Fail-Proof Your Estimating Process | Write to Perfection
By: Steven J. Feltovich, Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, Manager of Business Consulting Services
May 2014

What is your standard operating procedure for estimating collision damage?

If a customer comes in for an estimate, what is your procedure; are your estimators tied to a desktop computer system in an office? Our experience working with shops proves, if you don’t have the vehicle right in front of you, your estimating accuracy is impacted greatly. It’s highly recommended that estimators stand next to a vehicle and generate an accurate damage assessment and order parts via mobile technology. The process must be structured with the end-result in mind, and the goal should be to achieve 100% accuracy. We urge you to consider how you can reduce waste by decreasing the time spent going from the vehicle to the office and entering hand written notes into your estimating system.
The long awaited transformation of our industry’s obsolete estimating techniques is well underway in many of the progressive collision repair shops in the US and Canada. The rapid movement toward a more efficient process for damage assessment and repair planning is being accelerated by customers’ demands and the manufacturing complexity of today’s vehicles.
If the damaged area of the vehicle is not completely disassembled during the damage assessment phase then the rate of accuracy greatly diminishes. This is exactly where production delays and errors begin. We produce an estimate, that in the best case scenario represents 50-60% accuracy (it is in fact only an “estimate”). By sticking to these conventional methods of visible damage estimating, we directly affect our cycle time in a negative way.
Many shops will argue that their process is to disassemble the vehicle before completing their estimate. However, in most cases, when we observe the actual procedures many give it a half-hearted attempt by only removing a few of the damaged pieces before finishing the estimate. There is still an industry-wide aversion to setting up the process for 100% damage analysis accuracy. But, the shops that are laser-focused in this area are achieving lower cycle times, higher customer satisfaction rates, and less stressful work environments. With these proven advantages, is there any reason to delay implementing a more effective method for precise damage analysis? As a business consultant, I always hear 101 excuses, but I have never been given one good reason why it could not be done right!

A Novel Concept: It Must Be Right Every Time & On Time.

Here is a simple rule to follow for damage analysis accuracy: “It must right every time and on time.” There cannot be any exceptions; because you are not being paid to guess or write multiple supplements on each job. The digital age consumer is informed, educated, and impatient; they want collision repairers to have reliable processes that minimize their vehicle’s downtime. Imagine that! That’s just what your insurance partners are demanding. Speed, these days, is ever more of the essence−and it's an incredibly powerful sales tool. When we focus on improving the processes the results automatically improve. The right process will deliver the right results in every area of the business.
I would argue this fact with any repairer: if you are obsessed with optimizing your damage analysis procedures, you will absolutely reduce your cycle times, have happier insurance relationships, and gain more control of your company’s destiny.
Let’s get started with some ideas for building the bullet-proof damage analysis process.
  1. It all begins with a cleaned vehicle in order see all of the damage as well as any up-sell opportunities.
  2. The vehicle is then placed into a very well tooled damage analysis bay.
  3. Meticulous disassembling of the damaged vehicle; all blend panels are de-trimmed at this time.
  4. The accurate damage assessment includes 100% of the parts, labor, paint and material needed to restore the vehicle.
  5. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) repair requirements are obtained and are integrated into the repair plan/blueprint. This must done to ensure the vehicle’s ‘crashworthiness’ is restored to OEM specifications. The pulse and timing for air bag deployment is dependent on the OEM specifications being adhered to.
  6. Any factory recall bulletins posted on the vehicle are noted in the repair plan.
  7. The final repair plan/damage assessment is audited using a formal audit checklist. This checklist should include the commonly overlooked items which are frequently missed during damage assessment activities.

He’s making a List. Checking it twice

This type of checklist prompts awareness in the following key areas:
  • Primary Damage
  • Secondary Damage
  • Mechanical Damage
  • Inertia Damage
  • Refinish Operations
  • Sublet Items
  • Additional Materials
  • Up-Sell Opportunities
The checklist also ensures that you are compensated for the work being performed−not a bad idea to get paid for work that was done! It does work, if you work at it: track it, document it, and then get paid for it!
You cannot deliver a finished vehicle without making all the repairs and procuring all of the parts necessary to complete the job. The question is: do you have the right processes in place in order to produce the finished vehicle in the least amount of time, every time? Or, is it an atmosphere of fire drills and managed chaos on every job, every day, every week? It is your responsibility as a professional to develop your processes for optimum output capabilities. If you need help, there are many industry consultants that align themselves with this thinking, and they can assist you in implementing an efficient process for damage analysis and repair planning.
Lasting impressions are made with customers and insurers when processes deliver consistent results in a professional and predictable way.
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Steven J. Feltovich, Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, Manager of Business Consulting Services with 35 years of automotive industry experience and is a consultant to top industry executives at collision centers in North and Central America, as well as the United Kingdom. He has developed the Estimating Solutions for Profit and EcoLean™ Suite of Training curriculum which has been improving Collision Repair Environments since 2001. He can be reached at (412) 916-9235 or at