Vehicle scanning, calibration practices and charges vary widely among collision shops
Despite documentation from nearly all automakers calling for the pre- and post-collision repair scanning of vehicles, how often that’s being done appears to vary widely shop to shop. And how that scanning is being done – and how often shops are compensated for the scans by insurers – also varies. There is, however, one consistency in interviews with shops about the topic: The necessary calibrations of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are posing new challenges for collision repairers.
At Premier Auto Body, a 20-employee shop in Redmond, Ore., owner Troy Lindquist said all 2007 or newer vehicles the shop repairs are scanned, along with some pre-2007 as required by the manufacturer. He said the shop is being paid by insurers for about 80 percent of those scans.
“It’s been a real problem getting compensated for [scans] on bumper-repair-only jobs,” he said.
Jim Guthrie said about 10 percent of vehicles coming into one of his six Car Crafters locations in New Mexico are getting pre-repair scans, compared to nearly 80 percent getting post-repair scans.
“We always get paid,” Guthrie said.
“We created a policy this year that we post-repair scan all vehicles newer than 2010,” Ron Nagy, co-owner of Nagy’s Collision Centers, which operates 13 shops in Northeast Ohio. “We pre- and post-repair scan all vehicles newer than 2014. With that, we are scanning about 65 percent of the vehicles we repair. We are reimbursed about 91 percent of the time, and that is growing.”
Elissa Larremore, owner of CBS Collision in Shreveport and Bossier, La., said her company scans about 85 percent of vehicle based on the vehicle’s age and system.
“We are compensated for 100 percent of the scans performed with provided documentation,” she said.
Mariah Sampson of American Auto Body in Billings, Mont., also said the shop is being paid for nearly all vehicle scans, although “we still have some [insurance] companies that fight us on Ford pre- and post-repair scans.” (Ford is one of the automakers that has not issued a specific document relative to scanning, saying that scanning is built into the automaker’s repair procedures.)
“We have found having proper documentation has been key to us receiving payment,” Sampson said. “I think the biggest challenge we had was creating a system [for scanning] that works well for everyone in the shop so we weren’t destroying our cycle time, and making sure our customers have a good experience.”
That system, Sampson said, included hiring a mechanic to conduct all the scanning. Like many shops, American Auto Body sublets many ADAS calibrations to dealerships, but Sampson that’s added some challenges as well.
“Our concern is making sure the dealerships have enough training and all the equipment they need so that everything is being recalibrated properly,” Sampson said. “We had one dealership in our area that didn’t have any of the equipment to recalibrate a vehicle, so we had to send it all the way down to Denver. That created a very large inconvenience for our customer and everyone involved.”
Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), said other association members have reported experiences similar to what Sampson encountered with a dealership.
“We’ve heard that a lot from members, where the shop has to become responsible for educating the dealer,” Schulenburg said. “If that’s the case, I think we need to question why it’s so difficult for an independent repairer to be remunerated for services in the same way that a dealer is. It seems like a dealer charging for calibration is much more easily accepted [by insurers] while it’s more challenging for an independent shop to be paid for those same things.”
In terms of vehicle scanning, Schulenburg said he looks forward to the day when more shops say they are doing it on all vehicles.
“We have this awesome means to communicate with the vehicle, where it can quite literally tell you what is wrong with it, and in too many instances, we simply haven’t fostered a culture to ask every single time,” he said. “We need to ask, and ask every time.”
A national survey of more than 1,000 shops earlier this year backs up the anecdotal evidence that scanning and calibration practices vary widely within the industry. The survey found that more than half of shops say they conduct scanning in-house, using their own equipment. Nearly 30 percent use a remote scanning service, such as asTech or AirPro Diagnostics. Just under 10 percent said they take vehicles to a dealership for scanning, and about half that use a mobile scanning service that comes to the shop. Less than 3 percent acknowledged they are not scanning vehicles scanned at all.
There’s also little consistency in how shops are charging for scanning. The survey found that about one in four charge a flat fee, and just more than 30 percent charge between .6 and 1.0 labor hours at a mechanical labor rate. Another 10 percent charge a half-hour or less of labor at a mechanical labor rate. But the remaining 35 percent of shops conducting scanning in-house were all over the map, some charging up to two hours at a body labor rate, some charging more than one hour at mechanical labor rate, a few not charging at all, and some saying the charges vary by vehicle.
There was similar variety in whether and how shops bill for their labor – such as hooking up the vehicle — when they use a remote scanning service. About 19 percent said they charge between .6 and 1.0 labor hours at a mechanical labor rate; about 18 percent said that same labor time was charged at their body labor rate. Another 19 percent said they charge up to a half-hour at a mechanical labor rate, while about11 percent charge that same labor time at their body labor rate. Another 13 percent said they charge a flat fee. The remaining 20 percent do not charge for the labor, said it varies by vehicle, or charge more than an hour of labor at either body or mechanical labor rates.
The survey also found that 55 percent of the shops that take a vehicle to a dealership to be scanned charge labor time for transporting the vehicle.
“The logistics for us of getting a vehicle to the dealership can be a half-hour there and a half-hour back, and it takes two people each way,” Oregon shop owner Lindquist said.
He said the reality for the industry is the challenges associated with scanning and calibrations are “becoming normal, not the exception.”
“You just have to do it,” Lindquist said. “It’s now part of our industry.”