Don’t Ignore Your Photos

Don’t Ignore Your Photos

     Every time we post about our Collision Photography course, we hear responses such as, “how hard can it be to take a photo of damage?” and, “the issue isn’t with me, the insurance company just doesn’t know what they’re looking at!” From our experience coaching and training estimators all over the country, we can say that 99 percent of the time, the issue is with you. While there may be some truth in saying that the insurance company doesn’t know what they are looking at, there is more truth in saying that your photos do not show the damage as well as they could, and should.

     Almost everyone in society today has access to a camera; for most, it is on their cell phone. Almost anyone can grab their cell phone, point it at something, and press the button to take a photo. The cameras in most cell phones automatically adjust to provide the best picture in most situations. However, vehicle damage and precise documentation is not something that the majority of people take pictures of, so the cameras don’t automatically provide optimal photos in many of those circumstances. The automatic features of the cameras can detract from the image and hide the damage that you are trying to capture.

     Just because you have a camera on your cell phone and use it every day to take quick pictures, that doesn’t make you a good photographer. The same is true for a hammer or a paint gun. Having the ability to swing a hammer or squeeze the trigger on a paint gun does not make you a body or refinish technician.

How do your photos affect your bottom-line?

     The most important evidence you can provide to support your damage assessment is quality photos of the damage to the vehicle and the repair processes necessary to restore it. As we said earlier, the majority of photos submitted to the insurance companies do not support the estimate. You are not alone in this struggle. The appraisers and adjusters working for the bill payers also fail to document their damage assessments with good, quality photos most of the time. Not only the taking of quality photos but the interpretation of your photos.

     Don’t leave your photos open to interpretation by someone who has never performed a collision repair! If you leave your evidence (photos) open to interpretation by someone with less knowledge than you, then you get what you get.

     Every line entry on your estimate must be supported with evidence of the damage or repair process, and most of the time, that can be accomplished with photos. In addition to your photos, there are other items of evidence that may be required, such as wheel alignment specs, parts invoices, structural specs, scanning documents, etc. However, your photos are the most critical form of documentation you can provide to obtain payment.

Test Your Photo Quality

     Think of your photos as receipts for the line items on your estimate. Would you feel comfortable paying the amount of your assessment based on your receipts? Try this exercise to test you and your team’s ability to produce accurate and thorough photo evidence. If there is more than one damage assessor in your shop, you can make this a team exercise by reviewing each file as a group. Another option is to have each assessor review a file from one of their peers. Choose a completed repair file that is more than one month old. The older, the better. Review the file in the following order;

1. Review the photos before you look at anything else. You want to get an idea of what you expect to see on the estimate and any additional documentation that should be present.

2. Review any notes or facts of loss provided by you, your team, or the bill payer.

3. Review the estimate, line-by-line, beginning at the first line entry.

a. What would you expect to see in a photo, based on each line item?

b. What additional documentation do you expect to be in the file?

4. Note what you find and review with the team.

Why does this work?

We do not instinctively realize that what we see in person is not what is accurately captured in a photo just by pointing and clicking a camera. When you are the one taking the photo, your brain has already processed this 3D image, and when you glance at the photo you just took, your brain fills in any gaps that may be missing, leading you to think that you captured a photo that includes all the damage you saw in person. After you have completed the exercise, follow this link to learn the skill of Collision Photography!

Redefining Damage Assessment for Safe Repairs

Redefining Damage Assessment for Safe Repairs

          Why are we redefining damage assessment? The automobile has seen many advancements since the mass production of the Model T. Hydraulic brakes, laminated windshields, seat belts, air bags and many convenience improvements just to name a few. However, the advancements we have experienced since 2010 dwarf the previous 50 or more years combined. Up until the mid-2000’s most collision and body repair work was done using opinion guided by experience. We were looking to achieve a good fit and finish. The vehicle had to look good and drive straight, that was pretty much it. Today’s vehicles still require a good fit and finish, however a far more important aspect must be considered, SAFETY!


          Safety has become the top priority of automobile manufacturers. Computer technology has made it possible to build in AI (artificial intelligence), providing many new safety features such as, blind spot detection, forward assist braking and cross traffic monitoring. Automobile manufacturer advertising constantly shows us how these technologies help us and make us safer. What the average consumer and even collision repairers may not know is that the safety technology extends to pedestrians, exterior body panels and the vehicle’s structure.

Examples of Fender Perches

GM’s Active Hood Technology

So, now the ”fit and finish” standard has become the “function, fit and finish” standard.


