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Implementing an X-ray Estimating Process

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According to Mark Mueller, senior manager of business solutions at PPG Refinish, 50 percent of the average shop’s business has very little margin for error; the smallest of snags in the process can result in a significant drag on cycle time performance. To help drive down cycle time on light repairs (those jobs under 15 hours), PPG developed what it calls X-ray estimating. The technique is completed on vehicles that can be returned to the road while waiting for parts to be acquired. Mueller recently spoke with FenderBender about the technique and the performance gains it can produce.


How does this approach differ from conventional estimating and X-ray repair planning?

X-ray repair planning is a preproduction process that helps to identify all of the collision damage to a vehicle so repairs can proceed without interruption. This approach is one of the best ways to reduce repair cycle time and increase hours-per-day production. The best way to differentiate between X-ray repair planning and X-ray estimating is that with an X-ray estimate, the vehicle is qualified for a special type of estimate where the vehicle can be returned to the road while parts are acquired, and in some cases, paint operations are completed. That process is completed by using a combination of information gathered by an administrator over the phone or by a customer using their smartphone to send a picture of the damage.

When you look at the percentage of vehicles where that’s possible or practical, we’re not talking about a significant percentage of the estimates. But what ends up happening with those X-ray estimates is that they fall into two types of repairs. One would be a repair that could be completed very rapidly, where the customer could wait for the repair to be completed. It would be the type of estimate where all the damage will be repaired with replacement parts, and the panels would be prepainted, and we are certain that the X-ray estimate identified 100 percent of everything needed for the repair.

The other type of X-ray estimate would be a more conventional repair, where it accelerates smaller repairs significantly. What you could have is a repair where there’s some damage on the vehicle and a high potential for hidden damage. The hidden damage element is removed during the X-ray estimating process, so when the car gets to the shop, we’re just dealing with smaller repairs involving two or three panels that would allow those repairs to be done within 24 hours. In those cases, the paint work would be done at the shop with the car there.

In essence, what we’re trying to do is take those 15-hour-and-under jobs that have light damage but high potential for hidden damage, and remove preventable delays. Instead of those vehicles spending days waiting for parts for that hidden damage, the shop can work on them more continuously and quickly return the vehicle to the customer.


What kind of an impact can X-ray estimating make in a repair business? What kind of performance gains do shops that have successfully implemented this see?

I have a gentleman in Canada who has customers who will travel for hours to his repair shop because he performs X-ray estimates. In many cases, it saves them multiple trips to the repair shop. If they have a lighter repair, for example, and they come in for the X-ray estimate, when they come back for repairs, they can wait for the repairs and then go home. It’s saving them at least a round trip.

Plus with the cycle times, we’re seeing people take these lighter repairs that could end up spending days in the shop and doing them in hours. They would turn that into a zero-day repair, which is a huge benefit to their cycle time. From a cycle time standpoint, we’ve found that people perform pretty well on repairs that are 20–30 hours, but there isn’t enough margin for error on the smaller repairs. So if it’s a 10- or 12-hour repair and hidden damage creates a surprise on the parts and they’re out two days, there isn’t enough time to recover on that repair.  Once you get larger than 25 hours, usually you have a little bit more margin for error and an ability to recover if you miss something.

What we’re finding is that of those jobs, roughly 10 percent of the average shop’s work would qualify for this type of X-ray estimating technique. But when you look at the average shop’s work mix, 50 percent of the shop’s average work mix is under 20 hours. Of that 50 percent, those repairs average 10 hours in size. That usually represents the largest part of a shop’s opportunity for improvement and this approach directly impacts those cars. If you figure, it’s 20 percent of the business that could benefit from this estimating approach.


Can you describe the process and the different steps involved or some best practices?

I would say the key to this is having really good administrative steps up front, whether you received the assignment and now you’re calling the customer or the customer calls in asking for an appointment. It’s about having well-trained people that can take the call and start identifying those types of repairs early on that could qualify for this technique.

Then, it’s about having the ability to manage their schedule from an estimating standpoint so they have the time with the customer to do a complete X-ray estimate. Once you have the customer there and the vehicle is qualified, you have to make sure you have the available technician to work in concert with that estimator. Usually the biggest concern we get from technicians is about pay. They say, we’re going to take the car apart, put it back together and then take it apart again? Their tendency is to look at the repair in isolation and if you remind them how much time they spend dealing with additional damage estimates and interruptions during the repair associated with a visual damage estimate, they lose much more than it takes them to do a proper X-ray estimate.

There’s a sales aspect, a communication aspect, and a removal of risk aspect from the shop’s standpoint. If you’re going to do a so-called speed repair, you’re prepainting parts, you’re going to have a DRP arrangement for the customer or you might ask that customer to put a deposit down. Some shops have taken the approach where they will have the customer pay for that estimate up front, while other shops use a fee that’s reimbursed when the repair is completed. Administratively, the initial steps are the biggest component. 


What are important considerations to keep in mind during implementation?

One of the things we are rigid about when we talk about implementing this approach is that you have to be a master at X-ray repair planning before you go on to X-ray estimating. People often think this is really easy, but quite honestly, it’s more complicated than X-ray repair planning to pull off. What ends up happening is that shops don’t have a properly equipped designated area, they haven’t properly trained their technicians, and their technology isn’t properly structured in their estimating area. The resulting process is implemented and executed poorly, which ends up inconveniencing the customer and delivering a poor experience. You’re not going to want to do this until you’re very well practiced, and you can successfully complete a few pilot vehicles flawlessly using the X-ray estimating approach.


What is involved in the administrative management end?

In general, what the estimator is going to do is ask some specific questions about the accident. There’s almost a qualification tree that they go through. They’ll ask basic questions about the damage, the area of impact, how fast the vehicle was going, if the vehicle was parked, if airbags were activated, and how many people were in the car.

What we’re trying to avoid is setting incorrect expectations. Many times, people will communicate that their vehicle damage is fairly insignificant. If they can, it’s helpful if the customer can back it up with pictures.


How can you market this effectively to consumers and insurers?

We’ve had customers upload videos to their websites to help explain the process. We’ve had them get visual point-of-sale displays to talk about the delays that happen because of the additional damage estimate and how this process will accurately identify the damage. I’ve had shops use a flip chart that they can walk customers through and show examples of vehicles where the damage doesn’t look too significant, but has hidden damage when the panels are taken off. They’ll use those illustrations to promote the benefits.

Some shops are even guaranteeing the price they write during an X-ray estimate. That gives the customer confidence in the overall repair.

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