From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Understanding and Performing Required Test Drive Procedures Isn’t an Option

From the Desk of Mike Anderson: Understanding and Performing Required Test Drive Procedures Isn’t an Option

In a recent column, I talked about why I believe shops need to separate out their charge for vehicle scanning from their diagnostic labor to address the results from those scans.

Another key item I feel a lot of shops are overlooking is conducting, documenting and potentially invoicing for is the increasingly complex process of performing required test drives.

Our “Who Pays for What?” survey last summer, for example, found that while almost one-third (31%) of shops that bill for necessary test drives they conduct post-repair say they are paid for that procedure “most” or “all the time,” about 2 in 5 shops (38%) say they have never sought to be paid such test drives. The statistics are even worse for test drives that are done diagnostically prior to repairs; 1 in 5 shops (19%) said they are paid regularly for such test drives, but two-thirds of shops have never billed for those.

I want to emphasize that my concern here is not whether shops are billing for test drives. My concern is that they are performing them as a required step to safe and proper repairs.

“Test drives” aren’t what they used to be. In the past, you took a repaired vehicle out for a brief drive to check for wind noise, pulling conditions or vibrations. Now you’re doing that but also doing the drives to calibrate and confirm the function of advanced vehicle features and systems like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors lane departure warning systems, satellite navigation and traction control. That’s why a Collision Industry Committee has adopted a new definition for this type of test drive that they are calling a “dynamic systems verification road test.”

The automakers vary somewhat in what the terms they use for what we generally call “test drives.” Some use that term, but others talk about “road tests,” or “actions tests.” Some automakers reference it by saying vehicles must be “brought up to operating temperature.”

Despite terminology differences, it’s important to understand what specific requirements an automaker has for the vehicle you are test driving. Does the OEM procedure, for example, specify:

  • How far the vehicle needs to be driven;
  • How much time the vehicle needs to be driven;
  • At what speed(s) the vehicle needs to be driven;
  • What driving pattern needs to be followed; and or
  • What road conditions are necessary.

I recently was writing an estimate on a vehicle, and the OEM procedures said after I reinstalled the blind-spot monitors on the rear bumper assembly, I needed to test drive the vehicle in a straight line for two miles above 20 mph.

On another vehicle, after we disconnected and reconnected the battery, an initialization required us to drive the vehicle for at least 15 seconds above 20 mph on a road that had clear lane markings.

If you replace a windshield on a vehicle with a compass in the rearview mirror that may require that you drive the vehicle in a circle, or in a figure-eight, to recalibrate that compass.

I have seen a procedure for one automaker’s vehicle that requires six different test drives at six different speeds and stopping patterns to see if the seat belts are working properly.

Unlike the relatively simple test drives we did for free in the old days, these can be exacting and time-consuming procedures. Depending on whether your shop is in an urban or rural area, you may need to drive miles away in order to meet the road and speed conditions required.

Getting paid for them requires good documentation. I recommend estimators or repair-planners have dual monitors so they can copy the test drive requirements from the OEM procedures and paste them into a line note on the estimate or invoice. Some shops are using a cell phone camera or GoPro to document the test drive.

Even the owner’s manual for many vehicles talk about necessary test drives. The last thing you want is a vehicle owner asking about a required test drive in their manual and not being able to show them that you did it. It’s also important that you let the customer know in advance about the test drives you will need to perform as part of repairing their vehicle.

One side note: When I owned my shops, once a year I would submit my employees’ driver’s license information to our company’s insurance company to ensure they could be allowed to drive vehicles on behalf of my company. You can’t risk having test drives conducted by someone with a suspended driver’s license.

As always, what you decide to charge for is a business decision; but, understanding, performing and documenting the required vehicle test drives isn’t an option for safe and proper repairs.

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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