Air bag timing, the flow of collision energy, and the reduction of bodily injury are key functions of not only the unibody and frame, but all aspects of the vehicle’s construction. The supplemental restraint system continues to evolve to include active head restraints and smarter deployment of the seat belts and air bags. Front exterior panels are no longer fixed firmly to the vehicle’s structure, but placed on perches, allowing collision forces created from striking a pedestrian, to be absorbed by the vehicle, reducing the severity of injury to the pedestrian.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are developed with the express purpose of saving lives. Forward Automatic Braking Assist and Blind spot Detection are just two systems that protect the occupants of the vehicle, and systems such as Rear Automatic Braking prevent the driver from hitting any object behind them, especially people. According to recently published data from General Motors, these three systems alone have accounted for an average 51% reduction in vehicle crashes, with the Rear Automatic Braking system accounting for an 81% reduction in backing accidents!   


Most people look at the paint on an automobile as a preference and statement about themselves. As repairers, we are expected to know the function of all top coats. It’s not about how much orange peel or trash that sets in the finish, but the corrosion protection that the primers and top coats provide. As we move to more mobile vehicle autonomy, automobile top coats play a role in the communication to sensors on the roadway, buildings and other vehicles. We are living through a technological revolution and it is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees. 

Think about this, the farrier had a secure job for centuries until the industrial revolution began and the horseless carriage gained acceptance. At that time, many of them had to learn to become mechanics or find other ways to make a living. The same is true now! Learn to repair with a safety mindset or move on.

Your Estimating Skills Must Evolve with Vehicle Technology

File documentation is evidence, so you need to treat it that way! Research is a requirement for properly repairing vehicles today, it is not optional. Let’s get this straight, estimates are invoices…

Don’t Ignore Your Photos

We do not instinctively realize that what we see in person is not what is accurately captured in a photo just by pointing and clicking a camera. When you are the one taking the photo, your brain has already processed this 3D image, and when you glance at the photo you just took, your brain fills in any gaps that may be missing, leading you to think that you captured a photo that includes all the damage you saw in person.

Estimator Quick Tip: Using Images To Support Scanning

Documenting the presence of damage to Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) components with images verifies the need for scanning and calibration….

Estimating Quick Tip: Taking Supplement Images

Estimating Quick Tip: Taking Supplemental Images How much time do you spend on the phone with bill payers trying to justify your supplement estimates? This video shows you a quick tip on how to arrange the parts included on your supplement to reduce or remove...

Poor Images Cost You Money, and Believe Me, Your Images Are Poor

Collision Photography is not about writing estimates from photos, rather it is the skill of documenting damage, repair processes and repair quality with images. Taking good images that show the subject is not as simple as “point and shoot.”…

Learn to perform damage assessments with a safety mindset.

Choose your path!

Learn to perform damage assessments with a safety mindset.

Choose your path!

Pre and Post Measuring Collision Damage

Pre and Post Measuring Collision Damage

     I am sure you have seen the commercials where the latest model vehicle will parallel park, brake, keep you in the correct lane or even put your boat in the water all by itself. While all the new technology is great, the collision industry is missing an important correlation between Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and structural alignment. In fact, we can confidently say the majority of collision repairers are missing about 40% of structural misalignment. To put it another way, approximately 4 out of 10 vehicles you write estimates on have structural misalignment and there are no visual indicators such as, misaligned panel gaps.

Why panel gap movement has changed?

     Two words, pedestrian safety! Have you noticed that on most vehicles the fenders do not bolt directly to the upper fender apron rail? The fenders are bolted to perches that are weak and bend easily. This is not a design flaw, but an effort to reduce severity of injuries to a pedestrian if struck, allowing the collison energy to be absorbed by the vehicle and not the pedestrian .

     These pedestrian safety advancements coupled with new structural substrates such as, advanced steels and aluminum, allow for structural movement without any changes in the panel gaps. So, what does this mean for our ability to use traditional visual indicators to determine the need for a structural/frame repair? The reality is, panel gaps are no longer  reliable to use as the determining factor regarding whether a vehicle needs to be measured for structural misalignment.

     Think about it, the reason we depended on panel gaps as an indicator of structural movement in the past was because of the time and expertise it required to set up and measure the vehicle. And, if there was not any structural movement found, the insurance company would be resistant to pay you for the measurement, so it was not typically done.

