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Tips for Writing Accurate Estimates

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No matter the type of accident, the first step in the collision repair procedure is writing an estimate— it’s used by both insurance companies and technicians throughout the repair, making it an essential tool in the process. 

Writing estimates, while one of the most important parts of the repair process, can be tedious. President and owner of Collision Advice, Mike Anderson, says writing accurate estimates comes down to your level of dedication to three things: training, time, and tools. 

Bud Center, manager of automotive technical research, and Scott VanHulle, manager of repairability technical support and OEM technical relations at I-CAR, say one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself is to know your database inside and out. Whatever platform you use—CCC, Audatex, or anything else—understanding exactly how it operates is paramount in order to avoid incorrect assumptions that may be made during the estimating process.

FenderBender spoke with these industry professionals to learn more tips that will help your shop write more accurate estimates, saving time and ensuring safe repairs of all of your customers’ vehicles. 

As told to Maraya King 

Take a time out for training. 

Writing estimates is an acquired skill that takes dedication and training. At Collision Advice, we offer estimate training so shops can know their estimators are performing at the highest possible level. Giving your people the proper tools is only half the battle; they need adequate time to learn and even troubleshoot their equipment before they can begin to write a thorough estimate. 

Allocating time for estimators, and even technicians, to train could help your shop write better estimates and offer even better service. 

Study to perfection.

The cornerstone of training is studying. Giving your people the proper tools and training sessions are important, but your technicians also need to take the time to absorb the information. 

Studying can take many forms, such as going through OEM repair procedures. Even if your technician comes across a repair they have done dozens of times, looking up the OEM repair procedure can be a great help, especially at the rate things change. 

Time is money. 

At Collision Advice, we believe it could take anywhere from one to three hours to write a proper estimate. The key to writing an accurate estimate is time. If your people don’t have enough time to write up a full estimate, that’s where mistakes get made. 

Training and tools are important pieces of the puzzle, but unless you have proper time to employ all that you’ve learned, it can go to waste. 

Shift your perspective. 

At Collision Advice, we strongly believe when writing an estimate that reaching a financial benchmark should not be your goal. Your goal should be to write for the safest and most accurate repair. 

Writing for the safety of your customers, rather than the safety of your bottom line, will produce better results, better customer service, and overall peace of mind for everyone involved. 

Develop a process.

We try to emphasize the importance of developing a process. It doesn’t matter if your process is different from my process, as long as you take your time and stick to the same set of steps each time.  

Document as often as you can. 

Documentation assures that you haven’t missed any steps and is especially important during the estimating process, because it is among the only information insurers have to go on. 

Know your codes.

We recommend estimators study diagnostic trouble codes. Even though estimators won’t be fixing the vehicles directly, by knowing the codes and even asking technicians about them, they will be able to write more thorough estimates the first time around. 

Old dogs need new tricks. 

One of the biggest excuses we hear is, “I’ve done it this way for a long time,” but just because one process worked 10 years ago, it doesn’t mean it still does today. 

That’s why at I-CAR, we stress the importance of being adaptable. You need to be willing to evolve your own processes alongside the changing landscape of the industry, or else you could be missing things. The first step in accurately fixing a vehicle is diagnosing it, and relying on outdated diagnostic methods is a surefire way to unknowingly overlook important steps. 

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