When it comes to collision damage, assuming and knowing are two completely different things. Unfortunately, for most collision repair facilities, assuming what is damaged seems to be the normal SOP. Fully knowing and understanding which vehicle structural components have sustained damage, if any, is the most important step in the repair process, and must be performed during the initial damage report writing. Not knowing which structural components have sustained damage can lead to repair delays and wasted time, or in some cases, discovering significant damage during the repairs causing the vehicle to become a total loss. This practice of guessing or assuming is costing the repair facility and the insurance company money, but most often it is the vehicle owner who is most dissatisfied. He or she will leave with a feeling that they were lied to and misled. Conversely, in some cases, the repair facility decides to repair the vehicle by cutting corners and ignoring proper repair methodologies because a vehicle was misdiagnosed, or there is interference pressure from the insurance company. This practice of rushing repairs is mostly due to the lack of disassembly to uncover additional damage to components hidden. This month’s article will hopefully assist you in learning how to diagnose the actual sustained damage, classify the severity of the damage, and understand how to perform a proper blueprint of the vehicle.
There are three basic classifications for collision damage. By classifying the damage during the damage analysis blueprinting stage, you will reduce cycle and touch time and increase profits, all without cutting corners. The three classifications are as follows:
Fast Track: this classification is for vehicles that have been measured and determined that no structural displacement has been sustained. Common damage would be only cosmetic, such as, deformities to body panels, deep scratches and abrasions, and or damaged bolt-on components requiring replacement. These vehicles generally can be repaired in 1 to 4 days. This is approximately a $12,000 to $35,000 investment.
Quick Track: this classification is for vehicles that have sustained mild to moderate damage and some displacement of the structure in a concentrated area. If the vehicle is measured on a Car-o-liner Quick42, then you can attach two to four clamps for anchoring and realign the structural realignment, and then send the vehicle directly to the body department or in some cases the paint department and not hold the vehicle for structural repair. These vehicles generally can be repaired in 2 to 5 days due to the performance of a structural realignment in the blueprinting department. This would be an approximately $100,000 investment.
Extensive Track: this classification is for vehicles that have extensive and or significant damage to structural components that are visible. These vehicles will require a blueprinting and measuring but will have to go to the structural department once all the parts arrive. These vehicles generally take one to five weeks for repair.
A blueprint is an original plan of action that influences a series of steps to be carried out, or a practice intended as a guide to determine the required repairs to a collision-damaged vehicle. This will ensure the vehicle is restored to its pre-loss condition following all necessary OEM procedures and repair methodologies. Additionally, it is to ensure that the initial damage assessment is as accurate as possible to limit delays in the repair process. The process of blueprinting vehicle repairs has been utilized by some repair facilities, but many are making assumptions as to the actual sustained damage by just visually inspecting a collision-damaged vehicle instead of knowing what is damaged. The following is a list of suggestions and/or guidelines on how to perform blueprint inspection, which will eventually become a best practice or standard operating procedure for the repair facility. Let’s look at the procedures or steps to accurately categorize the type of damage sustained by a vehicle.
- Review our EME54 Theory and follow it (see Hammer & Dolly, Dec. 2008, Jan. 2009).
- Wash the damaged vehicle to view the vehicle in a clean condition. Washing the vehicle will remove all grease, grime and dirt. This is not only the first step prior to the commencing of any repair procedures; it will also ensure that no contaminants enter your booth later during the refinishing process.
- Write down the VIN, Production Date, Trim Line, Paint Color Code, and Mileage. Plug a scan tool into the Data Link Connector (DLC) and perform a pre-repair scan.
- Examine the entire vehicle by walking around it. Always start in the opposite corner or side away from the point of impact. Look at all panel gaps for symmetry. The absence of misalignment of the panel gaps is not always a clear indicator of sustained damage on late model vehicles as structural misalignment can occur without gap displacement. If any visual misalignment is found, take notes and inspect further to discover the root cause.
- Operate all closure panels for acceptability. If any component is found to be inoperative or operates unacceptably, take notes and inspect further to discover the root cause.
- Enter the interior of the vehicle. Check steering wheel position and operation (including tilt and telescopic). Check the steering column mounting and, in some cases, take measurements (if provided by the OEM). Statically test all seatbelts, look at the front and backside of the webbing for markings, torn threads, buckle and unbuckle the belt assemblies, perform a locking check of the seat belts and check the operation of seats, headrests and inspect seat tracks.
