I get asked quite regularly by both shops and insurers, "What is a reasonable charge for a vehicle scan?"

Our “Who Pays for What?” surveys have found there’s not much consistency for what collision repairers charge. In 2018, of about 1,000 shops responding to the survey, about 1 in 4 of those who perform scans in-house charge a flat fee. Just over 40 percent charge up to one labor hour at a mechanical labor rate. But the remaining 35 percent of shops conducting scanning in-house were all over the map. There was similar variety in whether and how shops bill for their labor---such as hooking up the vehicle---when they use a remote scanning service.

So whenever I get asked, “What’s a fair and reasonable charge for scanning?” I just say it depends on what steps you’re including as part of that charge. I’ve been asking people in my classes to write down all the steps involved in scanning. Only a handful of people are able to list all the steps. Think about it:

  • You have to gain access to the vehicle battery. Depending on where the battery is located in the vehicle---under the hood, under a seat, in the trunk---you may have to remove trim or other items. Is that additional labor time included or do you line-item it separately?
  • You need to access the battery because you have to hook up battery support in order to ensure you have the proper voltage to perform the scan.
  • You may have to allow the vehicle to get to operating temperature. This might not often be an issue in Southern California or other warm climates. But if you’ve pulled the vehicle in from outside during the dead of winter, in many parts of the country it may take some time to get that vehicle up to operating temperature.
  • Only then can you locate the port and hook up your scan tool to perform the output or functionality test. How long that test takes, to send a signal out to all the different modules and determine if any diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) have been set, can vary by make and model, how many modules the vehicle has, etc.
  • Next, you have to record the “freeze-frame” or “snapshot” data. Some vehicles indicate the exact date, time and vehicle mileage when any DTCs have been set. Others may only indicate how many key cycles have occurred since the DTCs were set. Either way, this data helps determine if the DTCs were related either to the accident or (for post-repair scans) the repair process.
  • Then you have to record any DTCs. There may be only a few. I recently saw a vehicle scan that showed 57 DTCs. There could be more than 100.
  • Next, you have to research what caused each of those DTCs. Some OEM scan tools integrate with the OEM repair procedures, which makes that process a little easier, but most do not. For each DTC, you can generally find a flow chart to help you determine which one of potentially several causes led to the DTC. You have to diagnose which is most likely and then narrow that down.
  • Once all that work is done, you generally need to test drive the vehicle. More and more automakers have very specific test drive requirements.
  • After that, you may need to conduct another scan to ensure the DTCs have been cleared and have not reoccurred.

So a vehicle scan is a lot more than just hooking up a scan tool. Knowing what is a reasonable charge requires knowing which of the above steps you’ll be including.

I can’t tell you what to charge. But given that some of the steps can vary widely from vehicle to vehicle, I think the fair thing is to include the basics in your base charge for scanning---pulling the vehicle in, letting it get up to operating temperature, hooking up the scan tool and recording the DTCs.

I think it’s also fair to then line-item the related procedures that vary more widely vehicle to vehicle. Certainly the diagnostic time required to trouble-shoot all the DTCs varies based on the number and complexity of those codes. I don’t see how that can be included in a basic scan charge rather than being itemized out based on how much time is required for each particular vehicle.

I think the industry should move away from a simple set charge for every scan. Instead, I’d suggest defining what’s included in the base charge and then adding line items for the diagnostic work and other variables.

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