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Thursday, 20 October 2011 17:42

Taking a Fresh Look at an Old Debate—Color Matching, Blending, or Both?

Written by Stefan Gesterkamp

As a paint manufacturer’s rep, there is not a single month that goes by without being put in the middle of collision repairers and insurers; expected to chime in on a dispute about what is necessary for a proper repair. In the July 2010 edition of Autobody News, I wrote an article on the debate about Color Match, Blending or both and no matter how many industry experts since then have expressed a similar point of view—this debate never seems to loose momentum.

While arguing my point a month ago, I realized that we could end this debate once and for all. For a moment, let’s assume that in 2011, all parties involved in collision repair have come to the conclusion that blending is not only an option, but a necessary and required part of a quality repair process. I like to compare this to the restaurant experience. If you go out for an expensive dinner and the restaurant simply slaps the food on your plate, without creating a pleasant arrangement, the food will still tastes the same. Chances are the customer will not consider this a satisfying experience, or be a repeat customer at this establishment. Just like the owner of a restaurant, collision repairers and insurers want the same thing to maintain a successful business. We need happy vehicle owners that give us high CSI ratings and long-term customer retention. Blending is for collision repairers and insurance companies, what arranging the food is to the restaurant business. It is a must have in today’s business world.

So let’s assume we all agree on the point of blending, where does this leave the color match portion of the estimate? During my last conversation I had with an insurance representative, I noticed clearly why we go around in circles on this issue. It is the classical case of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the term color match.

When I asked what he felt constitutes color match, he explained to me, what we all know as the process of tinting the color. It is not overly surprising to me to find this to be the case with insurance adjusters. More often then not, they didn’t repair vehicles as a professional prior to their current position. It is nobody’s fault by the way, just a matter of fact. What I found more disturbing was the fact that some collision repairers felt similar when asked.

Let’s take a close look at what the term color match really represents. It is a combination of a number of different tasks and operations that have to be accomplished to get to the stage of painting. This includes locating and verifying the paint code on the vehicle. If you repair a wide array of different makes and models, this can be a tricky task. Paint codes are located in every imaginable location on automobiles. They can be located anywhere in the engine department, door opening, glove department, the center council or hidden somewhere in the trunk. And let’s not forget some cars that have no code anywhere on the vehicle.

After locating and verifying the code, the painter has to retrieve all available information the paint manufacturer’s computer system provides for the repair. In general, the color retrieval systems will display more then just one solution. The next step from there is checking variant decks for the available solutions, or spraying out samples for what was not available as a chip. Although paint companies try to supply paint samples for the most common variants on the market, it is impossible to have a chip for each and every one of them.

Now and only now are we getting to the portion of the color matching process that is debatable. Is the best variant found good enough for a successful blend? Reality is that 90% of the color matching activity has to be accomplished simply to paint, blending or not.

I am not an expert on estimating. I haven’t written one in 17 years. I am also not a data provider to this industry, but it became clear to me that we need to change the terminology. It requires separating and itemizing all activities currently bundled under the color match line item on an estimate. The vast majority of what is considered color matching can be compared to and should be handled like setup time for frame work. A repair operation on its own that should not be bundled with color tint time. It has to be done, should be itemized and needs to be paid for.

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