That in itself is not the solution, but is a key first step, much like putting together the edge pieces of a puzzle to provide a framework for the rest of the project, according to Chad Sulkala, chairman of the CIC Estimating Procedures Committee.
It's a promising first step, because the committee vice chairman happens to be the top national auto estimating consultant for State Farm. At CIC in San Francisco in mid- September, George Avery joked that he often says that if the world were to end, there'd be two things left.
"Cockroaches, and somebody walking around saying, 'What are we going to do about feather, prime and block,'" Avery said.
The committee's draft statement essentially states that body work is complete when the panel is finished to 150 grit; labor and material to then bring the panel to the level of "new and undamaged" is "a valid and required step in the repair process."
"The labor and material estimate for this operation is a judgment item on individual repair jobs," the draft statement reads. "The market will determine how the operations are listed on the repair estimate."
Some CIC participants said this statement clearly defines the "gap," although others believed it is really up to the estimating database providers to move the issue forward
"The only way we're going to remove the ambiguity that exists and put this issue, which has been haunting us year after year, to rest is to ask the data providers to clearly define all the steps," March Taylor of Autobody Hawaii said. "The database providers need to step up to the plate and realize the only way we're gong to resolve this is to clearly define the steps in the procedure pages. Then the ambiguity goes away and the market will take care of itself."
Rekeying solutions blasted
The information providers also faced criticism at CIC for their proposed solutions and timelines for addressing the issue of shops having to rekey insurer-prepared estimates.
The CIC Electronic Commerce Committee outlined two types of scenarios in which shops should be able to receive insurer-prepared estimates electronically. In the first, the insurer's estimate is prepared at the shop, so the file could be transferred to the shop's estimating system via a thumb- drive, the USB drive or even a CD or floppy disk.
The second scenario that leads to estimate rekeying is when the shop and appraiser are not at the same location and cannot physically move the estimate file from one computer to the other. The committee believes this is a more common situation leading to rekeying than is the "face-to-face" scenario.
In terms of the ability to copy an estimate file to an external drive or disk or otherwise transfer it from one computer to another within the shop, Chad Taylor of Mitchell said his company offers such capability now, and Bruce Yungkans of CCC Information Services said Pathways 4.3, released in mid-October, would as well; Yungkans said CCC's system would require a one-time set-up fee of about $150.
But Scott Jenkins of ADP drew fire from some CIC participants when said his company has no plans to create such capability, preferring to put its "development effort" into addressing the other type of scenario that requires estimate rekeying.
"What kind of 'development' does it take?" Craig Griffin of Laney's Collision Center in El Dorado, Arkansas, asked Jenkins, pointing out that virtually all software allows a user to copy a file to a disk to transfer to another computer. "My assumption is since every other software in the world allows me to do this, that it's more likely more difficult for you to keep me from doing that than it is to let me do it, other than you can't charge me for it."
But Jenkins said ADP sees the ability to download an estimate from an insurer's library as the solution that would address the majority of the estimate rekeying situations and has pledged to make this possible by next April. He said ADP currently has such a system in place for a shop in an insurer's direct repair program; that capability, he said, will be expanded to shops not in a particular insurer's DRP once the insurer gives a one-time permission for the shop to do so.
"There will be a charge [for this capability]," Jenkins said. "We're working out if it will be a subscription charge or on a per-transaction basis." Yungkans could not provide a timeline as to when a shop would be able to download an estimate from the insurer's estimate library through the CCC system. But he said that by late 2006, the insurer will be able to download such an estimate to a shop that requests it.
Jerry Burns, a New Mexico shop owner and member of the Automotive Service Association's Collision Division Operations Committee, told Yungkans that having to make such a request and wait for the insurer to download the estimate were just the sort of steps the industry hoped to avoid. A pass code on the printed estimate the customer brings or faxes to the shop should enable that shop to download it without a phone call or other interaction with the insurer, he said.
Taylor said Mitchell has such a shop download system in place for one insurer's DRP shops now, and will expand the program to other insurers and non-DRP shops in mid-2006. He said the shop set-up fee for such a system should be about $100, but there could be a per-transaction fee as well.
A summary chart outlining the three information providers plans - as well as the task force's document about the problem and its suggested solutions - can be found on the Electronic Communication Committee's section of the CIC website (www.ciclink.com).
Other CIC news
In other news and discussion at CIC in San Francisco:
• Former paint manufacturer executive Les Young urged CIC and the industry to increase its focus on environmental issues in light of heightened rule-making activity in California and nationwide. Young, who retired from DuPont and is now a consultant, said that past changes to paint regulations, for example, were largely handled through manufacturer changes to the product, but that the latest round of proposed changes could have more direct impact on shop equipment and procedures. More than two dozen people at the CIC meeting expressed interest in participating in a new CIC environmental committee.
• Chuck Sulkala of the National Auto Body Council said in response to Hurricane Katrina, a centralized website (www.collisionindustryrelief.org) has been established for those in the industry who want to help or are in need of help. And Rod Enlow of the Coordinating Committee For Automotive Repair (CCAR) said his organization has prepared recommended procedures for anyone coming into contact with the estimated 150,000-300,000 vehicles that were partially or fully submerged in New Orleans. Of primary importance is avoiding skin contact with any water or fluids in such vehicles. The documents, which Enlow said would be updated weekly as more information becomes available, can be downloaded at CCAR's website (www.ccar-greenlink.org).
• Issues related to "total losses" will be the focus of a number of CIC committee presentations at the next meeting, being held Tuesday, November 1, in Las Vegas. For more information on the NACE week meeting, visit www.ciclink.com.
John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988.