Proper Paintless Dent Repair Estimating
An accurate estimate helps ensure success.
Paintless dent repair (PDR) is a technique in which dings and dents in an auto body panel are eliminated using specific tools. PDR can be performed when the paint has not been chipped or broken. Most paintless dent repairs are performed to correct hail damage or the minor "bumps and bruises" an automobile may suffer at the mercy of shopping carts and other vehicle doors.
Finding technicians who are qualified to perform PDR work is the most important goal a collision repair shop should consider when developing a paintless dent repair area of business. Qualified PDR technicians sometimes have obvious certification credentials (see sidebar on certification), although other qualified technicians have not had the opportunity to acquire PDR certification.
Many collision shop owners and managers who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of this relatively new form of auto body repair may wonder what steps a technician should be taking to create the best estimate possible.
Read the Light
One of the major problems facing technicians who develop PDR estimates is the number of supplements that must be used. Keith Volquardsen, developer of Dent Estimators software, says "in some cases, nine out of 10 vehicle repairs are estimated wrong - meaning that after the insurance estimate is created, the repairer gets the vehicle and realizes that the vehicle can't be repaired for the price indicated on the estimate."
Despite the belief that dings and dents are best visible in bright sunlight, this is one reason estimates are often written improperly. "Lighting is a common issue with poor estimating," said Darrell Amberson, AAM, director of the Automotive Service Association's Collision Division Operations Committee. "After a hailstorm, many insurance companies will send their assessors to create estimates for paintless dent repair, but because of the lighting conditions and time restraints, their estimates lead to the need for additional supplements."
PDR technicians who know how to create proper estimates understand that the best way to see all the dents and dings is to view them under fluorescent lighting rather than natural sunlight. Tools such as fog boards, portable ding lights and large stand-mounted lights allow PDR technicians to view the body panels with light cast from all angles. This all-angle access helps technicians find and repair dents and dings that might have gone unnoticed by other assessors who performed the initial estimate in sunlight.
Understand the Matrix
Although called by many names (hail shield pricing matrix, hail pricing matrix or the hail matrix), this is the tool used most frequently by assessors and estimators to determine the cost of PDR. In fact, this isn't a "tool" at all, but rather a guide for PDR estimating.
According to Tommy Clayton, a PDR business owner and 17-year veteran of the PDR trade, "the hail matrix is the most widely used guide in the United States." This Vale National certified master craftsman continued, "Basically the hail matrix identifies dents by sorting them into coin sizes, then asks how many dents are on a specific panel and assigns a monetary value to repairing that panel."
Although the hail matrix is the most widely used, there are many who question the standardization in estimating for PDR. Clayton pointed out "there is no account for the depth of the dent, which is the No. 1 criteria for the time and effort involved in making the repair."
The hail matrix chart does take into consideration the composition of a panel and whether it is an oversized panel, which leads to changes in the dollar-value
Audatex, a Solera company, features an Estimatics Add-On that "helps automate the process for establishing paintless dent repair costs by setting up electronic dent matrices using the paintless dent repair estimator," according to the Audatex Web site. CCC Information Services updated its Pathways Estimating Solution software to include a PDR feature, and Mitchell International also developed an add-on tool called the UltraMate Paintless Dent Repair calculator, using DentWizard matrices and labor operations.
PDR Estimating Controversy
Despite the best efforts of PDR technicians, many people in the industry question the amount of subjectivity in PDR work. "Sometimes a technician will write a minimal quote to fix one dent," said Mark Van Vleet, a self-employed PDR business owner. "Other people will start at almost four times that amount for one dent. There is no standardization for the estimating process."
Amberson, who purchased a PDR business to become part of his six-location repair business in Minneapolis, says the level of ethics and level of expertise of a PDR technician is important when developing estimates. "There are various levels of quality out there. In our situation, the [PDR] business came with a manager who brings credibility," he said, referring to the manager of the PDR business purchased by Lehman's Garage. Amberson continues to employ the manager, who helps Amberson keep an eye on the level of workmanship by the PDR technicians.
Another controversial area in PDR estimating is that the matrices treat all vehicles the same. Volquardsen said, "Whether a technician is repairing a Kia, which is a lower-end sedan, or a Mercedes, a high-end sedan, the matrix treats these vehicles as if they were the same - as if they had the same materials, or the accessibility was the same." In other words, as explained by Volquardsen, treating all sedans the same means the matrix places the same monetary value on the repair of each panel despite differences in the level of difficulty, metal composition and accessibility.
Although not in use in the United States, DentEstimators, the program developed by Volquardsen, aims to enhance the level of standardization in the PDR estimating process. He believes "the system has a huge advantage in helping everyone come up with accurate estimates, while providing a quality assurance advantage as well."
Be the Best
So what can an everyday PDR technician do to develop the best estimates possible? Until more advancements in standardization are made in the United States, remaining honest and developing estimates with integrity should be the first goal for PDR technicians. Acquiring the proper tools and performing the repairs in the best environment possible is key. Without these tools and without proper lighting conditions, even the most honest technician can write poor estimates. Last, but certainly not least in importance, is education. Continuing to provide educational opportunities for the PDR technicians in your business - including helping them become certified - will help ensure that the PDR estimates written in your business are as accurate as possible the first time.
If you own your own PDR business and are responsible for your own continuing education, do not overlook this area as you attempt to become more accurate at writing estimates. The better your work and the more accurate your estimates, the more likely you are to succeed - whether you are an independent PDR technician or the owner of a business that employs PDR technicians.
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