Don’t You Know When a Car is Going to be Complete?
Yesterday, a good customer of ours asked us this very question. Hmmm… I thought, “I bet other customers wonder the same thing.” So I decided it would be useful to explain some things about the auto body repair process.
If the customer is paying out of pocket and it’s a simple repair, yes we can easily give a completion date. If it involves insurance and is a more serious repair, well that is another story. First off, when a customer comes in with an estimate it is in labor hours, let’s say it is 20 hours. The labor hours do not count the time for waiting for parts, paint drying, waiting for insurance companies to approve supplemental damage, etc. We do our best to factor all these things in and give the customer an “estimated date of completion.”
One of the first stages of the process is the original estimate. This estimate, whether written by the auto body repair shop or the insurance company only includes exterior damage. Truthfully, most estimates written by an insurance adjuster are pretty incomplete estimate.
When the vehicle makes it to the auto body repair technician, he will begin to disassemble as a repair planner or estimator stands by with a laptop. The technician is telling him what he sees, and the estimator makes a “shopping list” of parts needed and additional labor time. Afterwards, the repair planner/estimator goes into the office and prices every bolt, screw, and additional parts. Some insurance companies require us to submit the order to a process where part wholesalers can bid the lowest price for the order. This all takes time. Once we get the prices we can submit the whole new estimate or supplement to the insurance company. Then we wait. Usually approval takes 2-3 days, (unfortunately sometimes it can take a week). If the insurance company is busy or there was a holiday, or someone is on vacation, we continue to wait. Our front desk girls are good about hounding the insurance companies for approval status. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!
Once the adjuster approves the supplement, we can order the additional parts. During this wait time we are working with the original estimate and the parts we already have on hand. Sometimes we are frozen because we can’t do anything until we have the additional parts.
OK, now we have the approved supplement and the additional parts. Auto body repair work continues. Each part that requires paint is taken off the vehicle, that way we can get in every nook and cranny. Auto body repair shops that take short cuts and don’t remove these parts are not following proper repair methods and paint quality will suffer. The paint department is a topic for another time but this is where the parts get sanded (if needed), primed, color application, and clear coat with flex additive. The clear coat gives it a nice shine and protects it from the sun, while the flex additive makes the paint flexible, so if a shopping cart hits the car the paint won’t crack. Again these are steps some auto body repair shops skip to save time and money. The final stage of the paint department might include a buff and then its sent to the next department.
At this stage of the process, the car goes back to the body department, where the technician who disassembled, and completed the auto body work will reassemble. This is where there could be a delay, it’s hard to predict how quick reassembly will be. If panels are not lining up or there is gaps the tech has to keep making adjustments until it is done. Sometimes the plastic clips made to hold the bumper on, are only made for 2-3 time use and then they crack. When this happens we have to buy more clips from the dealership very quickly so that we can continue.
Now that the car is fully assembled and all the weight is on the vehicle, it can go to the alignment shop (if included on the estimate). We do not do alignments, we sublet this service to a reputable mechanical shop with top notch equipment and experience. Because this is another business, we cannot predict their schedule. We give them as much notice as possible so that they are expecting the vehicle. Sometimes alignments are quick and sometimes it requires additional repair. Once we get the OK, from the alignment shop, the car is moved to our wash bay.
Our car washer washes each car by hand and dusts and vacuums the interior. This is not a “detail” but a pretty nice complimentary car wash.
After the clean up, the car is ready for quality control, now we can see everything because the car is nice and clean. If anything needs adjusting or if anything is not right it goes back to the responsible department. Once the car passes inspection the customer is called. If you are called late in the day, you have the option to pick it up then, or wait to the next day.
So, in answer to the question, “Don’t you know when a car is going to be done?” The answer is, “We can only predict and give the customer an estimated completion date.” If something is wrong with the vehicle we can’t just say we are done because the time is up. We have to address any issues, as a vehicle is expected to look great, drive well and be safe for the passengers. We understand that customers want their vehicles returned quickly and we are motivated because we often don’t receive full payment until the car is complete. We are committed to quality repairs and work towards the estimated completion date. While the vehicle is in process, we continue to update the customer so they are aware of status and if that date needs to change.
Another customer this week brought in her car on Monday for an auto body repair estimate (it was side swiped pretty badly). She asked if the car would be done by Friday. This blog is for her too. 🙂