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.

Documentation Equals Evidence

Building a bulletproof repair file requires forethought, planning and time. There is no easy solution as each shop operates a bit differently. Many shops have never even thought about their front office operations as doing anything more than greeting customers, writing estimates and collecting payments. In fact, the office operation controls their entire business…

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….

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.”…

Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

Consider this scenario; your daughter is getting married, would you (a) hire a wedding photographer, or (b) ask all of your guest to take lots of photos on their smart phones and send them to the happy couple. Of course, you would hire a wedding photographer. Why?…

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...

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

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.” Almost every person in a body shop has a camera after all, the iPhone is the most popular camera in the world. However, this does not make each person a photographer any more than placing a hammer in someone’s hand makes them a body technician.

Your Photos Affect Your Bottom-line

You may be thinking to yourself, no, my images have nothing to do with whether I make money or not. But, continue reading and you will see that your images can, and do, affect your bottom line in a variety of ways. First of all, your images are an important part of your overall file documentation. They are every bit as important as the estimate of damages, OEM procedures, parts invoices, sublet invoices, tow bill, quality control checklist etc.

You should really get into the habit of thinking about your images as “receipts” for the line items you bid on your estimates. As you are reviewing your estimate and the images you have taken, ask yourself, “do the images I am including with the file clearly show the part or repair operation I am including on my estimate?” If they do, move on to the next line, if they don’t, then return to the vehicle and take additional images to make sure you take one that does. You might be thinking, well, if I do that, I will be taking too many images and the bill payer does not want that. Often times, you can capture multiple estimate line items with just one image. Also, you should only include the very best image of the item or repair process. Uploading multiple images of the same thing can work against you. Keep in mind, your images should answer questions, not create them.

What Poor Photos Cost You

The first cost is actual money. Not completely documenting damages with images always cost you in lost labor and/or parts purchases. If you can see it then you can get an image of it so, why don’t you? An insurance payment is not all you stand to lose. What about liability? The liability that you may face if someone is hurt or killed in an accident where a repair may have played a part. The ability to show complete visual evidence of the damages, repair processes and quality control may prevent a court date.

What about time? Poor images cost body shops billions of dollars in wasted time. Just follow an estimating blog on social media and you quickly find out that most estimators spend a great deal of their time negotiating with claims adjusters. Completely documenting all the damage with images greatly increases the percentage of covered repairs and reduces time negotiating with insurance companies. Better customer service as estimators do not have to bring the customer into those negotiations. What about the time technicians spend advising estimators what they missed on the estimate? It is the job of the estimator to understand how the vehicle is repaired, what methods are used in repairing the vehicle and how to properly apply OEM and industry guidelines to the repair estimate and plan.

Photography Skills

Taking good quality images that accurately and completely capture all of the damage, required repair processes and finished quality of the repair work, requires knowledge of your camera’s settings and practice to achieve. It is not as simple as pointing your device at the vehicle and pressing the shutter button. While todays cameras and smartphones have done a fantastic job of simplifying the complexities of the older cameras, knowledge of proper lighting, achieving proper focus and knowing how to frame the image correctly, are all important skills to learn and practice.

We don’t want to give you the impression that we are advocates for any one device to take your images. Each device has its pros and cons that should be weighed and considered before making the final decision. Ultimately, it is up to the individual management at the shop to determine what is best for that particular shop. What we do advocate for, is getting to know the device you are using very well. Learn how to use all of the features of the device. ISO or exposure settings, the flash settings, knowing how to focus where you need it to focus, the zoom or telephoto feature, the close-up or macro feature etc.  Once you know and understand all of the settings of the device you are using and when to use them, you will be well on your way to taking higher quality images.

Consider the Lighting Source

On any given day, an estimator may take images in many lighting sources such as; outside in the sun, inside under fluorescent lighting and within the various compartments of the vehicle that are dark. Using the same settings in each situation will not produce the same outcome. For instance, many times, the built-in flash can work against you when you are trying to show the severity of a dent in a panel. The flash can actually “fill in” some of the shadows that you need to show. Think about this, if your daughter was getting married would you hire a photographer or just have everyone at the wedding share the images they took? The reason we hire a photographer is because of their skill. The skill of knowing how to frame the subject of the photo and adjusting to the conditions is necessary for the estimators in the same way.

Look at the image in Photo 1, the camera automatically chooses a focal point (subject) and, because of the bright sunlight behind the image, adjusts the ISO, reducing the amount of light into the camera, causing a large shadow to hide the damage. The subject of the image is very under exposed, while the surrounding area is correctly exposed. In Photo 2, the focal point was adjusted by the photographer to increase the amount of light and remove the large shadow. The subject of the image is exposed correctly, while the surrounding areas are overexposed.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Consider Reflections

Consider using reflections from the surrounding area to “bring out” the damage. If you are taking your images outside, consider using the painted parking lot lines, or light poles, telephone poles, sign posts or other types of objects that are commonly known to be straight lines, to show the damage. If you are inside, reflections of the horizontal and vertical lines of a block wall, or the reflection of an overhead light fixture can be used. You should avoid using objects that are not symmetrical in your images, such as trees, bushes, people etc. These reflections can also work against you.

Size of a golf ball

Size of a softball

What Kind of Camera

We are often asked, what kind of camera should we use in collision photography? Smartphone, Tablets and digital cameras all have the settings to take great images. A person’s skill at taking images is not defined by the camera. Stevie Ray Vaughn could have made a $20 guitar sing the blues. This is really a question of what works best for your shop. Do your estimators take all the images? Do you have CSR’s, estimators, blue printers, technicians and managers taking images throughout the process? What is your budget? What will actually last in my shop before I have to replace it? Consider all of these questions and realize that smartphones, tablets and digital cameras are designed to take the skill out of taking images so everyone can take decent images of their family, dogs or food (we all have that friend on Instagram). Because of this, all of these devices attempt to guess at the image takers intended subject. This is the reason Photo 1 has such a dark shadow over the intended subject area. We recommend that no matter which camera you use, each person using it should understand the basic settings and how to adjust them to get the best images possible.

Show Me the Money

By reducing the time spent negotiating with insurance companies, and allowing the technicians to perform the repairs instead of having to stop to educate the estimator, many labor hours are saved and can be applied to earning money rather than collecting it. Shops that capture all of the repairs and processes required to complete the job with complete photo documentation see an increase of dollars captured per estimate. We are not saying that taking better photos magically earns you more money, however, taking complete and strategic image documentation of the damage and repairs to a vehicle is essential to being a successful and efficient estimator. Continuous learning is necessary to effective estimating. Remember, the estimate becomes the invoice, so write invoices.

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