From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Few Collision Repairers Are Separating Out Scanning Time Versus Diagnostic Time

From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Few Collision Repairers Are Separating Out Scanning Time Versus Diagnostic Time

It’s been just over a year since I wrote about the inconsistency in how shops are billing for scanning, and it’s still an issue that concerns me.

The results of our “Who Pays for What?” survey this last October related to scanning charges are similar to those from a year earlier. In 2019, among the more than 800 shops responding to the survey, about 1-in-4 of those who perform scans in-house charge a flat fee. Nearly 50 percent charge up to 1.0 labor hour at a mechanical labor rate; but, the remaining 25 percent of shops scanning in-house were all over the map. There was similar variety in how shops bill when they use a remote scanning service.

The real problem, I believe, is the inconsistency in what shops are including in that scanning charge. Shops need to separate scanning time from their diagnostic time.

Scanning involves performing the output or functionality test on the vehicle to gather the diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs).

The diagnostic time begins once the scanning is complete. For example, say I scan a vehicle and it has seven DTCs. For each of those codes, I have to search for that code in the OEM repair procedures. I have to find out what it means. In some cases, it may be simple and clear, an indication that a certain part needs to be replaced.

Oftentimes, the diagnosis is more complicated. The OEM information may site four to six or eight potential causes for that DTC, and I must go back to the vehicle and go through that list, one-by-one, to see which is the cause on that vehicle. The OEMs sometimes offer a flow-chart for this process and navigating that takes some time.

So, that vehicle with seven DTCs will require ‘x’ amount of diagnostic time, far more than the vehicle where the scan finds no DTCs, but less than the vehicle where the scan finds 50 DTCs, each of which needs to be researched. It’s that variation in research or diagnostic time that I think many shops are missing.

Here are some tips that may help with the diagnostic step. First, be aware that across manufacturers, DTCs begin with a letter that helps point you to the origination of the code. A DTC that begins with a “P” is powertrain-related. One that starts with a “B” is body-related. A “C” at the start of a DTC indicates it is chassis related.

The one that’s a little less obvious is a DTC that begins with a “U,” which indicates it is network related. This refers to network communication, and collision repair work frequently causes such codes. It happens, say, when we unplug a component when we remove a door mirror or handle, remove a headlight, or then drive the vehicle from the body shop to the paint department. The control module is looking for that component we’ve unhooked and can’t find it, so it stores a “U” code for lost communication.

These codes need to be cleared, much like a dirt nib needs to be taken out of the refinish. Such codes are sometimes referred to as a “cyber fingerprint,” because if you don’t scan the vehicle post-repair and clear those codes, someone down the road who scans the vehicle will be able to see what you’d removed without clearing the codes.

The other tip I would offer is whether you are scanning vehicles in-house or using a third-party provider, make sure you collect and save the “freeze-frame” or “snapshot” data. This varies by vehicle manufacturer. Some automakers capture “freeze-frame data” that tells you the exact date, time and mileage when the fault code occurred. This can clarify what was crash- or repair-related, and what DTCs may be unrelated.

Other manufacturers capture “snapshot” or “key-cycle” data, which tells you only how many times the keys have been turned on and off since the fault code occurred. This can be a little less definitive in determining what is claims related, but is still helpful to have.

Capturing this data when you do a scan, or having your scanning-provider capture and provide it to you, can be a critical resource in billing for your scanning and diagnostic labor.

I hope a year from now to be able to say I’m seeing more consistency in the industry in terms of separating the time for scanning and the time for the resulting diagnostic work.

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson is a columnist for Autobody News and president of Collision Advice, a consulting company for the auto body/collision repair industry.

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