Ongoing debate: Informing consumers about pre- and post-repair diagnostic scans

The ongoing debate in the auto repair industry over consumer safety regulations regarding pre- and post-repair vehicle scans is putting consumers at risk, often without their knowledge.

When the OEMs require pre- and post-repair scans are part of the vehicle repair procedure, there shouldn’t be questions as to whether they’re done or not.

Elissa Larremore

In most states, it’s both legally required and good practice to include all procedures, including diagnostic scans, on estimates and post-repair orders.

“If an OE requires a scan per the repair procedure, that scan will be performed,” said Elissa Larremore, owner of CBS Collision. “We inform every customer about pre- and post-scans.”

Why is there a question about informing consumers?

Diagnostic safety scans aren’t being talked about enough and the uninformed make poor decisions.

Consumers have a right to know about pre- and post-repair diagnostic scans. Their safety is at risk.

Diagnostic repair scans identify errors inside of the computers on wheels we all drive every day. In many cases, scanning is the only way to identify even major problems.

According to Honda representative Chris Toby, virtually every new car since 1996 will require a scan to eliminate all error codes. That’s every car less than 23 years old.

Today’s vehicles can contain millions of lines of code – some have more than a jetliner, according to this RDA Impact Webinar. And they’re only getting more complex. That means repairs are getting more complex, too.

Jim Keller

“Morally and ethically I believe repair shops have an obligation to inform customers about pre- and post-repair scans,” said Jim Keller, AAM, president of 1Collision Network. “The customer is not the repair technical expert but the collision repair center representative should be.”

Safety is at the heart of the issue

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94 percent of serious crashes are caused by human error, like distracted driving and poor judgment.

Studies show that the adoption of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that are properly used and maintained could prevent 30 to 40 percent of all crashes, lowering costs, preventing injuries, and saving lives.

Often, that proper maintenance of ADAS includes diagnostic repair scans according to the OEM repair procedures. If a scan is required for a safe repair, the consumer should be made aware of it.

In theory, there should be fewer repairs due to collisions, but the repairs will be more complex than in the past.

Aaron Schulenburg

“Yes, I think that repair shops have an obligation to inform customers about all repairs being performed including pre- and post-repair scans and any other diagnostic work and calibration steps that are necessary,” said Aaron Schulenburg, executive director for the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS).

“It is my belief that repair facilities are obligated to inform their customers of what is needed to repair their vehicle to pre-accident condition,” said Nick Notte, senior vice president of sales & marketing at I-CAR. “If a scan is necessary to enable the complete and safe and quality repair and it is a part of the repair plan, the consumer should know about it.”

In fact, the only opposition I’ve come across regarding repair scans is from insurance companies who don’t want to pay for unnecessary scans. Rather than denying their importance or refusing to pay for diagnostic scans, in this panel discussion from the 2016 NACE event, insurance representatives only request more detail in the OEM procedures regarding when scans are necessary so that scans aren’t performed (or paid for) when they aren’t needed.

Learn about scans, safety from repair technicians

The best place to learn about scans and safety is from the repair technicians who perform them.

“Much like a health scan from a doctor, the scan of the vehicle allows us to see what is going on with that vehicle before the repair is started and after we have repaired it,” Larremore said. “We also inform them that there may be things that the scan could show that are unrelated to the accident and that the report will be shared with their insurance carrier.”

When safety is the main goal, the only right way to go about a repair is to be up front and honest, and follow the repair procedures.

“Assuming that the repair process is following the prescribed steps from the manufacturer, there are also obligations that the repairer has on a state by state basis for creating an estimate, obtaining authorization, documenting a repair order, and generating final paperwork that reflects the actual work performed,” Schulenburg said. “States may vary a bit on the specifics, but in general it is both good practice and a necessary step to obtain authorization from the vehicle owner for work you intend to do and to reflect the work you performed on the final repair order.”

Informing customers about pre- and post-repair diagnostic scanning can be as easy as adding it to the estimate and the final repair order. It’s simply part of the repair process.

Avoid liability in a lawsuit by informing customers

If and when repair technicians are following OEM repair procedures, including scans isn’t a question. It’s not even an issue. Accessing and following OEM repair information is a separate issue, and one that is gaining traction for all sorts of reasons, from safety to marketing.

