Estimating
4 min read

Streamlining the Documentation Process in Collision Repair

Written by
Kirk Carlisle
Published on
November 17, 2023
Solid documentation is a linchpin for success in the world of collision repair. It can be the difference between being paid correctly for an operation and being stuck in an endless supplement loop. It can also save you from headaches and expensive re-work if an issue arises after the car leaves. Memories are short, but good documentation in the file is forever. But what information is critical to capture, and where does it go?
Estimators, often the primary point of contact with customers and insurers, are pivotal in this process. The estimator's documentation process, from the customer's arrival to the final notification, is where precision and thoroughness make all the difference. Here, we'll dissect the estimator's workflow, focusing on each stage and how efficient documentation practices can enhance the repair process while minimizing complexity.

Initial Customer Interaction and Assessment

The journey begins when the customer drops off their vehicle. The estimator's role at this stage is not just about calculating estimates. It's about customer communication and explaining the repair process. Here's how to optimize documentation:

Initial Estimate: The first assessment should be thorough. Document the type, location, and severity of damage. Digital tools can make note-taking efficient.

Customer Interaction: Every interaction with the customer should be documented, including discussions, answers to customer questions, and any concerns or expectations. There can be many factors to a repair, and sound file documentation can keep everything accounted for. 

Explain the Repair Process: Document the explanation of the repair process to the customer. Make sure they understand the steps and what to expect. This includes both the repair process and the claims process. Make sure to explain and note any discussions revolving around the claims and repair process in the file, explicitly noting common pain points like timelines, potential delays, parts availability, and parts selection. 

Follow-Up Commitment: Inform the customer that you will follow up once disassembly is complete and find out what update schedule works best for them during the process. Document and adhere to this commitment to maintain transparency.

Repair technician disassembles the front of a severely damaged vehicle.

Disassembly and Additional Issues

The vehicle is then assigned to a technician for disassembly. This stage often reveals additional damage that requires precise documentation.

Communication with Technician: Maintain a record of communication with the technician. Document additional issues discovered during disassembly.

Assessment Updates: Update the initial assessment with any newly found damage. Provide clear documentation to justify these updates to insurers and customers.

Blueprinting and Access to OE Procedures

"Blueprinting" is vital in writing a comprehensive estimate on a disassembled vehicle. Blueprinting is the process of completing the estimate once the vehicle has been disassembled. The estimate is ideally completed by the blueprinting estimator, with input from the assigned technician. Relevant OE procedures should be on hand during this process, and the estimate should contain line notes referencing pertinent parts of the procedures.

ADAS Calibrations: Determine and document whether any ADAS calibrations are needed. This is information also present in the OE documentation. Required calibrations should be listed on the estimate. It helps ensure vehicle safety and precision in repair planning.

Customer and Insurer Communication: Share the blueprinted estimate with the customer and insurer. Document their acknowledgment and approval of the repair plan. This documentation builds trust and transparency and, more importantly, makes everyone agree on what is required for a safe and proper repair.

Prats technician inspecting a rear tail light in the receiving bay.

Parts Ordering and Start of Repairs

Once the blueprint is approved, it's time to order parts and commence repairs. The parts department should note the file documenting when parts were ordered and what vendors were selected. As parts arrive, they should be matched to the vehicle to ensure the correct parts were received, and copies of all invoices should be attached to the file. If there are delays or issues, these should also be noted, along with the proposed solution and a note of who was spoken with. 

In-Process Documentation

Throughout the repair, documenting the process is critical. The in-process photos are the best way to show that the repairs were completed correctly. Unfortunately, you only get a small window to capture these before the repairs are covered, primed, and painted. 

In-process photos are particularly important during structural repairs. They demonstrate adherence to OE procedures and serve as documentation should questions arise. In fact, if a liability issue arose regarding the repair, these photos could be the only evidence supporting a safe and proper repair. 

Paint technician inspects the quality of a recently finished rear passenger door.

Quality Control Inspection

Quality control (QC) inspections should be a continuous process during the repair.  Each repair operation should be inspected as completed, ensuring alignment with OE repair data. Document this QC step. Make sure anyone working on the vehicle can access the repair documentation easily. Immediate access to the current estimate, procedure pages, and other vital information simplifies the QC process.

Final Stages and Customer Notification

As the repair approaches completion, documentation remains vital. Before the vehicle is released, a comprehensive final QC check should be conducted. A final QC is not an estimator making sure there’s no compound on a panel in the front parking lot! The final QC is the time to review the estimate, ensuring the completion of the listed operations. Once everything checks out, the customer can be notified their vehicle is ready for pickup.

And don’t forget to make sure there’s no compound on any of the panels. 

So, what tools do you need to take your documentation to the next level?

Very little! A smartphone and modern estimating software will cover the basics, allowing you to capture and notate everything we’ve discussed. Optimizing your tool set with add-ons like the Dents.co Damage Appraisal App will make your documentation and the return on the effort shine. Designed to utilize the LiDAR functionality built into modern Apple devices, the Dents.co app turns a basic photo into a three-dimensional scan detailing precise measurements of the repair area and depth. It will also suggest repair times based on all the subjective repair factors and walk the user through capturing the additional operations required for a safe and proper repair. You can try the Dents.co app free for ten days at http://dents.co

While it sounds daunting, adding these documentation points to a repair file takes very little additional time. When problems pop up, as they regularly do in collision repair, a clear documentation trail can quickly answer questions and solve conflicts or problems. By incorporating these documentation practices at each stage of the estimator's workflow, collision repair facilities can streamline the process, enhance efficiency, and deliver better customer service. Clear communication, meticulous documentation, and an unwavering commitment to transparency and quality are essential to building trust and achieving success in the industry. The first time a well-documented file saves the day, it will make all the effort worth it!

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