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.
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.
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?