Guest writer: Kristen Felder, CEO of Collision Hub, LLC

Ask any champion and they’ll tell you that all of their success can be attributed to the work they put in before the game. The hours of practice, conditioning and research on an opponent is ultimately what leads to a winning game day performance.

Becoming a champion in estimating requires the same work.

The foundation of your success is based on the effort you put in before entering a single line on your estimate. It’s so tempting with the pace and performance expectations on today’s estimators to just grab your notebook or tablet and head to the car, but if you want to go from good to great, you’re going to need a solid pre-inspection routine.

Step one: know the facts of the accident

If you went to a doctor complaining of pain, he or she would ask you a few questions, like “when did it start?” and “what were you doing at the time?” Just like the doctor, you need to get a complete history of signs and symptoms.

Having all the facts around an accident is crucial in helping you identify the areas your inspection should focus on. Important facts like whether the vehicle was moving or parked, how many restrained passengers were in the car, whether the vehicle went off-road and whether it slid—all this information will assist you in identifying the primary and secondary areas of damage.

If the customer is present, ask some questions. If they’re not around, take the time to call them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called in to sort out a disagreement between a shop and an insurer over what is or is not accident-related damages, only to have it settled with a five-minute phone call to the customer. Being proactive will save you time and save your customer a lot of frustration.

Step two: review the OEM repair information

This step may be a no-brainer for some readers, but I’ve found that few players in our industry actually access OEM information when they write a repair plan. What I hear most often from repairers and insurers is they don’t know where to start and the cost is too great.

Rest assured, there are many ways to access OEM repair information these days. In fact, it’s never been simpler or more affordable. There are many free resources, like the I-Car Repairability Technical Support Portal, where users can find a variety of information, including a restraint system matrix, partial panel replacement guides and videos that will help them navigate the OEM procedure websites.

In addition, I-CAR has centralized access to OEM position statements, a repair matrix (see below for downloadable reparability matrixes) and a daily repairability article. I’ve found these articles to be extremely helpful—an article around an OEM’s position on bumper cover repair, for example, could save time both during your estimating decisions and later when creating a supplement.

Download OEM reparability matrixes here:

With today’s vehicles, the estimating process can generate a lot of questions, which makes OEM information all the more critical. We’re now faced with not just determining repair vs. replacement but also whether the shop is properly equipped, i.e. are there any specialty material requirements such as rivets and adhesives to acquire, or tools for performing diagnostics or calibrations that might require sublet.

Knowing all of this information will not only help you write a complete and accurate estimate for the customer, but it will also help plan the repair so as not to add any unnecessary delays and compound rental expenses to the claim.

Step three: collect all the parts information available

I’ve been working with the data providers for over 20 years and while each of them work tirelessly to provide the best product, no estimating database is perfect. Many shops keep multiple systems and frequently go back and forth between them to find every part needed for a repair. For me, I like to keep the OEM-direct parts information handy so that I can review the exact same diagrams the parts department at the dealership is seeing. This becomes especially important when dealing with any non-reusable or one-time-use parts such as bolts, trim pieces and even some sun visors.

Our quick reference spreadsheet is always up on my second screen while I work through the blueprinting and estimating of each vehicle. It helps to quickly locate what I need by mirror-matching the part removed from the vehicle to 3D graphics in Audatex or the OEM parts websites.

Step four: take your time

I remember growing up in the shop and handwriting estimates with my dad. There was a time when estimating damage was simpler and we could almost guess a repair amount that would be close to the final estimate. Well, those days are gone. With the advancements in materials, design and electronics, estimating today’s collision damage takes time.

I get it—shop estimators have a lot full of cars and it seems every insurer wants their estimate in 24 hours. For field adjusters, it’s a stack of 30 cars to see today and tomorrow will bring another 30. Think about the time lost each day completing needless supplements and reinspections. As it turns out, one of the most important lessons my dad taught me was to do it right the first time. This also holds true in estimating.

Our customers deserve our best, not just the best we have right now. Slow down, gather all of your tools and information, take your time, think through the repair (not the damage) and write the best sheet on every car.

Taking the necessary time on each estimate to check all the facts and gather expert resources will not only improve your accuracy but you’ll likely see a huge boost in productivity. That’s when you know you’re winning at estimating.