Estimating
4 min read

Best Practices for Capturing and Documenting Vehicle Damage in Collision Repair

Written by
Kirk Carlisle
Published on
October 5, 2023

In the world of collision repair, precision and thoroughness are paramount. Accurate vehicle damage assessment ensures that repairs are carried out effectively and plays a crucial role in the relationship between the repair facility, the insurance company, and the vehicle owner. Here, we delve into the best practices for capturing and documenting vehicle damage, from initial assessment to final documentation, to help collision repair facilities streamline their processes and mitigate potential issues down the road.

The Initial Assessment

Capturing and documenting vehicle damage begins with a thorough initial assessment. When a damaged vehicle arrives at your facility, take the time to inspect it comprehensively. Here's what to keep in mind:

Examine All Areas: Don't just focus on obvious damage. Inspect the entire vehicle, including hidden areas and roof, as some damage might not be immediately visible. Remember, the force of the impact travels further than the obvious damage. 

Take Detailed Notes: In a perfect world, we would write the estimate at the vehicle, but that is often not an option. Take detailed notes as you assess the damage. Note the type, location, and severity of damage. Digital note-taking can be especially useful here.

Photograph and Video: Document the damage with clear photographs and videos. Ensure that you capture damage from multiple angles and distances. This visual documentation can serve as invaluable evidence later. Improve your documentation by highlighting the damage with paint markers, magnetic rulers, or digital tools like the Dents.co app that uses LiDAR to create a 3D scan of the damaged area. 

Refer to OE Repair Data: During the initial assessment, reference the original equipment manufacturer (OE) repair data. This information provides critical insights into how the vehicle should be repaired according to the manufacturer's specifications. Note any special substrate conditions or OE repair recommendations in the estimate line notes. This is especially important if the damaged area houses ADAS or other safety components. 

A frustrated female customer speaking with a repair technician about her repair.

Educate and Engage Vehicle Owners

Documenting your work doesn’t help much if no one understands the documentation. That’s why customer education is so important. A vehicle can be a customer's largest single expenditure, so naturally, they will have concerns about its restoration. It is possible that this accident is the first time they have ever dealt with a shop or insurance company, and it is probable that their knowledge of collision repair is minimal at best. As a collision repair facility, you can make a significant difference by educating and engaging them. An educated customer is an ally in the repair process. 

Walkthrough the Damage: Take the time to explain the extent of the damage to the vehicle owner. Use layman's terms and visual aids, such as photos and diagrams, to help them understand.

Discuss Repair Options: Talk about the repair options available. Explain the pros and cons of each, including cost, safety, and long-term effects.

Provide Realistic Timelines: Be transparent about the estimated repair timeline. While everyone wants their vehicle back as soon as possible, setting realistic expectations is essential. During the initial estimate, explain the disassembly process and ensure they understand that additional damages cannot be seen until the vehicle is properly disassembled. 

Explain the Claims Process: Just as the customer likely has a limited understanding of the repair process, their understanding of the claims process is also probably limited as well. Ensure the customer understands how you will be interfacing with their insurer and what items an insurer may or may not cover. 

Accurate Documentation

Accurate documentation serves as a safeguard for both the repair facility and the vehicle owner. It can protect you from potential liability issues and ensure that all repairs are carried out correctly:

Detailed Work Orders: Create comprehensive work orders for each repair job. A good estimating rule is ‘if a tech touches it, it goes on the estimate.’ It’s easy to leave items off the estimate because you know they’re an included operation, but never assume anyone reviewing your estimate has the same knowledge. 

Capture Before, In-Process, and After: Take photographs and videos throughout the process. This is especially important during structural repairs. If there is ever a question in the future about a repair, photos showing the correct installation during the process can be a lifesaver. 

Include Procedures in the File: Copies of the OE procedures used during the repair should be in the file. Combining this with in-process photos leaves no question that a vehicle was repaired correctly. 

Use Digital Tools like the Dents.co Damage Appraisal App: Digital tools like the Dents.co Damage Appraisal App streamlines the documentation process. This app uses LiDAR functionality to scan damaged panels, measure damaged areas, build 3D depth maps of the damage, and provide repair time suggestions. It also helps capture additional operations required for the repair. Utilizing such apps ensures accuracy and efficiency in documentation.

A repair technician inspecting the skeletal structure of a right front fender on a small car.

Quality Control and Inspection

Quality control is not a service advisor wiping off buffing compound in the front parking lot before a customer arrives! Quality control starts when we take the customer's keys and continues until we return them. So, what does an effective quality control process look like? 

Continuous QC: Quality control (QC) should happen throughout the entire repair process. Inspect each repair operation as completed, ensuring it aligns with OE repair data. Where possible, photo document as many of the steps as possible. 

Transparent Information Flow: Anyone who touches the vehicle should have easy access to the documentation around the vehicle's repair. Current estimate copies, procedure pages, customer requests, and other important information should be immediately accessible at the vehicle.

Final QC: Conduct a final, comprehensive QC check before releasing the vehicle. This includes ensuring that all repaired components function correctly and that the vehicle is safe to drive. Double-check that everything is in file and that the customer receives a copy of the final estimate detailing everything done to the vehicle. 

A digital rendering of a microchip circuit board grid with black circuit pathways whose intersections feature five yellow file folders indicating an electronic archive.

Retention of Records

Once the repair is completed, retain records of all documentation, including photos, videos, assessments, work orders, and invoices. These records can serve as evidence in case of disputes or liability claims. Discuss with your systems provider how long your files are stored and accessible. Fortunately, current technology allows us to store large amounts of information indefinitely and at a low cost, but understanding how to access these archived items should the need arise is critical.

An edited image of eight assorted Edison lightbulbs featuring words at the center of each fixture: from left, the words development, learning, training, growth, education, skill, knowledge, and goal are featured.

Continuous Training and Improvement

Documentation methods are constantly evolving and improving. Taking advantage of these improvements means staying updated with evolving technology, industry standards, and best practices. Invest in continuous training for your team to ensure they are well-equipped to handle evolving vehicle technologies and repair methods.

By following these best practices for capturing and documenting vehicle damage, collision repair facilities can enhance their efficiency, customer satisfaction, and overall quality of service. Clear communication, accurate documentation, and a commitment to transparency are key to building trust and success in the industry. Remember, precision in capturing and documenting vehicle damage today can prevent problems and liabilities in the future.

The Dents.co Damage Appraisal App

One way to immediately improve your documentation quality is by adding the Dents.co app to your estimating tool kit. The Dents.co app converts your Apple device into a LiDAR powered scanning tool that quickly captures panel damage, provides a depth map of the damage area, suggests repair times, and helps estimators capture the additional operations required for a safe, correct repair. You can try the app free for ten days by visiting Dents.co or sign up for a live demo of the app at http://dents.co/demo

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