Documentation Equals Evidence

Documentation Equals Evidence

Why Document The Repair File?

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.

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Product & Equipment Procedures – These procedures are largely overlooked by most repairers, however, the are critical to properly documenting the repair file. Many resistance spot welders provide data for each weld performed as well as the weld count. This information supports the type and quality of weld fastening method performed, and should support the OEM procedure in the repair file. Consider seam sealer, there are a wide variety of seam sealers in use today. When the OEM repair procedure requires a specific type of seam sealer, then having that seam sealer’s product usage information along with the product invoice is evidence that you purchased and used the required product, and that you researched the proper usage of the product.

Invoices would seem to be an obvious piece of the repair file but we find them missing. One of the reasons is simply because they are overlooked. Invoices are your proof of the parts, products and 3rd party services purchased for the repair of a vehicle. You may be think that I can’t get an invoice for all my paint products. You are right. The first step in building a bulletproof repair file is to recognize what belongs in the file. These are the components of a complete repair file but just having them in a file does not make it bulletproof. Each repair file component must be accurate and complete, and each and every repair file must be consistently well documented in order for them to be considered as good evidence. For instance, your estimate should accurately itemize all the repairs, repair procedures, repair processes, parts, and charges for the repair, even those items you do for no compensation.

Quality Control is an area where most shops haven’t even thought about taking photos. But consider this; what proof do you have that you properly dressed the backside of the welds, or that you correctly applied the appropriate corrosion protection to the repaired areas? Can you prove in a court of law that your technician actually performed the repairs as required by the OEM Repair Procedures? Did your technician perform destructive weld testing to make sure the welder is set appropriately for the materials being joined? How does the bill payer, vehicle owner or anyone reviewing the file know that? Taking photos of the required processes and repair procedures is another way of gathering the critical evidence you need to protect your shop.

Consider This

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. Think about how your health is documented when visiting doctors, having procedures or having a stay in a hospital. Medical records have to be very well documented because the person’s life, which is represented in that file, is at stake.  A direct comparison can be made between that medical file and your repair file. Your customers lives are at stake every time they drive their repaired vehicle as well. If you do not take the time to confirm and document that all the proper repair methods and products were used to complete the repair, then you are wagering that a repair will not fail in the event of another accident. Is that a gamble you are willing or can afford to make?

Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

When asked, “Why do you take photos of collision damage?” many will answer, “because the insurance company requires it.” That may be one aspect of “why,” but do you even consider if your shop should require photos for your own documentation and protection? Forget about insurance company requirements for a moment and think about what photos your business should require. Pull up an old customer pay file and review all of the documentation in it. Your photos, invoices, OEM repair procedures, product procedures, equipment procedures, quality control photos, estimate and so forth. Now, put yourself in your customer’s position and ask yourself, “Would I pay that bill based on what I see in the file?” Be honest with yourself. Does your file documentation support 100% of the charges? If it doesn’t, and that is more than likely the case, what do you need to include or improve in order to make sure your documentation and your photos support 100% of the charges? We are focusing this conversation on photos, which are one of the most important aspects of file documentation, for several reasons. There is no doubt that your photos are currently used in large part, to justify payment, but they should do much more. Recent litigation proves that your file documentation plays a huge role in protecting the shop, owner(s) and all of the shop personnel individually involved in the repair process from potential lawsuits, and your photos are a huge part of proper file documentation. Think of your photos as evidence, should you ever be called into court over a repair issue. Also, think of your photos as receipts for every line item on your estimate/repair plan. Taking damage photos is the only consistent stage of collision photography that is commonly practiced in the collision repair industry. Most shops do not even consider taking photos of the OEM procedures as they are being performed. Having a copy of a procedure in your repair file verifies that you took the time to research and determine the correct way to repair the vehicle, however, it does not verify you actually performed it. What about quality control? Do you have a quality control process? If you do, are you taking photos to verify the repair quality? Taking photos should not be an afterthought. You should have a well thought out, planned process for taking photos that should be followed every time. 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? Because a good photographer knows how to properly frame the subject of the photo, correct for inadequate lighting and properly adjust the focus on the subject so the photo speaks for itself. The same fundamental skills are required for collision photography.  Documenting your repair file with good photos does not happen by accident.

Look at this photo of a field of flowers. Where is your attention drawn in this photo?

Most say the yellow flower in the center of the photo draws their attention. Why do we focus on that particular flower and not the one with the red highlights? After all it is the most unique flower in the photo. The answer is that the photographer properly framed the subject, adjusted the focus so that the subject is crisp and clear, and made sure that the lighting was correct. By following these steps, the subject of the photo is very clear and the viewers are not left to try to figure out what the photographer was trying to show them. Learning, practicing and continually using these same skills will make the subjects in the photos you take very evident to the viewer and will answer questions, not create them.

Take the Collision Photography Course

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…

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

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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.”…

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…