“It is really in the business’ best interest to create a cultural expectation to access OEM repair information as a matter of practice,” Schulenburg said. “Explaining to the consumer what needs to be done and the steps the shop has taken to perform in accordance with the documented procedure simply helps to establish professionalism of the business and build confidence in the repair.”

Establishing professionalism in a way that promotes driver safety also protects a repair shop business from liability.

What if something goes wrong after a repair and it’s discovered that it could have been prevented if the car had been scanned?

“In a court of law, if a shop does not perform a pre- and post-repair scan when required and does not correct the resets and/or calibrations necessary, the shop could be found liable for not repairing the vehicle properly and according to the factory recommended procedures,” Keller said. “We also inform the customer that if their insurance company refuses to cover the cost of the scan and it is necessary, they will be responsible for the cost of the scan. We have them sign an authorization to scan the vehicle before the repair is started. It’s all about educating the customer.”

Both repair shops and insurance companies have been held responsible for preventable accidents caused by a failure to follow OEM repair procedures.

What if the customer’s insurance refuses to pay?

If the ultimate goal is consumer safety, lawsuits aren’t the answer. They’re an expensive band aid on a potentially irreversible injury.

Eating the cost when an insurance company refuses to pay is not ideal or sustainable for most repair shops.

“The insurance company denial of payment is a tricky one,” Larremore said. “Usually, we can get the insurance company to pay with the correct documentation, but it’s still a struggle. A struggle I think shouldn’t exist for the shop or the customer. A battle I think shouldn’t exist. It can’t be considered another cost of doing business for the shop. Scans aren’t cheap, but they are [often] necessary. Customer safety just shouldn’t be an issue.

Get the customer involved

The most recommended solution to insurance companies who refuse to cover the cost of necessary diagnostic repair scans is to get the customer involved.

At CBS Collision, Larremore said this is their main tactic.

“It has been a learning curve trying to figure out how to get scans covered,” Larremore said. “If the insurance company denies the scan and we have documented the necessity for a scan with repair procedures, we will ask the customer to step in and help. Letting the customer know that this is a required and necessary procedure is the best way to go about it.”

When a factory procedure requires a scan and the insurer initially refuses to pay, Keller agreed with Larremore but recommended one step before involving the customer.

“Suggest to the adjuster if he or she is not authorized to pay for a particular scan services, then who at the insurance company is? And how can we get him or her on the phone?” Keller said.

If that doesn’t work, Keller said, “Having the customer get involved is also an effective method. When they understand the safety implications of the scan process, they would certainly want to help influence the insurer to authorize the services.”

Wanted: A safe, quality repair

Generally, customers want a safe, quality repair.

“We have haven’t had anyone not agree to the scan especially once it’s explained and why it’s necessary,” Larremore said. “They always sign the authorization form, and if the insurance company declines payment for the scan, we inform the customer and ask them to get involved.”

If insurance still refuses to pay, the options are less appealing but still available.

“Some shops have the customer pay for the scan,” Keller said. “If all else fails, scan anyway, absorb the cost, list the procedure on the RO as N/C – ‘insurer refused to pay.’ By doing so, a future potential liability claim against your shop for not following manufacturer procedures is prevented and ensures a safe and proper repair to the consumer.”

The next question is this: Is your repair shop following OEM repair procedures to provide safe, quality repairs on all cars?

Complexity of systems  accelerating

As the advancement of automotive technology accelerates, so does the complexity of the systems and connections inside of every vehicle on the road.

Although brand new automobiles are increasingly safer as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) become the new standard, they can’t make a difference if they aren’t functioning properly. This is especially true considering how much drivers rely on ADAS already.

Nicole Wildman

According to Schulenburg, the SCRS position is this: “If an OEM documents a repair procedure as required, recommended, or otherwise necessary as a result of damage or repair, those published procedures would be the standard of repair until such time the documentation changes.

“Disregarding a documented procedure that is made available to the industry creates undue and avoidable liability on the repair facility performing the repair. This statement is equally inclusive of published diagnostic and mechanical operations required from a collision and the subsequent repair.”

Diagnostic scanning is one of the most missed steps in the repair process when OEM procedures aren’t followed.

When it comes to pre- and post-repair safety scans to ensure that all systems are working properly, the battle between safety and cost is very real.

It’s not just car owners whose safety could be in jeopardy, it’s pedestrians, passengers, and anyone on the road.