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Collision Terminology: Good and Bad

I’ve often shuddered at collision industry jargon and buzzwords that often paint repairers as rough, crude and unsophisticated Neanderthals.

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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.

Having been actively involved in the collision industry over the past 35-plus years in many different roles, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with thousands of shop owners, managers, estimators and technicians. And I’ve often shuddered at the industry jargon and buzzwords I’ve heard in casual conversations and interactions with consumers – words that often paint those in the collision repair industry as a group of rough, crude and unsophisticated Neanderthals.

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It’s important for collision repairers to understand that, from the moment they interact with prospective customers, they’re being evaluated and scrutinized. Others are judging them too, including claims people, tow truck operators and delivery people.

Does your auto body operation give off the appearance of being professional? Or do you meet and feed the perception and all-too-often misconception that many consumers have of an “auto repair shop”? 

I grew up in family-owned and operated body shops in Washington State and Alaska. My dad was a hands-on shop owner who often performed body, frame, paint, mechanical and glass work. I recall him putting on his gray coveralls each morning and heading off to work. When a customer showed up for an estimate or to check on their vehicle, he would greet them by wiping his hands on a shop rag and reaching out to shake their hand. Sometimes, when going to the bank or to lunch, he would remove his coveralls to reveal casual street clothes…or just blow off the dust with an air hose. And even though he was the owner of a body shop, I never heard my dad speak in any manner that was demeaning to him, his business or the industry he loved. 

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What’s in a Word?

There are industry terms and words that, when used, put the collision repair and the industry in a bad light:

Teardown. This is a term used to refer to the dismantling of a vehicle to determine the full extent of the damages in order to prepare an estimate. I can assure you that no consumer wants anyone to “tear down” their vehicle. To a layperson, this likely conjures up a vision of several Viking warriors attacking their vehicle with battle axes, spears and swords. Why not use more appropriate terms consumers will understand such as “dismantle” or “disassemble,” which are disarming and more relevant to the professional repair their vehicle will undergo. 

Estimate. While this word is widely used and accepted in collision repair, insurance and other professions, repairers need to think outside the box and use terminology that sounds much more like what the consumer desires. You can offer an “estimate” or “guesstimate” by merely viewing the damaged vehicle through your office window. In many instances, estimates appear as just that – wild guesses. Consider a doctor providing you or a loved one with a guesstimate as to what might be ailing them. They offer a diagnosis, a proposed treatment regimen and a prognosis…and they charge for doing so. Medical practitioners treat two basic models (male and female) of varying ages; repairers, on the other hand, work on many different makes and models with various options that may change. So why shouldn’t they too be compensated for their knowledge and time spent on research? I encourage repairers to leave estimate as an insurance term when attempting to settle claims and be quick to correct insurers when they refer to you accepting their estimate. Some repairers have attempted to differentiate themselves by referring to estimates as “blueprints” or “repair plans.”

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Comprehensive damage/repair assessment. An insurer may only provide an “estimate/guesstimate” of repair since they may not see the vehicle fully dismantled or don’t possess the training, hands on-experience or knowledge needed to prepare a comprehensive assessment of the sustained damage. Therefore, the repair professional must bring the vehicle in and dismantle or disassemble it by removing the damaged panels and performing recommended diagnostics and measurements to prepare a “comprehensive damage/repair assessment” based on their professional expert knowledge. Until this happens, an estimate is only a guesstimate.

Consultation. I encourage our clients to use the term “consultation” for the initial meeting and visual inspection of the vehicle and, when preparing a written evaluation, to use the term “comprehensive damage/repair assessment. This provides a clearer and more professional explanation when charging for this value-added service (note: consultations are offered at no charge or obligation). 

Agreed price. An “agreed price” cannot be determined until the repairs are completed to the best of reasonable human ability. This is due to parts price changes and additional fees and costs incurred as the result of hidden or unforeseen damages, repair-related activities, etc.

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Recommended vs. required. When it comes to OEM specifications, recommendations and requirements (mandates), the words “recommended” and “required” are one and the same as far as a repairer should be concerned due to the potential liabilities that exist. “Recommended” is vague as it may mean something different to different people. For example, some insurers have chosen to view the word as a mere recommendation, option or suggestion and not a requirement or mandate. My company’s attorney and others familiar with the collision repair industry state emphatically that repairers should view the word “recommended” as no different than a mandate and the term “required.” If not, they could become responsible for the outcome like others have (e.g. John Eagle Collision Center). Imagine standing in front of a judge or jury because a repair you performed resulted in someone suffering a serious injury and they ask, “Why didn’t you heed the manufacturer’s recommendations?” Ask yourself how you might respond, and then ask how it could affect you.

Industry standard. Now here’s a word that really gets me fired up. Who invented this term? The insurance industry. Because they wanted claims people, consumers and repairers to believe that all body shops are the same and offer the same level of service, quality and warranty and therefore accept the same rates and allowances. This becomes even more ludicrous when you shop for auto insurance and each insurer quotes different premiums and rates. So they can offer different rates and we can’t? If you have any industry buzzwords, lingo and jargon you would like to share with me, e-mail me so I can share them in a future column.

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Barrett Smith, AAM, the founder and president of  Auto Damage Experts Inc., which has been providing automotive inspection and expert legal services nationwide since 1997. He can be reached at (813) 657-6705 or [email protected]

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