So you’ve decided to get an estimate from a local body shop. These days, most body shops will use a computerized estimating software to write your estimate. If the shop you have chosen does not use a computer to write your estimate that should be cause for concern. This is not meant as a jab at those long time owners and technicians and I am not implying they are “backward” or “luddites” or ignorant. Its more for accountability. Computerized software is now standard in our industry and insures a more uniform, unbiased and accurate appraisal for how long things take to repair. For instance, I was talking to a shop owner just a couple days ago who was remembering with fondness the good old days when he would routinely get 15+ labor hours to repair frames on cars that nowadays he only gets 4-5 hours on. The truth is however that 4-5 is the more accurate and fair rate (depending on the job of course it could be more or less). And since consumers and insurance companies are billed by the hours on an estimate the old days of falsely inflating hours are gone.
When it comes to auto body repair the vast majority of line items on an estimate will be one of 5 things:
1. R & I. This is shorthand for “remove and install” and means to take something off your car and then to re-install it later. Parts that are not damaged may need to be temporarily removed to access another part that was damaged or more often so the panel it is taken off of can painted properly. For instance, say your electric motor for your window stops working. The interior trim panel will need to be temporarily removed for to gain access to the motor to see if it can be repaired (not likely!) or replaced. Or perhaps a molding needs to be removed from your door before it is painted only to be put back on later when the paint dries. One caution here is that if panels are being painted and you’re not being charged for R & I the shop may be taping them up which can actually cause peeling or flaking months or years later. So don’t be surprised if for instance a headlight needs to be removed to properly paint a fender. You should actually be more concerned if its not. FYI: R & I times are typically set to industry standards by estimating software and are not discretionary.
2. Repair. Repair ’is the most discretionary item on an estimate and typically the amount of time it takes to repair something will be underlined or asterisk-ed (*) to indicate this. This is where an insurance adjuster might say a dent will take 3 hours to fix and a technician might say it will take 4. There’s no hard and fast rule here and this needs to be negotiated between insurance adjusters, shop estimators and possibly even the technicians doing the job. My dad who has been in the industry almost 40 years taught me a long time ago that a dent which is about the size of a man’s fist should take about 3 hours to repair. From there you can adjust up or done for various things like a body line that runs through the dent (add an hour) or the dent has no creases and is accessible from the inside and therefore can be mostly popped out (subtract time). The reason these times are so important is that insurance companies are paying shops based on the number of hours on the estimate.
3. Replace. Replacing parts, sometimes shorthanded to ‘repl,’ is not a discretionary item on an estimate and is governed by industry standards or what shop folks call “book time.” If the book/software says it takes 3.5 hours to replace that bumper then that is what the insurance company will pay. No more and no less. It is pretty well standardized with only slight variations depending on which software is used and then it only differs by very little.
4. Sublet. Sometimes there are things that an auto body shop will send to someone else (typically a mechanic who takes care of more under the hood items) to perform and this is categorized as sublet. Popular things for shops to sublet out are air conditioner recharging and 4 wheel alignments when the suspension is damaged. The reason this is sent out typically is that the equipment and space required for these operations are not cost effective for a body shop. And when it comes to deeper engine repair, oil and paint don’t mix! Oil and grease can quickly ruin a paint job. So, shops that say they can do “everything” typically can’t do everything well.
5. Miscellaneous. Under this category will go small charges like “hazardous waste removal” (about once a month we pay someone to pick up and dispose of our hazardous waste in the safest way possible) and “car cover for overspray” which pays for paper, tape and plastic to cover the vehicle during the painting process so paint over spray doesn’t go all over the windows or adjacent panels.