ADAS adds complexity

     In the past, structural alignment had almost everything to do with panels fitting properly and the vehicle tracking straight down the road. However with today’s vehicles, ADAS adds a very important layer to the need for ensuring the structure is correct. The frame and unibody must be returned to the designed structural dimensions in order for the ADAS to function properly. In order for the ADAS sensors to track the position of the vehicle in space and real-time, the thrust angle must be true to the structural centerline. This creates the need to pre-measure the vehicle to determine if the structure has moved in length, width or heighth.

3D Measurements of Blind Spot Detection sensors on quarter panel.

(Images courtesy The Matrix Wand®)

     A common example of this need for structural accuracy is the proper positioning of the blind spot monitoring sensors.  These sensors are typically located behind the rear bumper on the lower part of the quarter panel on the left and right sides of the vehicle. Have you ever repaired this area and sent the vehicle for calibration only to learn that it cannot be calibrated? You have to bring the vehicle back to your shop and perform more repairs and then send it back out for another calibration attempt. This is due to either the sensor bracket, or mounting area, or both, not being restored to their proper position. There is a way to know for certain that the sensor bracket is in the correct position before you even put the vehicle in the booth for paint, and that is by performing a comparative 3D measurement.
Why post measure?

There are many reasons to “post” measure a vehicle and here are our top two:

  1. Confirmation that the vehicle’s structure is repaired to the safety and functionality intended in the design. We can no longer “eye ball” things and assume everything is right when we can measure and know for certain. Following OEM procedures is necessary to restore the vehicle, however, simply having the repair procedure in the file is not enough.

In addition to the OEM procedure documentation, you must take photos of the vehicle during the different stages of repair to provide proof that you actually followed those repair procedures. In addition, when the installation method calls for welding, you must create test weld coupons to ensure the welder is functioning properly. Including photos of the test weld coupons before and after their destructive testing is another excellent way to provide proof of adherence to the manufacturer’s requirements. One area where almost  everyone is missing the mark is providing post repair measurements to show absolute proof  that the vehicle has been restored to OEM specifications.


  1. Ensuring that all ADAS sensors, cameras, radar or lidar units and their mounting brackets are returned to their proper locations during the repair is extremely important. Did you know that if the radar or lidar unit of the forward assist braking or adaptive cruise control systems is off by just 3mm, at 300 feet in front of the vehicle, the beam is off by almost 18 feet! At 600 feet it is double that amount. That same 3mm difference on one of the cameras of the blind spot warning system could allow the driver to change lanes into another vehicle because the system didn’t see it correctly. A 3mm difference, which is about the thickness of 3 dimes is imperceptible to the naked eye, but will cause the systems to function improperly. If the vehicle owner is relying on the systems to perform as they did prior to the repair, this could result in another collision event.    

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Structure vs. Frame

Structure vs. Frame


     As we provide training to collision repairers across the USA and Canada, we find there is a considerable gap in understanding how to write structural repair. Estimators have been convinced that a structural repair is different than a frame repair. We have also seen structural repairs written at the body repair labor rate.  When asked why they write that way, we always get this answer, “the insurance company said that’s how to write it.” Let’s break this down so everyone can understand it.

What is a frame?

     It depends on the vehicles construction. Most passenger vehicles today (except for some large SUV’s and pickups) are unibody construction. In a unibody vehicle, the frame components, floor pan, and chassis components are built together as a single structure. In this type of vehicle construction, the unibody structure is the frame. Some large SUV’s and light passenger trucks are constructed with a unibody structure that is attached to a separate frame. This type of construction is called “body over frame”.

     In unibody vehicle construction, the suspension and drivetrain components are attached to the unibody, in “body over frame” construction, the suspension and drivetrain components are attached to the frame, not the unibody.


Full Frame

Writing to repair the structure.

The key to bidding repairs to the unibody or frame is not in defining if the structure is a frame; it is, instead, defining the type of repair needed. There are two types of repairs to a unibody structure or frame.

  1. Non-Structural Movement – When the unibody or frame has minor collision damage, and there is no movement of the structural component it is not a “frame repair,” because the reason for the repair is to restore the corrosion protection and the cosmetic appearance. This type of repair is no different than any other body repair. However, don’t just lump these repair into one line. Bid each component individually as you would the fender and door.
  2. Structural Movement – When a structural or frame component has moved from its original location, then a frame realignment and repair is required. To properly repair this type of damage, the technician must first measure the vehicle. Once the extent of movement has been determined, the vehicle needs to be set it up with clamps or fixtures to hold the rest of the vehicle in place while the structural frame component is repaired and returned to its original position.

