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Best Practices for Collision Repair Photography

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Digital photos are an integral component of the repair process. Shops use them to document damage and repairs, insurers use them to assess and approve repair recommendations, and customers like to see them to monitor progress throughout the job. Plus, insurers and customers commonly have questions following the completion of repairs, and shops heavily rely on digital photos to intelligently discuss or defend various post-repair inquiries.

“The importance of photo documentation is huge,” says Chris Andreoli, corporate claims process director for Progressive Insurance. “It makes everyone’s jobs much easier when it comes time to answering questions when shops diligently document all damages with quality photos.”

But photo documentation is only as good as the images.

“As an insurer, I want to be able to clearly see the damage. This is about memorializing and documenting the damages that exist on a car, and what the shop did to repair it,” Andreoli says. “Since insurance companies can’t be at the shop at all times, it really helps everyone involved to remain on the same page. Quality photos should demonstrate the damages and prove why the estimate was written in a certain way.”

Fortunately, you don’t need high-level photography equipment or experience to get it right. You just need to know exactly what to photograph, and use a few basic imaging techniques along the way. Andreoli, who assisted in the development of the Collision Industry Conference’s (CIC) best practices for photo documentation, offers several simple photo tips to add to your standard operating procedures (SOPs).

What to Photograph

Tip #1: Capture the corners. Take initial images, called “establishing shots,” from all four corners of the vehicle as soon as it comes to your facility. That allows you to document the condition of the entire vehicle prerepair, and where the damages exist in relation to the rest of the car. It’s best to take those photos from a distance of about seven feet in order to include the entire vehicle in the image.

Tip #2: Capture the license plate and VIN. Make sure to illustrate the vehicle’s license plate in those “establishing shots,” to show which vehicle is the subject. Many insurance companies want a photograph of the VIN as well in the event that a fraud issue arises.

Tip #3: Capture all collision-related damage. Capture at least one photo from a distance to illustrate the location of damages in relation to the rest of the vehicle. Then take additional detail shots by zooming in more closely on the specific area of damage.

Tip #4: Capture all unrelated damage. Take photographs of every imperfection you can find on the vehicle—even dents, dings and scratches—that are unrelated to the collision or claim filed. That allows shops to protect themselves against claims or liabilities that certain damages happened while the vehicle was in their care. Make sure to label the photo as “unrelated damage.”

Tip #5: Photograph the dash. Capture all possible information from the vehicle’s dash, including warning lights, odometer and gas gauge so that you can document the vehicle’s statistics when you received it.

Some customers make claims that the shop caused a new warning light to appear, or that unnecessary amounts of gas were wasted during the test drive. These dash images help shops defend themselves against those claims.

Tip #6: Photograph damaged parts. Every damaged part listed in your estimate for repair or replacement should be visible in at least one photo. Each part doesn’t always need its own photo, but it should be visible somewhere. For example, it will be clearly visible whether a headlight is smashed in your establishing shots. It’s not necessary to take a photo of the headlight component individually. But if there are additional damaged parts deeper inside the vehicle, each of those components should have a separate photo taken.

Make a habit of running through your estimate to ensure each item listed is visible somewhere in one of the photos taken.

Techniques

Tip #7: Write the estimate first. With the exception of your establishing shots, don’t take any pictures until after the estimate has been written. You don’t know exactly what needs to be photographed until you know the extent of the damage and required repairs. Waiting until the estimate is written allows you to more efficiently capture things such as detrimming doors for blending or other necessary remove-and-install processes without forgetting anything after the fact.

Tip #8: Capture photos in the estimate sequence. Capture and file photos in the same sequence as they’re listed on the estimate. That helps insurance representatives assess and verify the information more efficiently because they’re able to analyze the estimate step-by-step and refer to the correlating images along the way.

Tip #9: Capture damage photos head-on. When you zero-in to capture a specific area of damage, take the photo from a head-on perspective. That prevents the photo from looking distorted due to light reflections on the body of the vehicle. You may need to kneel on the ground to obtain the proper angle. When photographing crush zones on the vehicle, stand directly above the impact area and shoot the photo at a 90-degree angle in relation to the ground. That allows you to illustrate the depth of impact, and the distance that a component has been crushed in.

Tip #10: Include a date stamp. Including a date on every photo allows shops to prove the time and date when the photo was taken. If there are concerns over whether additional damage occurred before or after the vehicle was at the shop, the date stamp could be used to make that determination. That feature is typically part of the meta data on most digital cameras so shops can easily add the information to their electronic photos. 

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