More shops are charging and getting paid for post-repair "health scans" of vehicles than they are pre-repair scans, but both procedures are increasingly being done and being paid for, according to recent “Who Pays for What?” survey findings.
The first of the 2018 quarterly “Who Pays” surveys, which is focused on refinish operations, is being conducted throughout the month of January. Click here for more information or to take the survey.
Each of the quarterly surveys, conducted by Collision Advice and CRASH Network, focuses on a different aspect of collision repair. One of the 2017 surveys looked at frame and mechanical operations, including vehicle scanning. Nearly 800 shops across the country responded to that survey, which asked shops what procedures they bill for, and about how frequently each of the largest auto insurers pays for those procedures. The surveys, which have been conducted since 2015, consistently find that more than 85 percent of participants say they are using the surveys to improve their business.
Last summer’s frame and mechanical “Who Pays for What?” survey found that about 1-in-5 shops said they have never charged for (so perhaps haven't performed) a pre-repair vehicle scan, compared to only 1-in-10 shops who said they have never charged for a post-repair scan.
“In previous surveys, we asked more general question about scanning, not differentiating between pre- and post-repair scans," Mike Anderson of Collision Advice, co-creator of the "Who Pays for What?" surveys, said. "So while a direct comparison to previous results isn’t possible, it’s interesting to note that in 2016, more than one-third of shops said they had never asked to be paid for any vehicle scan. This year, only about 12 percent of shops said they have never asked to be paid for a post-repair scan."
Among those shops that have negotiated to be paid for performing these scans, 64 percent are paid "always" or "most of the time" by the eight largest auto insurers to perform the post-repair scan, and 51 percent are paid "always" or "most of the time" for scanning the vehicle pre-repair. A year earlier, only about 41 percent of shops said they were paid “always” or “most of the time” for either pre- or post-repair scans.
In terms of other frame and mechanical labor operations, about 51 percent of shops say they are paid “always” or “most of the time” to pressure test and purge a vehicle cooling system when necessary as part of a report, yet more than 40 percent of shops acknowledge never having billed for this not-included procedure. Anderson said it’s become increasingly important to check the OEM repair procedures in relation to testing and purging cooling systems.
“Many automakers are now using electronic check-valves on their cooling systems,” he said. “You can’t just manually bleed those cooling systems any more. You need to use a scan tool to initialize an electronic check-valve. So the labor time for this may vary based on whether this procedure can be done manually, versus requiring a scan tool.”
The cooling system procedure was among those for which more shops reported being paid regularly compared to the previous year’s survey (a 5.9 percentage point increase). More than 40 percent of shops said State Farm always pays for this procedure when it is necessary, performed and billed for; among the top eight largest insurers, Progressive is the least likely to pay for the procedure, but still 28.5 percent of shops reported that Progressive pays for it “always.”
Anderson said it might be easy to overlook a seemingly simple "not-included" procedure, like disconnecting and reconnecting the battery, on estimates. But what sometimes seems like a basic operation from the estimator's perspective can turn into a project out in the shop. If the technician must remove trim panels to gain access to the battery, that adds more "not-included" time to the job. There also can be other model-specific procedures that must be followed when a battery has been disconnected. On some Toyota trucks, for example, reconnecting the battery also requires correcting the steering angle neutral point.
That’s why it’s a procedure that was asked about on the “Who Pays for Survey?” While 80 percent of shops nationally are paid "always" or "most of the time" to disconnect and reconnect the battery when it is necessary and included on the invoice, about 10--12 percent of shops acknowledged they have never even negotiated to be paid for this procedure. This is despite the fact that it is clearly often required by the automaker, such as when welding on a vehicle.
"Every vehicle manufacturer says you must disconnect the battery for welding,” Anderson said. “Some shops believe that if they’re using a ‘memory saver,’ that is sufficient. That’s not accurate. You still need to disconnect the battery cable. Once again, it is important to research the OEM procedures on battery disconnect/reconnect."
Interestingly, the survey found some variation by region in the billing/payment practices for the procedure. In the Midwest, more than 20 percent have never charged for it, and only 64 percent are paid “always” or “most of the time.” But in the Northeast, 88 percent are paid “always” or “most of the time,” and only 5 percent have never charged for it.
The survey did find some uptick in shops’ research of OEM repair methods. Nearly half (48.8 percent) of shops responding to the survey said they research OEM procedures all or most of the time; this was up from 42.7 percent two years ago. Only 18.2 percent of shops said they either "never" or "only occasionally" research OEM procedures, an improvement from two years earlier when more than 25 percent said they rarely or never did.
According the survey data, ALLDATA remains the most popular source of OEM information, but I-CAR's "Repairability Technical Support Portal" and the automaker websites have each seen a steady increase in usage over the past two years, with nearly half of shops now reporting they use those sources.
"Some shops think if they fix the same type of vehicle frequently, they don’t need to check those procedures every single time,” Anderson said. “But at one point last year, when you replaced a quarter-panel on a Ford Mustang, the procedure required replacing the roof as well. Today, Ford has a sectioning procedure. So it’s important to research the procedures every time because things change.”
Anderson said that while he is pleased to see more shops researching the proper repair methods, "at the end of the day, this should still be done 100 percent of the time."
Shops can take the current “Who Pays for What?” survey (or sign up to be notified about future surveys) at https://www.crashnetwork.com/collisionadvice. The four different surveys, conducted one at a time per quarter, each take about 15--25 minutes, and should be completed by the shop owner, manager or estimator who is most familiar with the shop's billing practices and the payment practices of the largest national insurers. Individual responses are not released in any way; only cumulative data is released.
At the website, shops also can download the results of previous surveys, reports that break the findings down by region, by insurer and by DRP vs. non-DRP. The reports also include analyses and resources to help shops better understand and use the information presented.
John Yoswick, a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988, is also the editor of the weekly CRASH Network bulletin (www.CrashNetwork.com). He can be contacted by email at john@CrashNetwork.com.