This type of specialized work should be considered at the higher frame rate; as it requires expensive equipment, expertise, training, and years of practice to perform. The structure is the most crucial part of the automobile protecting the occupants.

Not only for protection

The vehicle’s structure does much more than just protecting the occupants in today’s vehicles. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) use the vehicle’s structure to determine the many calculations required to ensure the collision avoidance ADAS technologies are correct.

Have you ever wondered how the forward braking assist, intelligent cruise control or blind-spot detection ADAS know where the vehicle is in real-time and space when traveling at various speeds? The wheel alignment informs the steering angle sensor calibration, and the steering angle sensor is one of the variables used to determine where the vehicle is relative to other objects around it. The four-wheel alignment, especially the thrust angle, is the mechanical measurement that informs the electrical components.

What do you do?

Measuring structural movement is not just about repairing it anymore. It includes confirming the location of ADAS sensors in 3-Dimensional space. Have you sent a vehicle for ADAS sensor calibration only to have it sent back because it cannot be calibrated? Having to bring the vehicle back to your shop to perform the additional repairs required to properly position the sensors costs time, which in turn costs you money. If you do not take the time necessary to confirm that the structure is repaired correctly and the ADAS sensors are in the correct position, it can cost someone their quality of life or even their life. The day has come that we must pre and post measure the vehicle’s structure to identify damage for repair and confirm the repair were completed correctly.

Watch a video on 3-D measuring

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Your Estimating Skills Must Evolve with Vehicle Technology

Your Estimating Skills Must Evolve with Vehicle Technology

Your Estimating Skills Must Evolve with Vehicle Technology

Vehicle technology has evolved rapidly in recent years. From simple air conditioning, power windows and power door locks being listed as options in the 1980’s, to onboard computers that correct driver input and perform tasks for us such as, braking and steering adjustments, the pace of vehicle safety advancements is mind boggling.

However, our estimating skills have not kept pace with these technological advancements. Granted, there have been advancements in estimating software, and the vehicle manufacturers are producing body repair manuals which take the majority of opinion out of the estimating and repair processes, but for the most part, our estimating skills have remained in the 1980’s.

Opinion vs. Fact

Historically, vehicle repairs have been performed, for the most part, by technicians based on their opinions, guided by experience. For example, a quarter panel replacement was performed pretty much the same way no matter which manufacturer built the vehicle. The type of weld was determined by the shop’s equipment, available resources and technician skill level.

However, with the advancements in vehicle structural design and materials, opinions guided by experience are no longer an acceptable way to repair vehicles. Most manufacturers have developed vehicle specific repair procedures with the goal of ensuring that their customers vehicles are repaired correctly and safely.


Even the aiming of headlights has had to evolve. Halogen headlights, which once were the industry standard, are becoming rare in passenger vehicles. They are being replaced by headlights with more safety technology being built into them. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) now tests headlight performance. New technology equates to new repair and estimating methods. If you are not researching the vehicle specific OEM repair procedures then, you are not aiming headlights properly.

Training Is The key

Today, repairing mechanical and collision damage is far too complicated for any one person to know every repair procedure for every make and model of vehicle on the road.  It is impossible for an estimator or technician to remember how each vehicle repair should be performed to ensure proper and safe repairs.

In addition, the materials, products and equipment necessary to perform these required repair methods have advanced as well. So now, instead of relying on opinion or outdated repair methods, each repair must be considered on an individual basis. Thorough research must be performed to ensure your damage assessment properly and completely reflects the work it takes to return the vehicle to the safety and functionality the OEM intended.

This new world of automotive technology and collision repair requires an estimating staff that understands the technical aspect of repairs, how to perform thorough research and recognize what documentation should be included in the repair file, and how to communicate effectively with the customers, the technicians and the bill payers.

File documentation is evidence, so you need to treat it that way! Research is a requirement for properly repairing vehicles today, it is not optional. Let’s get this straight, estimates are invoices.

This creates many new challenges for the estimating operation, and management to ensure the staff has the knowledge and skills to perform. Will you continue to write walk-in estimates or should you start scheduling estimate appointments to allow your estimators the time they need to write complete, accurate estimates? Do you need to create a dedicated estimating bay? What equipment does your shop need to accurately and thoroughly assess damage?

So, you may be thinking, how can I do all of this? The answer is, take it one step at a time. You have to adapt or your business will not survive. Recent history provides us with many examples of large companies that were once common household names but are no longer major players because they did not evolve and adapt. Sears and Toys-R-Us are examples. You too must learn to evolve and adapt as an organization. You must plan for, and implement change continuously.


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