How Vehicle Damage is Assessed
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How Vehicle Damage is Assessed

When you need collision repair services, getting a good estimate can be almost as important as the quality of the repairs. A skilled assessor can create an accurate estimate that will cover most if not all the damage and be done in a way that makes both you and the insurance company happy. Getting that estimate takes a lot of work from spotting damage to making decisions about labor and parts replacement.

Why is an Estimate Needed?

For an insurance company to accept a claim, they need to have an estimate made by a professional assessor. Licensing requirements vary by state, but realistically the assessor needs special training and certification, just like the technicians who work on the vehicle. It’s in the insurance company’s best interest to both get the job done quickly and get it done correctly so issues don’t devalue the car or make it unsafe. Having a professional inspection gives the company the peace of mind that the repairs they’re paying for are necessary.

Analyzing Collision Forces

Assessment starts by looking at how the impact was made. In a modern car, the passenger cell is designed to keep its structure in an impact, while everything around it is designed to crumple to absorb the impact force. The direction of impact will change how the body bends and flexes, which will result in different underlying damage.

Vehicle construction also affects how the structure is damaged. Trucks, traditional SUVs and many antique cars use body-on-frame construction. The body is built as a self-supporting piece, then bolted to a frame that carries the engine, drivetrain and suspension components. All parts of the body contribute to its structure, so damage to one body part can affect the entire vehicle. Most cars and crossovers use unibody construction. This merges the frame and floor pan, decreasing the vehicle’s overall weight while increasing strength. Usually, the body panels offer little structural support, so minor damage is localized.

Measuring Structural Damage

Next, the assessor needs to see if the main structure of the vehicle was damaged. In smaller areas, this is as simple as measuring the width of a component on the impact side and comparing it to the undamaged side.

For larger areas, the assessor uses a tram gauge, which is basically a precise measuring stick with rods on the ends. This lets the appraiser make measurements between points on the body and frame while going around objects like the engine. Next, self-centering gauges are attached to parts of the frame to give an overall picture of the frame shape. These gauges send an electronic signal to a computer that compares the dimensions to the dimensions provided by the vehicle manufacturer to determine if something is bent or out of alignment.  Sometimes, this step is done as part of a blueprinting or mapping of the repair process. Together, these measurements give an overall view of the vehicle. Hidden damage also needs to be considered. For example, if a fender is deeply dented, it probably damaged components underneath it like wiring harnesses for the lights or the filler neck for the fuel tank.

Making the Estimate

Once the appraiser knows how the car has been damaged, they can make an estimate of the total cost of repairs. In this process, several factors must be considered.

Cost of parts — Depending on part availability and insurance coverage, this can include factory parts, used parts and aftermarket reproduction parts. When it comes to body panels, used parts are usually favored over reproductions because they’re made using the original factory process. This gives them a better fit, requiring less labor to install.

Cost of labor — Just as regular auto repairs have estimation books for the time it takes to do certain jobs, there are “crash books” that list estimated times for body repairs on specific vehicle models. The appraiser must figure out both how long it will take to make repairs and where it makes more sense to replace a part instead of trying to fix it.

Cost of other goods — There’s a lot more that goes into a repair than just bolting on a new panel. From paint to retainer clips, these small items can really add up.

Cost of disposal — Broken parts must go somewhere, and getting rid of them can be costly, especially when disposing of hazardous materials.

Getting an Appraisal

Want to get an estimate that will get work approved quickly? Go to Merton Auto Body. We have an auto body appraisal center and we’re a preferred shop for most insurance companies, so you can trust that your claim will be approved as soon as possible. If there is some hidden damage, we can get new repairs approved without having to wait for a third party. Stop by our Sussex, WI location or visit us online, where you can request an online estimate. We proudly service the Waukesha County and Lake Country surrounding areas, including Oconomowoc, Delafield, Hartland, and Pewaukee.


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