- Take quick measurements of the wheel positions. For the rear wheels, measure from the rear lower edge of the rocker panel to the center of the wheel on the left and right side. For the front wheels, make sure the steering wheel is centered and the front wheels are straight, and then measure from the front lower edge of the rocker panel to the center of the wheel on the left and right side. If any misalignment is noticed, take notes.
- If no misalignment is discovered, skip to Step 11. If misalignment is discovered, go to the next step.
- Place the vehicle on a two-post lift, remove any under shields and visually inspect the undercarriage. Obtain the vehicle measurements from the OEM repair manual and use a tape measure and/or tram gauge to verify the measurements of the vehicle.
- If any misalignment or deviation from the specifications is discovered, take notes and then prepare the vehicle for three-dimensional measurements on a two-post lift or realignment apparatus. If no misalignment is discovered, considering the severity of the sustained damage, the description of the collision event, the information gathered in steps 1-7 and the function of the damaged components, then the vehicle might be a candidate for a non-structural repair (skip to Step 15) or Fast Track the vehicle. If misalignment is discovered, go to the next step.
- Disassemble the vehicle, as necessary. Place the vehicle on a two-post lift or structural realignment apparatus (SRA), if not done already, and measure the vehicle with an electronic three-dimensional measuring system.
- Measure the vehicle completely to ascertain the root cause of the misalignment discovered during the quick check process. Once the root cause of the misalignment is discovered, determine the proper repair processes and methodologies, according to the OEM, to correct the misalignment. If the vehicle is on a Car-o-liner Quick42 the misalignment can be addressed right now to reduce the cycle time.
- Fully disassemble the vehicle as necessary, in preparation for parts ordering and repairs.
- Protect and store all reusable components. Order all required replacement components, as necessary.
- After the blueprinting (diagnosing) of the vehicle, have the damage assessor, parts manager, shop foreman and structural repair technician meet to discuss the repair plan and review the required OEM repair procedures, materials and components. After all parties understand the repair plan, notes should be written on the vehicle (with water-based markers), so that anyone approaching the vehicle will know what needs to be done to the vehicle.
- Now, store the vehicle, as no repairs should be attempted until all replacement components and materials arrive.
By following the above steps, you:
- Prevent missed hidden damage
- Prevent missed damage or displaced components
- Ensure adherence to all OEM protocols
- Know if a vehicle is a total loss or not
- Lower your overall cycle and touch times
- Increase your technicians’ efficiency and production output
- Increase your net profit by eliminating the waste
- Have a better relationship with the insurers as they will know up front the condition of the vehicle and costs.
Although the above blueprinting procedures will assist your facility in diagnosing sustained damage, you will need some additional, and very important information. The damage assessor(s), foreman and technicians will need a full understanding of the following:
- Vehicle design engineering
- How a vehicle is constructed
- How each vehicle is designed to react in a collision event
- How collision energy travels through the vehicle
- Which components are designed to deform, and which are designed to transfer energy
- Vehicle substrate usage, strengths and repairability
- Vehicle joining methods and materials
- Steering and suspension operation and diagnosing
- Mechanical and electrical component operation and diagnosis
- Airbag operation for each vehicle
- OEM repair protocols and position statements
- How to obtain OEM repair information (and how to interpret the information)
- How to measure a vehicle two- and three-dimensionally
- The Procedural Pages from the three-major estimating database providers
- State laws and regulations regarding collision repair
Basically, the damage assessor(s), foreman and technicians need to think like an engineer – or better yet, maybe we should classify them as “para-engineers”, like paralegals. A paralegal is defined as “a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically-delegated, substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” Under this definition, the legal responsibility for a paralegal’s work rests directly and solely upon the lawyer. With that said, a definition of a “para-engineer” would be a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed by a professional body shop or other collision facility who performs specifically-delegated diagnosis for a facility owner. Under this definition, the legal responsibility for a para-engineer’s work rests directly and solely upon the repair facility owner. If we all thought this way, maybe there would be fewer mistakes in the diagnosis of collision-damaged vehicles. The most important thing in the repair of a collision-damaged vehicle is knowing what is damaged. The only way to know the amount of sustained damage is through a thorough blueprinting process. Collision repairers must rise to the level of professionalism required to repair today’s advanced engineered vehicle designs. They must possess advanced training through education and hands-on work experience, and the repair facilities must purchase the proper equipment and computerized programs necessary to ensure the vehicle can be diagnosed and repaired correctly.
We hope this article has helped the industry to understand the importance of diagnosing the vehicle structure and electronics, researching the repair information, and how to conduct these operations in a timely manner.