Accurate blueprinting requires three-dimensional measurement tools

High-strength steels designed to protect occupants have forever changed the way a vehicle absorbs and transfers energy.  Unseen structural collision damage is now commonplace, Chief Automotive Technologies’ Richard Perry said, warning that visual inspections and one-dimensional measurements during estimating are no longer adequate.

“With today’s vehicles, you really have to measure it to find out what’s wrong with it,” which requires three-dimensional tools that can measure length, width, and height, said Perry, Chief’s OEM and technical training manager.  “When you blueprint, you try to find all the damage so you can figure out every step, from start to finish, to complete the repair.”

Perry, who teaches structural damage diagnosis courses for Chief, and many other collision industry experts agree that blueprinting increases repair accuracy, is efficient, and reduces cycle times.

“I have seen needed repairs overlooked, that have cost shops time and money, because of inadequate pre-inspections,” said John Leddy, owner of LDC Equipment, a Car-O-Liner distributor in the Pacific Northwest, who also teaches an I-CAR course on the topic.  “Blueprinting is an ‘insurance policy’ revealing unknown damage before the car gets into the shop.”


Culture shift

I-CAR has been offering a Blueprinting Process & Damage Discovery training course for two years, Jason Bartanen, director of industry and technical relations for I-CAR, said.

“Blueprinting is certainly growing, and progressive shops have adopted it over the last two years,” he said, but added that it has been a challenge for many.

“It requires a huge shift in culture,” Bartanen said. “It has to be a team effort and everybody in the shop has to be on board.”  As of press time, he said 410 I-CAR blueprinting classes have been conducted resulting in 3,752 trained students.    

 “Nobody likes change, but this is a systematic approach to estimating that requires an investment in time, money, and capital for tools,” said Dan Trahey, technical training manager for Car-O-Liner.

“It has to be fast and efficient for shops to make money,” Leddy said.


Uncovering hidden damage

Blueprinting requires a partial teardown, Bartanen said, including removing panels, moldings, and bumper covers to access damage.

Metal testing is critical initial step in the blueprinting process, Leddy said, adding that it’s a fast way to get quick information.  There are several small hand-held testers on the market, he said.

“The process also involves measuring and fully understanding the procedures of the repair,” Leddy said.  “It’s like building a house   you have to start with a plan.”

“A 30 mile-an-hour force from an impact has never changed, but what has changed is how the car can absorb and transfer energy,” Perry said. “Metals in the cabin are designed to resist damage.” The result is that the absorbed energy travels through the car, he said, taking the path of least resistance. So energy from a front-end hit can result in damage in the rear of the car, he said.

If the repair is being conducted with non-OEM replacement parts, Leddy said he recommends that those parts are also tested for metal type.  “If they’re wrong, it compromises the repair.”


Documentation is key

Documenting discovered damage and needed repairs is a critical step, Leddy said. “Blueprinting allows you to justify the repair cost.”

In some cases, insurance companies will not approve needed repairs, many collision repair shops tell Parts & People.  But repairs are hard to deny with proper inspection documentation.


Specialized tools required

In addition to metal testing and measuring tools, Bartanen said that a complete blueprint should also involve a scan tool to reveal collision-related problems, such as a MIL, up front and not at the end of a job. 

There are several quality measuring tools that estimators can use when blueprinting, Bartanen said. For the purpose of this article, two manufacturers were selected for review: Car-O-Liner and Chief Automotive Technologies.


Car-O-Liner PointX

 The hand-held PointX diagnostic tool, released two years ago, allows an estimator to measure a vehicle on a two-post lift, Trahey said.

Designed specifically for blueprinting, PointX is used in combination with Car-O-Data, a database that includes measurements from 7,000 cars, and photo-based step-by-step instructions from Vision2, software that contains data on more than 15,000 vehicles.

Car-O-Liner compiles all its own vehicle data and photos from new production vehicles measured in Wixom, Mich., Trahey said. Undercarriage measurements that are taken range from 50-60 points and 40 on the upper body of a car, he added.

The technician takes a series of point-to-point measurements, he said, and compares it to Car-O-Liner data, Trahey said, adding that the results can be printed out and used with insurance adjusters. 


Chief Automotive Technologies’s Laser Lock

The Laser Lock tool, which can be used in conjunction with a two-post lift, scans up to 45 predefined targets to identify damage, Perry said. These targets can be positioned on the front, center, rear, and undercarriage of the car.  

The Laser Lock has dual-screen technology for culling vehicle data, he said, so a technician can have an OEM website open on one screen, and an aftermarket source such as AllData on the other. Automakers’ data is vital, he said, and will indicate if a frame rail on a car is even repairable, sparing the shop from making a mistake.

Chief also compiles its own database, with automaker CAD measurements and “real-world” measurements and photos of all makes and models.

“You could just use CAD data, but the problem is movement,” Perry said, because a vehicle’s components move when driven. The tolerance is usually 3mm, he said, but can increase as a vehicle ages or is driven roughly.

Chief also offers a one-dimensional point-to-point measuring system called Intellitape that is capable of printing documentation, Perry said. It’s great for quickly measuring openings, he added.

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.