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Photo-Appraisals Gain Support

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On April 14, Pennsylvania joined 45 other states in allowing the use of photos or videos in the vehicle appraisal process with the signing of House Bill 1638. The passing of the bill in Pennsylvania, a state with traditionally very strict appraisal rules, has brought with it heated debate over whether or not photo appraisals are beneficial to the industry.

“If your dentist told you that you were due for a check up, but all you had to do was take a photo of the inside of your mouth, would you do it?” asks Ross Dibono, executive director of the Pennsylvania Trade Guild. The obvious answer is no, but with photo appraisals allowed in most states, collision shops may be seeing these type of appraisals more frequently.

However, the actual use of photos remains to be seen. According to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction Study, although Gen Y is the generation most likely to submit photos for an appraisal, the overall take rate is very low. Ronnie Pack, owner of Pack Brothers Collision, said that in the two years that North Carolina has allowed the use of photo appraisals, he’s seen at the most 10, and hasn’t seen any in the past six months. Consumers that are using these types of appraisals, though, have reported lower cycle times, according to the study.

The Importance of Pennsylvania

Dibono thinks the outcome of the bill may have been different if Pennsylvania had been one of the first states approached about passing a photo appraisal bill, rather than one of the last.

“Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has a comprehensive appraisers act. I don’t think there’s a better legislation than what we had. What happened was they waited for us until the end,” says Dibano. “If they used us at the beginning, we would have referred to this and I don’t think it would have passed. They went to states that didn’t have any laws in place and then they came back to Pennsylvania and said, ‘All of these other states are doing it.’”

Some argue that Pennsylvania was late to the game.

“From 1972 until today, we’ve had huge advancements in technology and the ability to facilitate the claims process through technology just makes sense,” Pennsylvania state representative Mike Tobash says. “With the signing of this bill, collision repair shops will be able to start and possibly finish claims through photographs. The process will speed up with technology.”

Not all shop operators agree, though, and despite the prevalence of these laws in many states, many still question the validity of photo-based appraisals.

The Opposition

Steve Behrndt, director of the Pennsylvania Collision Trade Guild, says that the passing of HB1638 could create situations where the photograph does not show the full extent of a collision and important safety items are missed, which ultimately hurts the consumer. Dibono agrees and says cars that are 5–7 years old are of greatest concern, especially because their owners may not be as concerned with how the vehicles look as they once were.

“We’re worried about the driver that gets in a collision and sees a small ding. They do a photo appraisal and get an estimate of $400–500 dollars, take the money and don’t take their vehicle to a shop,” says Dibono. “There could actually be $3,500 worth of damage on that car that the customer is losing money on and putting them at serious risk for another accident. That probably wouldn’t happen if the car had been brought to a body shop.”

Another concern is the time spent dealing with insurance companies over inadequate photo appraisals.

The Supporters

Tobash is optimistic and thinks that the time savings will benefit everyone: shops, insurers and the consumer.

“Say I was parked in a grocery store and a shopping cart hit my car. All I have to do now is snap a photo of the damage and send to an adjuster. The ability to save time by doing this will be beneficial to everyone,” Tobash explains. “Imagine all the claims that come in after a long weekend or after a hailstorm. This can really help consumers, and it will help shops get work done as quickly as possible.”

How to Prepare

Although Pack says that he hasn’t seen many photo appraisals, there’s a chance they may begin to catch on. His advice is to always put the customers first and make sure they have all of the facts. Dibono agrees with that sentiment and says the people that he is most worried about are the ones that cash out their claims and don’t make it into the body shops. Those customers are missing out on claims, and more importantly, being put in possible danger.

“The consumer needs to be educated. Repair shops that have newsletters should take advantage of that. The newsletter should include information on how important it is to always take vehicles to a qualified repair shop. The information should stress that they have the option to opt out of a photo appraisal,” says Dibono.

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