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Photo Estimating: No Disassembly Required

Consumers love taking photos of their cars with their smart devices, but they’re shortchanging themselves, so get to educating them!

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Jim Rossman is a repair specialist with Wheels Inc.

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“But everyone is doing it, Mom!”

It may soon come to that in the insurance world. In the guise of empowering the consumer, lots of dollars are being saved or lost, depending on your perspective.

Just take some photos and send in your claim. Sounds easy enough. It’s quick. No hassle. Clean. That has some merit if you’re just replacing a mirror or a hubcap on a 2004 Buick Century. There are a bunch of hidden issues here.

Consumer

So, you’ve taken the pictures of your damage and have sent them in. You wait patiently for a response. Ding! You receive a text message. Your claim is being reviewed and they’ll reach out to you soon. Ding! We’ve reviewed your damage and are sending you a check right away. (Should it say, “Thanks for doing our job for us”?).

Rewind Moment…

Ahhh, the 50s. You pulled up to the gas station and a couple of guys came out and filled your tank, cleaned the windshield, checked your oil, etc. Later on came self-serve, and then the self-checkout lanes. Self-banking. Self-car wash. Selfies. Are consumers really that interested in doing everything themselves? Seems as though it’s true. But, I digress.

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So, the consumer makes the claim and uploads pictures. At that point, they may receive a check and never have the vehicle fixed. What? There are lots of payouts going down these days, and now more than ever with the new-fangled claims systems on our phones.

If your vehicle has sustained damage and you do the claim yourself and then accept a check and have the vehicle repaired, that’s one thing. But to take a payout that comes from some pictures that you, the consumer (a novice in assessing collision), took, is almost criminal. There is certainly more damage than what the photos revealed, but if you’re willing to take the payout, shame on you. You just gave away money almost every time! No inspection or disassembly required. Thank you and have a nice day. Cha-ching!

The Shop

A customer comes in and they have a check. Wait, not an estimate? Nope, a check. They may not tell you that right away, though, hoping you can do it for less than what the amount of the check is. We have to put on our detective caps right away anymore. (Cue the hot lights and the wood chair with green vinyl upholstery).

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There is a growing epidemic of people doing their own claims and receiving checks before they ever go to the shop. I recently did an estimate for a young lady who was in this Photo Estimating, and when I hopped in her Honda to grab some information, I noticed several other estimates from area shops on the passenger seat. Of course, I didn’t look at them. OK, maybe the two on top, but that’s not the point. She was out “SHOPPING.” Why? Because she already had a check, which I confirmed, and she told me, “I want to get the best price.” I see nothing wrong with trying to save money and that line of thinking, but why so many shops? Did none of them put their foot down or educate this young lady about how the process works? I told her I would work directly off of the estimate that was written by her insurance company and, if we found additional damages, we would contact them right away about how to handle it.

I do not fault the consumer in the way they’re approaching this. Insurers are confusing them by inserting them into an area of the equation where they do not belong.

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So, how much time did she save by going to multiple shops for quotes, thinking she could save money? In the end, if the vehicle is repaired, there will most likely be a supplement, making the repair bill exceed the check the consumer received anyway.

Insurance

Virtual supplements are the only part of the technology advancement I’ve personally experienced that I believe could have a positive impact overall. Being in a shop that did not have any DRP relationships, supplements could take awhile, especially for certain companies, and it was frustrating for the clients and us. We decided to put our toe in the “dark pool” and try the virtual supplement (FaceTime, basically) and see how it went. As long as you had a strong connection to your phone or tablet, it went pretty well actually. It wasn’t perfect, but it certainly beat waiting four to five days for an adjuster to come out. And that’s no exaggeration – that was a quick response time!

A person showed up on the screen after I entered some information, and we were off and running looking at the vehicle in REAL TIME. I pointed out the damage, we came to an agreement and the check was mailed directly to the shop. We ordered the parts (OK, maybe we already did) and then updated the client on the findings and whether the delivery date changed. Oh no, I forgot about the ______! No problem, just call back and start another supplement, unless you do it very quickly. It’s a system that’s in the works, and they’re dialing it in constantly, as they say. The days of having an adjuster come out to the shop may be short-lived. There are caveats that go along with this, of course, but still, knocking down the response time and making the metal move was so much better.

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I honestly do welcome change in most aspects of life, and technology is one of them. But I’m a bit old-fashioned in some areas. One of them is leaving the writing of estimates to the shop or an adjuster, not the consumer.

Summary

So, where does that leave us? We have people out there who are OK with doing things for themselves all day long and it seems to go fine. The problem is that they’re short-changing themselves in this instance. What if, along the way, the person reviewing the photos or taking the photos doesn’t realize that the vehicle is unsafe to drive or should not be driven because all of the coolant leaked out due to the drain cock being clipped off? Pictures may not show that, and the customer could easily overlook mentioning that if they don’t know what they’re looking for.

It looks like it’s time to start reaching out to our legislators and letting them know that there appears to be a conflict of interest here, similar to when an insurance company owned a chain of body shops. Sound familiar? This is a very gray area, and educating our customer base is one area where we can directly have an impact and address this dilemma. This is not going away on its own; we as an industry are going to have to push for this to change or be regulated somehow.

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