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  Collision Feature

Estimating Systems: What's New?

Posted 11/13/2006
By Rachael J. Mercer

Learn about the new products and updates available in managing your estimates.

A good estimating system is a must for a business specializing in collision repair and replacement. There are several options from which shop owners can choose when selecting an estimating system; and, as times and processes change, so too do the estimating systems themselves.

This article will help provide collision shop owners with the information they need to know - what's forthcoming, what's changing and what has changed in the estimating system arena since they last purchased an estimating system.

Audatex: Shoplink

Estimators can get quick and easy updates to Audatex's Shoplink program by accessing its online training center.
"In the last two years Audatex (formerly ADP) has introduced new add-on products for its Shoplink estimating product after in-depth research, including customer feedback, customer satisfaction surveys and extensive customer testing," said Eric Chang, director of marketing for Audatex.

Shop productivity is an area that repairers want to maximize, and Audatex add-ons focus on improving productivity. Audatex add-on solutions address three key areas of the shop workflow. First, they help shop owners create a faster and more accurate estimate. Second, these solutions are designed to assist shops in getting faster claims settlement from their insurance direct repair programs (DRPs). Third, importance was placed upon developing reporting tools that allow better key performance indicators (KPI) tracking for DRPs.

With these needs in mind, Audatex developed add-on products that are fully integrated with Shoplink. Shoplink has been in circulation for 15 years and is the main estimating software program designed by Audatex. Finding aftermarket and salvage parts is much faster for shops when using the Parts Locating Databases. Claimsettlement is a fully integrated add-on that eliminates the need to rekey estimates written by adjusters. This feature is one that many shop owners and estimators have requested from estimating systems for years. Paintless Dent Repair (PDR) simplifies the task of pricing a paintless dent repair job, helping to save time in writing the estimate. Electronic Price Updates is a Shoplink feature that automatically updates original equipment manufacturer (OEM) pricing on a daily basis, leading to a more accurate estimate.

Estimate Check helps with faster claims settlements and reduces the need for supplements. It is an up-front audit tool that checks an estimate for DRP compliance before an estimate is uploaded to an insurance company. This product eliminates the issues that can come when estimates are prepared improperly or with wrong information, ensuring that insurers get the right estimate every time. Finally, Shop Reports is a Web-based product that tracks a shop's DRP performance on 15 key performance indicators. "By proactively tracking their DRP business, a shop can see how they are doing versus other shops and determine what changes are needed to stay competitive," said Chang.

CCC Information Services:
Pathways Estimating Solution

On CCC's Web site, users can access a demo of Pathways Estimating Solution to "test drive" the product.
Pathways Estimating Solution is the primary estimating system developed by CCC Information Services. Pathways features include integrated estimating, shop management, self-audit capabilities and vehicle specifications. Pathways Version 4.3 includes an auto work file entry feature, which can save repairers time and money by eliminating the need to rekey estimates received from insurance carriers. CCC stated the integrated features are designed to help reduce manual steps in the estimate-writing process and time spent toggling between multiple software programs.

In addition, CCC is preparing the release of Pathways Estimating Solution Version 4.4. It, too, has auto workfile entry that will now be available via the EZnet communication network. Using EZNet will allow estimate writers to download a replica of a CCC Pathways work file previously written by a staff appraiser. This feature eliminates the manual rekeying step, helping to save time and reduce the possibility of data entry errors.

Version 4.4 will also have the following features:

  • An Extended Paintless Dent Repair matrix, allowing users to enter a value of up to 999 dents in the PDR matrix.
  • A towing worksheet, providing a mechanism for collision repairers to properly document detailed towing and storage charges.
  • An optional OEM database in addition to the aftermarket/reconditioned parts databases included in CCC Pathways 4.4. This version has an enhanced comparison screen that allows users to compare original equipment (OE), Aftermarket/Reconditioned, PDRs and Optional OE parts costs on one screen. Updates to these databases are provided monthly and allow you to select aftermarket/reconditioned suppliers that your insurance partners have specified.

CCC also reports that the focus remains on providing its clients with an efficient, comprehensive solution, offering products that help ensure first-pass accuracy, business process efficiency and customer satisfaction. For example, CCC Accumark Advisor gives repairers the ability to manage complex DRP guidelines to reduce friction and improve insurer satisfaction. CCC Accumark Advisor also has the ability to ensure consistency and comprehensive estimates by creating repair facility-specific rules for commonly missed items.

