At this point in history, I am confident the collision repair industry knows that file documentation is important, and I am equally confident that it does not fully understand why. When asked, “Why do you document the repair file,” most shop owners reply, “to get paid.” While that is a very good answer, it is not the only reason, and possibly not even the most important one. How does documentation help you get paid? The short answer is, because your file documentation is evidence. It is evidence of the specific vehicle involved in the accident. Evidence of all the damage as a result of the accident. Evidence of the parts and labor necessary to restore the vehicle to the safety and functionality the OEM intended. Evidence of the repair procedures and all of the products you used to properly repair the vehicle. Evidence that the repairs you performed were done correctly and thoroughly. Evidence that you followed all of the OEM required repair processes during the repair.
Let’s start reviewing all the file documentation (evidence) you should be assembling in every repair file.
The Estimate – The estimate becomes your invoice. It should be a complete and accurate itemized list of all components that were damaged during the accident, all parts and repair processes associated with the damaged components, repair times, accurate part prices, and so much more. The estimate should also document the specific vehicle being repaired. This is crucial, as the vehicle’s insurance coverage applies to a specific vehicle.
Photos – Outside of the estimate, photos are the most common form of repair file documentation that most shops consistently add to their repair file. The power of photo documentation is vastly misunderstood by collision repairers.
OEM Repair Procedures – I did not write OEM position statements for this reason: Position Statements are usually “general” statements that are not specific to the exact vehicle you are repairing, even though some OEM’s have added more “specific” language in some of their more recent statements. For example, in a recent Subaru position statement on Pre- and Post- Repair Scanning of Collision Vehicles, the OEM states that “For Subaru vehicles from model year 2004 and forward involved in a collision, Subaru collision repair procedure requires that pre-repair scanning be performed.” While position statements have their place, they are not the best form of file documentation for a couple of reasons. First, not all OEM’s release them so they are an inconsistent form of documentation, and second, most insurers cite the un-specific nature of the language most are written with as a reason to resist payment based only on the statement. Most OEM’s have vehicle specific body repair manuals for most of their vehicles, so the vehicle specific repair procedures are the best form of documentation, when available.
Scanning – While our society was paying attention to the newest smartphone or home automation innovation, we have lost sight of the massive advancements in vehicle technology. The 2018 Ford F-150 has over 150 million lines of computer code. Compare that to NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover at just over 5 million lines. Do you think NASA runs computer diagnostics on the Rover’s computer systems? Collision repairers must pre-scan vehicles to understand what affect the collision event had on components that cannot be seen to ensure the repairs are properly planned. Likewise, a post scan is crucial to confirm that all systems are functioning as intended., after the repairs have been completed. The documentation created during these scanning and calibration processes should be as common in your repair file as your estimate.
Structural Measuring – Advancements in automobile technology are not limited to the ADAS, electrical systems and occupant information/entertainment features. The vehicle’s structural design and materials used to build that structure have seen giant leaps in technology. Aluminum is probably the most recognized advancement, but did you know that pedestrian safety is a large factor in how structural damage is diagnosed. In the past structural misalignment could be seen in the panel gaps, and this change started around 2010. We recommend that shops pre-measure the vehicle during the estimating process, and post measure upon completion of structural repairs. This documentation provides evidence that the structure is restored correctly and should confirm that all of the ADAS components are in their correct position. This is very critical part of assuring that all of the post-repair calibrations are going to work. Imagine the credibility you gain with your customers when you can provide them with proof that their vehicle’s structure is restored to the way the OEM designed.