Taming the parts dragon

Jan. 1, 2020
Getting all your parts ordered once and getting the job done right starts with the estimate.

In the early 1970s when I was being trained for my first management position (shop foreman), I was told that the No. 1 reason customers gave for being dissatisfied with a collision repair shop was, "I didn't get my car on time." I was also told that the No. 1 reason shops cited for not being able to deliver a vehicle on time was in one way or another related to parts.

Unlike other automotive repair facilities that can stock large numbers of oil filters that fit multiple vehicles, a collision repair facility must order parts specific to the vehicle being repaired.


Also, with parts making up approximately 35 percent or more of sales, they are a significant cost center for the facility, and their efficient management is extremely important to profitability.

In an independent shop that works on a variety of makes and models of vehicles, it becomes even more challenging. Add to that the need to reduce cost and increase throughput; having the right part, for the right vehicle, to the right technician, just on time is, to say the least, challenging.

The estimate

Taming the parts dragon starts with the estimate. The estimate is often referred to as the blueprint for the repair and not only does it correctly direct the technician who will be repairing the vehicle, but it also is extremely important in obtaining the correct, on-time parts needed for the repair.

A computer-generated estimate provides many essential components needed for ordering the correct parts. Depending on your system, most produce an estimate, with each line item clearly listed, and a work order directing technicians and the metal shop and refinish department as to what repairs will be done on the vehicle. Most programs also produce a parts list, which can be faxed directly to the vendor, with a copy placed in the file jacket. Parts lists include the current part number (often retrieved by VIN code), price (which will need to be verified using the vendors in voice), and most importantly the work order for that vehicle.

The file jacket

One of the most important tools used in a collision repair shop for monitoring and managing each repair is the file jacket. This is where all the pertinent information that follows, tracks and helps manage the vehicle as it passes through the repair process is kept. Each shop may have slight variations in how they manage their file jacket, but it is an extremely necessary tool. All of the information that is capped inside this jacket can be, and often is, also stored electronically. Having a hard copy of the jacket, which is also correctly organized, allows the many different persons to easily find and retrieve quickly the information that they need. File jackets are often kept in a wall display where the progress of the repair process can be easily tracked (Fig. 1).

After the estimate has been written, a work order produced and a parts list generated, a hard copy should be placed in the file jacket. Many shops have found it very convenient to make sure that the parts list is always placed in the file jacket as the last document. The parts list is the document most often needed for verification by multiple persons within the shop. The parts person needs it for check in and the technician needs it to check parts against the vehicle. Always having it as the last document in the jacket ensures it can be easily retrieved without needing to rifle through multiple documents in the file.

Ordering (by the numbers)

Depending on the size of your organization, the person ordering the parts could be the estimator, the shop foreman, or a person dedicated to ordering and verifying parts delivery. In larger organizations, parts departments (Fig. 2) – which are dedicated to parts only – can order, track and make sure that the parts arrive on time for the scheduled repair.

One of the most valuable tools for correctly ordering vehicle parts is ordering by the VIN number. The 17-digit VIN code helps verify the correct parts for a specific vehicle. Using this code can help to assure that the correct part is ordered.

Recent developments have allowed service writers to use a relatively small scanner to decode the VIN code correctly. Unfortunately, when manually copying the 17-digit VIN code, mistakes can be easily made either through incorrect copying or keying in of the wrong number. Scanning the barcode VIN, which can be found at the bottom of the windshield on the driver's side (Fig. 3), greatly improves the accuracy of VIN code retrieval. If a bar code scanner is not available, or the windshield is damaged, the VIN number can often be found inside the driver's door (Figs. 4.1 and 4.2).

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Faxing the order

When the parts order list has been generated by the estimating program, it should be printed and faxed directly to your parts delivery vendor (Fig. 5). Faxing the order can eliminate many of the mistakes that can be made when an order is phoned in. The person responsible for ordering parts should make sure that the faxed order was received (generally this is done by vendor verification shortly after receipt) and establishing an estimated time of delivery. Once the faxed order has been received and verified, it should be date/time stamped.

Having a time stamp verifying when the parts were ordered is important for vendor tracking; a second date/time stamp should be added when the parts are delivered. One of the tools needed to judge your parts vendor service is how quickly the parts are delivered. Often labels provided by the vendor may have ordered date/time on them, but not the delivery time.

Although it is tempting to phone in order part numbers, especially for small orders, numbers can be easily misinterpreted over the phone and lead to a wrong delivery.

If multiple vendors are used, the part should still be ordered by fax. It is much easier to verify the date/time of the order and the date/time of delivery.

When multiple jobs are ordered through the same vendor, it's extremely important to make sure that all the parts for each work order are ordered and delivered together. By doing this, they can be easily verified and stored on parts carts for easy movement to the technician (Fig. 6).

