Aspart of the 50-year-old culture of the repair industry the people who write the reports that the technicians use to do their repairs are still called ‘Estimators’ The duties they perform include customer contact, parts ordering, insurance company liaison and scheduling of work. None of this has become easier with time. This worked well enough for many years, but the complexity of modern cars requires specific vehicle research before the repair procedures can be written.
This research is not as simple as clicking a few tabs and printing a few pages. With all the other work the Estimator is expected to do it is unrealistic to give them access to a huge amount of new information and expect them to understand it and know where to find the specific information they need.
At Tsawwassen Collision we recognized this as a reality over two years ago and created a new role of Pre-Estimate Vehicle Researcher.
This researcher is not distracted by having to order parts, verify prices or maintain contact with the customer, the technicians on the floor and the insurance company. He is able to work in a back office with minimal distractions to determine the relevant features of that vehicle, the structural materials used, and the specific repair instructions provided by the manufacturer. This information is (mostly) all out there but in a form that requires knowledge and experience to interpret. We have found that it can take up to two hours to properly research even a moderate hit on a late model car.
We have developed an in-house system to compile the relevant information in a way that is allows the estimator to write the proper repair report.
The How and What post and the 2016 Honda Civic post provide more background on why this separation of duties is needed to achieve a correct safe repair.
Many people in the repair industry still believe that the repair tech knows both the How and What of a repair. This belief should have ended around 2010, but discouragingly it is still prevalent in the industry in 2020.
In facilities that still hold to this outdated model the technician is assigned a repair and given only the estimate as information. In most cases that information was only whether to repair or replace a part and the time that was allotted to the task. Based on prior experience he would be expected to know what to do. If he had repaired a bent frame rail many times in the past, then the bent frame rail he was dealing with now could be repaired using that knowledge. Until around 2010, with most cars using the same frame material and manufacturing techniques this prior knowledge was usually sufficient.
Now, a vehicle structure can be made of many different types of steel and other materials, each of which have a specific design purpose and specific techniques for repair or replacement. All of this metal looks very similar and if the tech is not given full information about the materials used in the damaged area, he will not be able to repair the car to Next Accident Ready condition.
This is no criticism of a conscientious and qualified repair technician. There is a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge in How to do a repair but What to do can only come from information provided by others. The Pre-Estimate Vehicle researcher can verify the material used and the Estimator can use that information as part of his repair report. It is this repair report that the technician uses as the What information needed for the correct repair.
An analogy is the relationship between the surgeon and the support team he works with. The highly trained surgeon cannot do much with a sedated patient on the operating table if he is not given specific information. He has the highly skilled How, but he needs the What information from the support team to properly use apply that highly skilled How.
The following post, with photos of a cutaway 2016 Honda Civic model, provides an example of how the How and What come together for successful repair.
This 2016 (no longer that new) Honda Civic is an excellent and affordable car that many people will buy and use for everything from city commuting to regular highway travel. It is a car that your family will use. It also looks a lot like a 2015 Civic which is structurally a completely different car.
To meet the equally important objectives of efficiency and safety Honda applied their significant engineering capabilities to make the structure of the car from, aluminum, plastic composites and 5 different strengths of steel.
Following are photos of a cutaway demonstration car, which were taken in person at a trade show in Toronto in January 2016. Each colour is a different grade of steel, each with its own requirements for repair or replacement. To maintain the designed safety features of the car the integrity of each section must be maintained.
The car that the technician will be repairing will not be colour coded and it is easy to see that a correct repair to pre-accident condition cannot be done without very complete supporting information and direction.
The well-trained technician will know how to repair or replace any of these components, but if he is not given good information about the construction and material types, he will not know what he should be doing.
Today it is still possible to hide incorrect structural repairs; the owner cannot see the repaired frame rail that should have been replaced or the improperly welded door post. It is the rapidly expanding implementation of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that will force everything into the open; the owner will notice that the active cruise control radar is giving wrong information, or the lane departure is not working as it should.
As these systems become commonplace the driver’s expectations will also change. Those of us who have been driving for over 20 or 30 years may still be relying on shoulder checks and constant visual awareness. We are getting used to the warnings and signals from our cars, but these are still secondary and in some cases even distracting. But people who have been driving only a few years may well have done most of their driving in cars with ADAS systems and they have become very comfortable with and reliant on these systems. They will know right away if something has changed after an accident and repair.
These systems are not luxury options on expensive cars. $25,000 cars have had many of these systems for several years now and in the near future there will be more cars with these than without.
ADAS systems generally do not involve the structure of the vehicle and it may seem that they are a completely separate issue in repair. However, ADAS considerations require an analytical and research-based approach to repair that was not needed for most of the past 50 years. Learning this different approach will carry over to the structural as well, and those repairers who are doing the correct work around ADAS will be much more likely to be paying attention to the less noticeable, but equally important structural repairs.