Take time up front to analyze damage, blueprint correctly

Jan. 1, 2020
Make sure you take pictures of the vehicle before tearing it down. Take them from all four corners of the damaged area, and of the dash and gauges with the key on.

Editor's Note: This article was orginally published March 1, 2012. Some of the information may no longer be relevant, so please use it at your discretion.

A few months ago, I ordered one of those build-it-yourself office desks. I figured, "Hey, I can build anything because I'm a body man." That's usually true. Body men, or ex-body man, in my case, can build or fix anything.

The desk was delivered to my office in three huge, heavy boxes. I opened them and found a maze of parts, thousands of screws, and even more little wooden and steel dowels. It looked like it would be difficult to assemble. I rationalized that when I found the directions, it'd be a snap to put together. After all, I'm a body man.

A few minutes later I found the directions – one page of poor drawings and lots of Japanese or Chinese writing. Because I don't read Chinese or Japanese, the directions were pretty much useless. How was I going to put the desk together?

I managed to assemble the desk, but it took much longer than it should have. Office furniture assembly illustrates how a clear set of directions helps you assemble just about anything, even a wrecked car.

Here's another example to help cement the idea that proper repair planning is important.

Remember last Friday night when you were talking with Mrs. Jones, who was picking up her finished car? The minute you hung up the phone, your tech came to you holding the door handle of her car, mumbling something about forgetting to tell you it was broken when it was taken apart. He can't put it together now, because he wants to go home early and the car isn't going to be done anyway. (You can't get a handle at 4 p.m. on a Friday.) I wonder what Mrs. Jones will think when she shows up, having returned her rental car already. If this sounds too familiar, start blueprinting.

Stick to it

Industry buzz words such as blueprinting and damage analysis have been tossed around often during the past 10 years. All of us are familiar with them and understand what they mean. Most have experimented with the concept at one time but never stuck with it because change is difficult and we have a tendency to do what we've always done, even if it doesn't work the best or isn't the most efficient.

But it's not an option to not change. To survive and have a chance at excellence, you have to be willing and want to change and try new things. You must commit to the process first and stick with it.

Blueprinting is about initiating new practices, processes and behaviors. You can't initiate a program and do it only on occasion. It has to be followed on every single repair to achieve desired results.

Think about how backward the traditional estimating process is. You look at a damaged vehicle, and know it has internal damage, but you don't report it because you can't see it. So you write the obvious, and schedule in the job. Once it comes in, you assign it, and your tech tears it down. After it's disassembled, you report all the supplemental damage, get approvals and order all the additional parts. They're not in stock, so you should be able to get back to work on the car again in a few days.

Meanwhile, the essentially dead vehicle is tying up your productive stall space. Because it can't be moved, you can't bring in other cars to be worked on. Essentially, you've doubled the administrative work involved in the repair and caused the parts supplier to do the same. They also have to make an additional delivery to you that costs time and money. In addition to these issues, the rental bill increases as you do nothing.

Sound like the normal process in your shop? This system is broken and needs a fix fast. The key to solving these cascading problems is to write a complete and accurate estimate upfront. I've heard all the excuses about why we can't do this. Bull. Here's how to get started.

Right from the start

Many of our estimates are written for drivable vehicles. Customers come in with only a few minutes of available time and expect an accurate estimate in less than five minutes. That's not possible. When and if a customer calls inquiring about an estimate, lay the groundwork for the process right away. Explain to him you'll need to look at the vehicle closely to write an accurate damage appraisal. Your assessment will involve minor disassembly and probably 30 to 45 minutes of their time. Your goal is to get a close look at all the damage by lifting the vehicle, and possibly removing some parts for access during the process. Your assessment will be an accurate appraisal, eliminating the potential for delays during the repair.

A few extra minutes up front will save days later on. Use the same logic with walk-in customers. The average customer will be more impressed that you're making such an effort to get it right. You'll likely sell the job on your professional approach alone.