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When negotiating with a parts vendor, one of the significant areas of concern is delivery speed. Often vendors will have a daily cut-off time that ensures same or next-day delivery. By having a negotiated cut-off time, body shops can easily anticipate when parts will be delivered and track the vendors on-time delivery speed.

Parts delivery

Parts delivered to your facility should come with a number of services provided by your vendor – a label with the shop's work order number (Fig. 7), along with any other information that your shop may desire. Because each order has been faxed as a single order, these parts can all be grouped on a parts cart together.

Labeling and stocking these parts on available parts carts (Fig 8) should be the responsibility of the vendor. This lesson is easily taken from other industries, such as grocery stores, where certain products are stocked in the store by the vendor of that product, not store employees (Fig 9).

In larger markets, shops provide for evening deliveries by allowing vendors access to their parts area after working hours. This way vendors who sometimes receive their parts late in the day have the option of delivering during the evening hours so that the parts will be available to the shop first thing in the morning. If an outside door is not available to the parts department, or if security issues are a concern, a small lockable outside building (steel yard building) can be placed in the parking lot for evening deliveries.

After the parts have been delivered and stored on their appropriate cart, the invoice for that delivery should be placed in a designated area. If the invoice is not delivered directly to the office, the parts area should be checked regularly so that a timely check in can be made.

Receiving/checking in

After the parts have been received and stocked in the parts area by the vendor, that invoice should be promptly checked. The parts department should verify that the correct part was delivered and that the price generated by the estimate is correct. Although estimating systems are generally quite accurate, price changes can occur and this requires an adjustment upon delivery. If a significant price difference is noted, it should be a red flag to verify that the proper part was delivered. Once the invoice has been verified to ensure all parts for that repair order have arrived, it should be date/time stamped. As mentioned before, this should be the second date/time stamp on the parts order, the first being when it was ordered.

One of the items that is often negotiated when vendors are chosen is how efficient their delivery time is. By tracking each vendor with date/time stamps, accurate assessments can be made regarding the vendor's delivery speed.

If any parts are on backorder, a decision must be made as to whether or not the repair can be started. If the parts on backorder would slow down or stop the repair, a decision should be made as to when the repair should be started. Also, the shop may choose not to day/time stamp this parts order until all backordered items have arrived.

Monitor for freight damage

As the parts are verified following delivery, each part should be closely examined for freight damage. The part should be removed from its container and examined for bends, dents, knicks and other imperfections.

Damaged parts need to be evaluated to determine if the shop will repair the damage or ask the vendor for a new part. If the shop is willing to repair minor damage, (Fig. 10) a photo of the freight damage should be taken and a time estimate for its repair faxed to the vendor. Mark the repair cost on the invoice and repair order.

Returning parts

Although it would be nice to keep returned parts to a minimum, there will always be some parts that must be returned to the vendor. Once a vehicle has been repaired and all the necessary parts used, any remaining parts that have not been used or parts delivered in error should be returned immediately and the invoice adjusted. Invoice reimbursement must be verified so that mistakes or omissions by the vendor are caught early and listed as soon as possible.

The file jacket revisited

After the parts vendor invoice has been checked in, verified and any adjustments made, it should be placed in the file jacket. Remember to place it as the last document in the file jacket for quick and easy retrieval when necessary.

Communications (both ways)

Though many checks and verifications have been done prior to the start of the repair of the vehicle, it is still possible that additional parts or the incorrect part may be with the delivery.

As the repair is to begin, the shop foreman should review the repair with a technician.

One of the common tools used during the repair process so that nothing is missed is a marking device that will not damage or stain the vehicle (Fig. 11).

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Although this may seem unnecessary when a quality technician is performing the repairs, it has shown to be very helpful in completing all of the required procedures in a timely fashion. This simple communication technique can increase productivity significantly.

After the job has been reviewed with the technician, if any additional parts become necessary, a supplemental estimate can be prepared and the parts ordered as outlined above. New parts should be checked against the vehicle as the final verification that the parts are correct.

Also, any parts or clips that are damaged or destroyed during the teardown process must be ordered immediately so that they can arrive in time for the vehicle's rear assembly. It can be a very costly and frustrating dilemma if a vehicle cannot be completed because a few minor clips are unavailable.

It's not over till it's over

The parts process is not complete until the vehicle has been delivered. At this point, all of the invoices should have been verified, any price adjustments made, backorder and freight damage adjustments completed and any broken or damaged parts needed for assembly obtained and installed.

When the vehicle has been delivered, the file jacket can be closed out.

The process of getting the right part, at the right time, to the right technician can be challenging. Although processes and standard operating procedures can be put in place that will help speed up repairs, due diligence must be taken to monitor each repair and assure that the vehicle is repaired on time as promised.