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  Collision Feature

Computerized Measuring

Posted 2/6/2004
By Lee Peterson

There's no doubt about it: the collision repair industry has officially entered the high-tech age. As vehicles have become increasingly complex and insurance companies more demanding in their need for verification and documentation, information has quickly become as important as iron to any collision repair center that hopes to successfully compete in the 21st century.

An accident - even a minor one - can affect an entire vehicle ... especially newer models.

And sometimes frame damage isn't readily apparent to the eye. As a result, structural damage often isn't discovered until after repairs have begun, forcing delays and added costs due to supplements, friction expenses and impatient, unhappy customers. These types of structural problems have increased substantially over the past five years, and have seriously affected the collision industry's ability to turn a reasonable profit from its labors.

But fortunately, help has arrived in the form of computerized measuring. Gone are the days when customers or insurance companies were content with repairs based on plumb bobs, tape measures or mechanical gauges. Instead, these antiquated methods are now being replaced with sophisticated, computerized, laser measuring systems that offer pinpoint accuracy; can see hidden damage visual inspections miss; and provide full-color documentation of the vehicle's condition before, during and after repairs have been made.

That being said, computerized measuring is revolutionizing the way vehicle damage is analyzed and repaired. But like all tools, these systems are only as effective as the people who operate them and analyze the information they generate. And because the cost of these systems can be a hard pill to swallow for many small- and medium-size shops (typically in the $15,000 to $30,000 range), comprehensive training is essential to maximize the benefits these systems offer while generating a substantial return on investment.

Although detailed training is available in how to read and understand computerized structural reports, those reports won't make much sense to someone who doesn't have a sound understanding of collision dynamics and basic repair planning. Doing so would be akin to teaching someone to read an X-ray who has never attended medical school ... you're just not going to get the job done right.

In recent years, Chief Automotive Systems has expanded its course offerings to address the needs of both body shop estimators and insurance appraisers as well, and has trained more than 10,000 of these professionals on proper collision repair theories and techniques. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) has certified these courses, as well as all other Chief training, and the company is a charter member of I-CAR's Industry Training Alliance. Students completing a course can apply for I-CAR points through I-CAR's Web site.

Persons who successfully complete these courses will possess the level of understanding necessary to not only recognize the structural dynamics that took place during a particular type of collision, but the repair procedures that are required to reverse that damage for a quality repair. Collision repair professionals who attain this level of expertise are ready for Chief's Computerized Measuring Training. This comprehensive 16-hour course is designed to instruct technicians, appraisers and insurance estimators on every aspect of computerized measuring technology - including the correct operation of the equipment and the ability to accurately read and interpret the computerized structural reports in order to generate increased quality and profitability.

Currently, more than 10,000 U.S. collision centers have computerized measuring systems capable of the accuracy and documentation today's consumers require - and sales of these systems has been steadily increasing over the past several years.

For shops that embrace this new technology, the benefits are many. For body shop estimators, the use of computerized measuring systems allows them to see hidden frame damage even the most thorough visual inspections would likely miss. As a result, initial estimates are far more comprehensive, and help to dramatically reduce supplements and friction costs.

Additionally, a more accurate diagnosis allows work to be planned and scheduled more efficiently, while the final print-out documentation provides both the customer and their insurance company with indisputable evidence that the vehicle is safe to operate and has been returned to its pre-accident condition.

Technician with final structural print-out, proof of a quality repair and documentation for file.
From the repair technician's point of view, computerized measuring allows them to significantly improve repair quality while substantially reducing repair time. As lasers precisely measure the damaged sections of the vehicle, a computer compares these measurements to the vehicle's correct specifications. Damage - even hidden damage - is precisely identified, which enables technicians to plan and execute repair plans more effectively. And the best computerized system will actually display measurements while pulls are being made. This unique feature allows technicians to quickly and accurately return the vehicle to factory-like condition.

And while there's little argument that computerized measuring yields multiple benefits to the collision repair industry, insurance companies are perhaps the most vocal supporters of this new repair technology. As more and more insurance providers see the benefits of computerized measuring, they either strongly recommend or require shops they do business with to have computerized measuring as part of their repair process.

A large part of this enthusiasm centers around the printed documentation that these systems provide. By being able to read and analyze a detailed printout of the vehicle frame before repairs are initiated, insurance companies have come to realize that frame supplements and friction costs can be virtually eliminated. Additionally, the printed documentation provided after repairs offers indisputable evidence that the repairs were done correctly and that the vehicle is safe to operate. This type of quantifiable proof drastically reduces future liability for both the body shop and the insurance provider should that vehicle ever be involved in an accident again where a lawsuit results.

Shops and insurance companies that have invested in this training traditionally realize an amazingly fast return on their investment in a number of areas:

  • Repairs are completed more quickly and efficiently, resulting in greater profits
  • The number of problem comebacks are substantially reduced
  • There is a sharp reduction in supplements and friction costs
  • There is increased business, from both customer word-of-mouth and insurance company DRP volume
  • They experience higher retention of their skilled workers.

Successful companies in any industry are those that stay abreast of new technologies and continue to seek ways to improve the quality of their products and services. Computerized measuring has proven its effectiveness within the collision repair industry to the point that collision repair centers and insurance companies are now faced with two basic choices: they can either climb aboard this train to increased profitability or face the possibility of getting run over by it! And without a doubt, proper training in using and understanding computerized measuring technology is the engine that is driving that train.

Lee Petersen is manager of insurance and automotive industry affairs for Chief Automotive Systems headquartered in Grand Island, Neb. Chief is recognized as an industry leader in collision repair education and planning, having trained more than 23,000 body shop technicians on such collision-related topics as Collision Theory and Structural Repair & Analysis for both full-frame and unibody vehicles, and Multiple Pull Repair Methodology. For more information, visit

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