Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:03

Legislating the “Bible” Not the Answer for Shops Tired of Being Told “No”

Written by Insurance Insider

When the repair industry (later than most) finally moved into the 21st century and started writing estimates by computer, shops and insurance companies alike likened computerized estimating to the advent of the washing machine. Why a washing machine?

Some of you might be old enough to remember the days of washing your clothes by hand. Although I never had the pleasure, I recall my parents talking about the painstaking process of washing clothes in a bucket when they were kids. It was an arduous process that consumed a lot of your time if you did it right.

I did write estimates by hand and I can assure you that it too was a long painful process. What made handwritten estimates worse was having to go back and try to translate what you scribbled while clutching a clipboard.

If you are a member of Generation X or Y (or any other letter of the alphabet), you probably can’t relate to these old-man war stories. That said, I will try to offer a correlation you can appreciate. That’s what we’re supposed to do with the younger generation, right? Entertain them and cater to them and give them a ribbon just for participating even if they finished in last place. So for them: Handwritten estimates is like having to get up and change the channel on the TV because you can’t find the remote control.

If you read the title you probably are wondering what legislation and the Bible have to do with this article? Well, the Bible is exactly the term repairers often use to affectionately refer to the estimating guides. Ooops, I mean estimating systems.

If you didn’t understand my attempt at sarcasm, then reread the last sentence. Repairers affectionately referring to the “estimating systems” as the Bible is my best impression of a disheveled body shop owner who isn’t getting paid enough to repair a vehicle. Let’s be honest: Have you ever complained about an adjuster holding the line on a labor time because that’s what the estimating system says it is?  If I had a nickel for every time a shop complained to me about one of my staff upholding the estimating systems’ labor time, I would already be retired. (Don’t worry: I won’t be able to retire for a few more years, which translates into more Insider articles for your reading pleasure.)

When there is a conflict about the labor time on an estimate, the Bible becomes the deciding factor. The Holy Estimating System tells shops and insurers an approximate time to complete a specific repair operation. If the shop wants more time, the adjuster says no. Why? Because the estimating system says so. Do you question the almighty written word?

Shops hate insurance companies for holding the line on the time for a specific labor operation because everyone knows it’s just a guide. Even the estimating system providers will tell you that they produce merely a guide and not the word of God. Insurers should be working with the shops to discuss and negotiate discrepancies instead of hiding behind scripture.

But for every shop who insists it’s a guide and not the Bible (and complaining when it’s used against them), others are saying the same thing but talking out of both sides of their mouths. How? Through legislation.

That’s right. Over the past several years, shops in some states have worked fervently to legislate the guide as the Bible. The thing that repairers curse and despise is actually being put into law in a few states. Is this the work of a evil genius, a mad scientist or just short-sighted repairers? If we were on American Idol, I would be asking you to text 3 to vote for short-sighted repairers.

Under some state legislation, the estimating system will serve as the final answer to all questions and discrepancies. The legislation states that one can’t deviate from the information provided in the estimating system.

Why would anyone want to mandate legislatively something that is only a guide, especially considering the information about inaccurate labor times in the guides that has been brought to light in the past few years? There are examples of labor times that eventually have been increased by as much as 100 percent from the original times in the guide.

Why would repairers do this to themselves? If you were on Family Feud, Richard Dawson would shout, “The survey says: The P-Pages.”

Repairers are fighting back. They have grown tired of being told by insurers that they don’t pay to mask the door jambs or any other non-included labor operation. You can almost hear one repairer saying, “Dammit, we want our 0.2 to mask the jambs,” or another one stating, “You can’t pick and choose what you want to pay for!”

Their answer to all of this madness: We’ll legislate the use of the estimating systems. Now insurers will have to pay us exactly what’s in the estimating system. I could swear I’m watching, “Shop Owners Gone Wild.”

I offer these words of advice after decades of committed service to the insurance industry: Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. You can legislate adding pennies to your estimates and lose dollars in the process.

Instead, advocate for getting paid for what you do. Don’t advocate legislating something that is as accurate as the last estimate you wrote only to have to add a $3,000 supplement.

Got a comment or question you’d like to see the Insider address in a future column? Email him at Auto.Insurance.Insider@gmail.com.