By John Yoswick
John Shoemaker says too often shop estimates “create more questions than answers.”
In a presentation before industry events began being canceled earlier this year, Shoemaker showed an example of an estimate on a 2015 Audi Q7 that listed the exterior color only as “gray.”
“But when you go to PaintScratch.com and look up that car, there are three grays shown,” Shoemaker, a business development manager for BASF, said.
The painter clearly can determine which is correct when the vehicle reaches the paint shop, Shoemaker said, but given that the three grays vary by whether they are pearl effect or metallic, is the estimate written properly?
“When I look those [grays] up in our mixing system, there are three totally different costs and processes to replicate that color,” Shoemaker said. “If you just list ‘gray,’ are you getting paid correctly? If you have insurers who say they want you to blend within the panel, is that an acceptable practice with a color that has pearl in it? No. But if you have just ‘gray’ listed, you’ve created a question as to whether or not that can be done.”
Similarly, he said, a single line on an estimate for a “pre-repair scan” with a labor time is more likely to get push-back from the bill-payer than it would if more detail were included.
“It doesn’t tell what you did or what you found,” Shoemaker said. “What do they want to know? They want to know what scan tool you used. That tells them how accurate the scan is. They want to know what you found.”
He showed a sample estimate with this information spelled out, with labor time for diagnosing each trouble code found (see photo)
“The fault, then a remedy, and then the calibration, all itemized separately on there so that, first, you get paid properly, and second, you validated that not only did you know about that code, but you did something to fix it,” Shoemaker said.
Offer more detail on other common estimate line items, he recommends.
Listing “restore corrosion protection” doesn’t spell out what you did and what products were used.
“It’s just a generic line item, with no justification, no supporting documentation,” he said.
He said shops too often fail to itemize all the clips, fasteners and other parts like wire connectors used in repairs.
“Everything you buy has a part number,” Shoemaker said. “I teach people all the time: If it goes on the car and leaves with the car, it’s a part. That’s what people forget. They think, ‘They’re shop supplies.’ Shop supplies are towels or stuff you use to clean the floor. Parts are anything that goes on the car, that leaves with the car.”
In another panel discussion at the event, two speakers also focused on what it takes to get paid for necessary procedures, such as complex calibration of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Sean Guthrie, like Shoemaker, said it comes down to good documentation.
“You have to photograph the car in the bay, set up with the targets. Sometimes you can photograph the scan tool during the different steps,” Guthrie, director of operations for Car Crafters Collision Centers in Albuquerque, N.M., said. “But if you properly document what the OEM tells you to do and you did, you will get paid. I have yet to be turned down. Sometimes it takes a couple steps up the ladder, but if you have the proper documentation, right from Audi, right from Honda, it’s really hard for them to deny it. And when you ask them to deny it in writing, you get the go-ahead pretty quickly.”
Panelist Mark Allen, collision and equipment manager for Audi of America, said shops need to consider more than just the financial ramifications of proper calibrations.
“Morally, if you don’t get paid for it, do you still do it,” Allen asked rhetorically. “Even if you don’t get paid, you still do it so you can go to sleep at night because you know the customer is not going to die.”
Allen was asked why OEM repair procedures in some position statements are identified as “recommendations” rather than “requirements.”
“Nothing that lawyers, guns and money won’t fix,” Allen quipped. “We have to deal with lawyers’ interpretations of the law. If you come to my class, I will tell you: You have to do this. But in a statement in public, we have to say ‘suggest.’”
Shop owner Guthrie said he’s found a way to explain automaker “recommendations” to the company’s staff.
“I tell my guys: If you recommend to your kid not to do something wrong, and he still does it, he still gets the same punishment even though you ‘recommended it’ rather than telling him, ‘You can’t do that,’ right? It’s just your verbiage is a little softer up front, empowering them to make the right decision,” Guthrie said. “We always tell our guys: Just because [the OEM] empowered you to make a decision doesn’t really mean you have a decision to make. You already know the answer, which is to follow what the automaker says.”
Allen said he believes the key to the issue is getting the OEM procedures linked into the estimating systems.
“Have the estimating systems query the OEM repair procedures, and boom, it’s there. Put it in there,” Allen urged the estimating system providers.
Aside from push-back from insurers related to the costs of ADAS calibrations, Guthrie said those procedures sometimes also lead to concerns from customers.
“They’ll wonder why we had to drive the car as much as we did, or they’ll think the vehicle doesn’t act like it did before,” Guthrie said.
Sometimes it’s an issue of them simply not remembering how the ADAS worked in their vehicle after driving a rental vehicle with different ADAS for a while, he said.
“We’ll say, ‘Let’s go take it for a drive. How do you think it’s supposed to work versus our research into how we think it’s supposed to work.’”
He said that whether the systems are operating as expected can sometimes be subjective: Someone may expect the vehicle to stay perfectly centered in the lane, while another driver won’t, or some drivers may want to be warned just ahead of a vehicle entering their blind spot.
“At times, we’ve gone back to the dealership and had the dealership explain to the customer exactly how it’s supposed to work,” Guthrie said. “People forget from day to day, especially if it’s a newer car they’ve only had a short time before it was in our shop to get fixed.” •