Mitchell International:
UltraMate Premier Suite

Mitchell International's UltraMate Premier Suite offers an Estimate Review feature that allows estimators to review their work before they are committed to it.
Ultramate Premier Suite is Mitchell International's collision estimating software system. According to Chad Taylor, senior director of product management for Mitchell International, Ultramate Premier Suite focuses on improving and enhancing a body shop's performance by targeting specific aspects of the estimating process. Taylor said, "First, it is our goal to make our estimating systems easy to use, which makes body shops more productive." Mitchell has introduced estimate decision tools that feature assembly comparison features, integrated refinish materials calculators and itemization of refinish materials. These tools help body shops by providing an alternate method for determining refinish materials costs.

In keeping with the changing technology and constant need for updates in the pricing of collision repair items, Mitchell offers online data updates for UltraMate Premier Suite. Each day when UltraMate is turned on in body shops, it checks for price updates - linking up with a host server that provides each UltraMate customer with the updates automatically. This online system reduces the need for DVDs, CDs or products that must be installed or reviewed to make price updates or changes to the system in use.

Estimate Review

Estimate Review is a new value-added solution to the UltraMate Premier Suite that enables body shops to check their estimate's composition against their business guidelines as well as against the business guidelines of their direct repair programs. This program formulates the estimates in the fashion required by the DRP agreements prior to upload, making communication and processing between shop and insurer easier.

Another feature of Estimate Review is its instant review option. According to Taylor, "Estimate Review checks the estimate before you are committed to it. On your desktop, in less than 3-4 seconds, it will point out areas that you might have overlooked or might be problematic."

One other area in which the UltraMate Premier Suite can save body shop owners headaches and lost productivity is through repair and replace clarity. As estimators write the estimate, they can select the proper repair or replace procedure by having increased access to special materials designations in the Mitchell database, preventing an error of repairing something they shouldn't have. Similarly, there is a focus on remove and install (R&I) procedures. The database clearly points out which items have to be removed and replaced for technicians to access the item that should be repaired or replaced. By pointing out the time and processes required when taking all these things into consideration, the estimator can write the proper time needed for the complete repair job. This solution reduces error and omissions and helps body shops improve their relationship with insurers. "With fewer errors, everyone is more productive," said Taylor.

What's New for Mitchell International

According to Taylor, Mitchell International is working to address the wants and wishes of body shop owners and insurers alike. One such solution involves developing a sharing system - so that when a customer comes into a shop with an insurer's estimate that is written on UltraMate software, the shop owner or technicians do not lose time rekeying the entire estimate. Instead, with an access agreement from the insurer, shop owners can log onto a server and retrieve the already-written estimate. This program will reduce the number of mistakes that can be made during the rekeying process and also cuts down on loss of productivity by eliminating time spent rekeying.

Real-World Applications

Darrell Amberson, AAM, ASA's Collision Division director, and general manager of Lehman's Garage in Bloomington, Minn., said he particularly likes drop-down windows, which make the creation of proper estimates easier. While ease of use is important, Amberson did point out that problems arise when inexperienced users write an estimate without properly knowing what they might be missing. Because so many new technicians are dependent on these software systems, they may not know how to make certain calculations, and because of this inexperience, they may write inaccurate estimates.

Another problem may arise when nonconventional repair parts are needed and inexperienced technicians may not realize this. "All it takes is a word," said Amberson. "Just a word will point out to the user that a different repair procedure is needed." The difference in repairs with conventional versus nonconventional parts can vary greatly, and so thorough software programs must be used to be successful.

Carroll Proctor, ASA Collision Division board member and owner of A.C. Proctor's Paint & Body Shop in Augusta, Ga., uses all three estimating systems in his day-to-day operations.

Of course, each system has different attributes that Proctor likes. For instance, Proctor compliments Mitchell's program for its versatility when adding to or supplementing an existing estimate. Proctor gives Audatex's programs high marks as well, but for a different reason. The customer service he is able to provide his own customers is the selling point for Proctor when it comes to using ShopLink. He says "This program combines estimates with photos. I can e-mail a complete package to a customer." Proctor explains that this makes it easier for his customers to understand what must be done to repair their vehicle. Lastly, Proctor explained that the Parts Find Feature on the Pathways program from CCC is the feature he likes most in that program. He said, "the program takes you to an illustration of where the part is and provides you with parts numbers and prices." This is extremely helpful when developing a final bill.

All three major estimating software companies have programs with unique characteristics that are beneficial to shop owners and technicians. The key to estimating software success is having the right software for the job, understanding how to operate that software, and using it frequently enough that your learned knowledge becomes experience.

Rachael J. Mercer is a freelance writer based in Moultrie, Ga. She can be reached at

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