Are your estimators equipped to write a good estimate?

Oct. 30, 2017
Many shop estimators don’t know more than the basic functions of their system. Others try to write an estimate squinting at a small screen requiring them to flip between windows to complete the estimate.

The collision industry moved away from using manuals and hand writing estimates years ago, so I am sure those reading this have an estimating system that allows documentation of repairs needed on a damaged vehicle. While an estimating system is valuable, it is only part of what an estimator needs to write a good estimate. Estimators need to be trained on the system’s capabilities. 

I am surprised at how many shops I work with have estimators who don’t know more than the basic functions of their system. Others are trying to write an estimate squinting at a small screen requiring them to flip between windows to complete the estimate.

I see estimators with seven to eight windows open at one time, moving between each one to check parts, paint codes and repair procedures. Their world would be much more efficient if they had dual 17-inch or larger monitors. Most estimators spend their day looking at computer screens. Eliminating the need to squint at one small monitor would be a welcomed improvement.

Do your estimators have access to websites like,, and I was at a customer’s shop reviewing estimating tips with them and found we could not access many valuable websites. As I researched the problem I found that the dealership firewall was the culprit.

Most outside websites were blocked reducing the estimator’s effectiveness and ability to properly document the repairs needed. It took a discussion with their IT manager explaining the value of the websites the estimators needed to perform their job before I could gain access.

Some other items I feel help an estimator be more effective are detailed below:

• I see many estimators using their phones with an estimating system app to take photos, which works in most cases. They should also have a quality digital camera to allow them to take close macro photos for intricate pieces.

• The blend ruler serves several purposes. First, it confirms the need to blend into adjacent panels where necessary and it can also define the area of repair for technicians when you transfer the guide marks to the damaged panel.

• A pinstripe tape chart will help the estimator identify the stripe required at the time of the estimate as well as assisting them to determine if it is an aftermarket stripe or factory-installed.

• Using a tire tread depth gauge during the estimating process will assist with better calculations when required and determine if more than one tire will need to be replaced due to all-wheel drive specifications.

• The dent viewer board or shadow board will help an estimator describe the shape and depth of a dent clearer through the camera lens (this is also where a quality digital camera comes into play) by creating a waffle effect on the damaged panel.

• Like the dent view board, a tape measure helps define a dent in a damaged panel. I like the inch-wide large numbered versions the best. When the estimator holds the tape measure against the damaged panel as they take a photo it eliminates the argument about the size of the dent. This is especially helpful when there is a long scrape along the side of a panel.

• A scan tool also is very important. Scanning a vehicle at the time of estimate is important for several reasons. First, you cannot accurately assess the extent of damage without checking the vehicle systems. Internal electrical components are very expensive and must be identified up front. Also, by knowing which systems are affected, you can determine what kind of recalibration will be required once repairs are complete. When shops write a drive-in estimate, they should scan the vehicle for safety related codes before allowing the customer to leave with their vehicle. Not only is this an opportunity to “grab-the-keys” but it verifies if a vehicle is safe for the customer to drive.

Generally, technicians and painters in a shop all have the latest equipment specified by OEMs for certification qualification. Estimators, on the other hand, often are working on older systems, which is odd because nothing can really happen on a repair without it being properly documented.

Upgrading the systems the estimators use and giving them the tools mentioned above could not only reduce your supplement rate, but also improve their quality of life.

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About the Author

John Shoemaker

John Shoemaker is a business development manager for BASF North America Automotive Refinish Division and the former owner of JSE Consulting. He began his career in the automotive repair industry in 1973. He has been a technician, vehicle maintenance manager and management system analyst while serving in the U.S. Air Force. In the civilian sector he has managed several dealership collision centers, was a dealership service director and was a consultant to management system providers as an implementation specialist. John has completed I-CAR training and holds ASE certifications in estimating and repair. Connect with Shoemaker on LinkedIn.

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