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Tearing down vehicles and fully blueprinting the repair process up front has become a common practice for collision repair facilities. But repairers commonly overlook blueprinting the structural repair process, which is critical to ensure full and quality repairs, says Ken Boylan, training and specifications manager for Chief Automotive Technologies.

FenderBender talked to Boylan about the importance of blueprinting structural repairs, how to do it and how it will improve your operation.

There is tremendous value in blueprinting structural repairs. Doing so identifies everything that’s wrong with vehicles up front. Many shops still try to figure out what is wrong with vehicles simply based on experience. But technicians can’t look at vehicles today the same way they did 10 years ago. High strength materials have changed the crashability of vehicles, and where the damage load path is projected through the vehicle. For example, on front, rear and even side hits, damages now get deflected around the passenger compartment rather than through it.

It requires a well-developed repair plan to identify and fix structural repairs on new model vehicles. Most shops strive to make good repairs, but having a well-thought-out repair plan is where many falter. Creating a full repair plan is kind of like preparing for a football game. If you don’t have a game plan, you’re probably going to get beat. Shops need to have some kind of plan of attack to be successful on repair jobs.

Making structural repairs should be a thought-out process. When you’re making pulls on a vehicle’s frame, you’re either removing the damage or you’re putting more damage into it. There’s a good chance you could be putting more damage into the car if you’re not aware of the steps, what your end product should be, and how to achieve the proper outcome.

Properly blueprinting repairs from a structural perspective is a combination of five main processes: understanding collision theory, conducting a visual inspection, measuring the vehicle, analyzing the damages, and developing the blueprint.

First, shops need to understand collision theory—how a vehicle structurally reacts in a collision, where to expect damages, where the strength of the vehicle is, and where the alloyed steels are located. There are certain things that are predictable in a collision when it comes to load paths through vehicles. That’s critical in order to analyze the overall structure of the vehicle because no other parts—hoods, fenders, doors and deck lids—will fit unless the lower structure of the vehicle is correct.

Then there is a visual inspection process, which has dramatically changed in recent years. In the past, technicians could look closely at the gaps on a vehicle and predict the type of damage that exists. For example, a vehicle’s door would drop and drag on the ground after a front-end hit. But with high strength steels, you might be able to open and close a vehicle’s doors just fine after a 30-mhp hit. Damage travels so much differently through modern vehicles.

The next step is to measure the vehicle correctly. Shops should measure every vehicle up front; that is the only way to blueprint structural damages. That’s because you just can’t see damages in vehicles today. There is no way to identify three millimeters of misalignment with the naked eye. You won’t know if there is any damage until the vehicle is measured.

Measuring vehicles does sometimes require removing certain panels. On front-end hits, for example, it’s critical to remove the vehicle’s shields, fender, bumper, grill and brackets so you can access the point that needs to be measured. Understanding every component that needs to be removed in order to measure the vehicle is critical for a full structural blueprint because those are all line items that should be included on the estimate.

Measuring every vehicle is not a major undertaking. The measuring systems in the market today are so accurate, and technicians don’t necessarily have to disassemble the entire vehicle to measure it correctly. It’s worth every second of the time it takes to measure vehicles. Otherwise, you’re just guessing what damages really exist.

The next step is to analyze the vehicle’s damage based on your measurements. That allows you to categorize any misalignment that exists. Identifying and correctly describing each type of damage  is extremely important—like a short rail out of level, a slay or a diamond twist. To do so, your shop’s metal technicians and estimators need to clearly understand what the electronic printout tells them after the vehicle is measured. That’s a matter of obtaining proper training.

Using an electronic measuring system is also a great sales tool when speaking with customers. It gains a huge amount of credibility with customers when you can say you will measure their car, identify down to the millimeter where damages exist, and you’ll restore the car back to the manufacturer’s recommended specifications. You can show customers an electronic printout of the damages before and after making the repair, which puts all the information in black and white.

The final step is developing the actual repair blueprint. That means identifying every step required to remove the damage from the vehicle, and basing the labor hours on an estimate of the number of processes necessary for the repair. That is extremely valuable. That is the only way shops can justify the number of hours they want to charge for on an estimate, and be able to effectively negotiate with insurers.

Blueprinting structural repairs creates an additional step in the front end of the repair process, but it’s worth the time and effort. Blueprinting reduces supplements, ensures a quality repair, and improves cycle time. All of those benefits help strengthen relationships with customers and insurers.

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