When the car comes in for the assessment, do exactly what you said you'd do. Lift it, remove parts and ask others to look at it with you. Discuss the repairs needed with your employees. Ask one of your techs if clips will break on the cover when it's taken off. If so, write them so they can be ordered with the initial order not the day of promised delivery.

Accurate analysis takes clear and concise communication. You can't blueprint a drivable vehicle, but you can achieve greater accuracy if you make the effort. Some shops won't even write an estimate on a drivable car if they can't tear it down completely. Understand there will be instances when you can't.

Blueprinting pointers

Non-drivable vehicles are a different story. This is where you can blueprint the repair. The following blueprinting pointers will get you started; however, look for formal training for your staff. Your paint supplier should be able to help with this. And don't miss the I-CAR/ABRN webinar on Blueprinting this July. Register at http://www.abrn.com/Blueprinting

First, make sure the vehicle is clean. If it's dirty, prewash it before starting. You can't see minor scratches or other damage that might be caused by the loss if the vehicle is dirty.

Next, take pictures of the vehicle before tear down. Take a grouping of photos of the vehicle from all four corners of the damaged area and the dash and gauges with the key on. Make sure the mileage, fuel levels and dash lights are visible. Later, if you don't remember that check engine light being on before you repaired the car, check the pictures, which also help you remember such details as emblem placement.

Write your appraisal before tear down begins. Write all the visible damage, or at least note it. Once you've noted all the damage, begin a systematic tear down, slowly working on each area piece by piece. All loose bolts and clips should be placed in a baggie and labeled where they came from. I like to keep all the torn-down parts on a cart until the car is done. Sometimes I tape the baggie to the part it corresponds to. You don't have to do this, but the idea is to make sure the parts are identified clearly. If bolts or clips break, add them to the estimate as you do the tear down.

Take apart the vehicle as much as you need to, noting all the hidden damage. Don't forget to add stripes and clear protectors as well.

Once you reach an area that needs repair, involve your techs. Ask for their opinion about what the repair will entail. Don't just ask, "How many hours do you need to fix this?" Ask questions about operations in addition to the obvious, such as, "Will we need to blend this adjacent panel, or will this welded-in panel need any special preparation before painting?" I'll always consider a tech's opinion about labor times, but I always make the final decision about hours on a repair. Most techs are high, with good reason.

The idea of a blueprint is to study the vehicle and cover every conceivable contingency. If you can prove it, you can write it.

Here's an example: A 2010 Toyota Sequoia is hit hard in the front. An estimate written in standard fashion netted a repair cost of $18,000. It's a good estimate, but quite a bit of damage was missed – damage on more-difficult-to-get parts that would have slowed down the repair substantially.

After tear down and blueprinting, the repair figure increased to $26,000. Everything is covered in this number – clips, gaskets, caulking, emblems, etc. All the parts will be ordered at one time, and the repairs won't begin until all parts arrive. The repair will take more than a week to complete.

If this vehicle was in your shop, how long would it take? How many re-inspections would be needed? How long will it take you to collect the A/R on the supplement? Wouldn't it be great to get paid when the car is done? The benefits to blueprinting are almost endless. It's not logical to do it any other way.

There are many schools of thought about the right way to blueprint, but there's not one perfect method. You'll need to experiment and refine the process as you work through each repair. Your process might be a little different than other shops, but the idea is the same. A complete road map for repair will net much better results. The blueprinting done on the Toyota took about 3.5 hours, which saved weeks on the other side.

I wish the people who made the office furniture I bought had spent more time writing directions. It would have saved me a lot of grief. Your customers, techs and insurance partners will appreciate your effort as well.

About the Author

Kevin Mehok

Kevin M Mehok is the CEO of Crashcosts.com and a current board member for several other companies. In his nearly 30 years of experience in the collision industry, he was Operations Director for CARCARE Collision Centers, and Collision Centers of America. He also served as Regional VP for Collision Team of America, and has worked in similar roles with several other Chicago area consolidators, Gerber, (Boyd) and Cars. He can be reached through e mail at: [email protected].

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