H W Nunn & Associates, is a 35-year collision industry veteran. He can be reached at [email protected].


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