Channel | Inspection

Independent Inspections – What is all the Fuss About?

A look at inspection issues and how the industry should come together to solve them
By: Don Larsen

Independent Inspections – What is all the Fuss About?

Several years ago, the qualifications of independent inspectors came under scrutiny. Since then, a number of insightful articles have been written, opinions have been shared and attempts have been made to develop a better process. This was not the first time the automotive industry clamored about the need for changes in this area, and while some advances have been made, it seems we haven’t been able to come to an agreement on a solution to the issues.

And just what are those issues? I suppose it depends on which segment of the industry you ask: service contract administrators will have one set of concerns, while inspection agencies face other challenges. Then the inspectors themselves bring an entirely different perspective to the table. Then there is, of course, the dealership/repair facility viewpoint as well. For the sake of brevity, I have listed a sample of comments from the perspective of each of those entities.

The Issues
From the administrator’s perspective, here are some things inspectors and inspection agencies need to do or improve upon:

  • Ensure that all reports are factual and absent of personal opinion. Should the claim go to legal, the facts are all that matter, and an opinion may actually damage the case.
  • Make sure all reports are legible, and the font size is large enough to be read. If the report is not legible or if hand writing is difficult to read, type the report.
  • Verify all reports are definitive, and all questions that were asked have been answered.
  • If stating something appears to be pre-existing, document the proof to support it. (i.e. short or long term leaks, road grime build-up or the amount of play in a component).
  • Do not just state “per TSB” or the “technician said he had this code and this was the failure.” Request the technician demonstrate what was done to determine the failure, up to and including any specifications, electrical readings, codes, gauges or diagnostic trees.
  • Ensure photographs confirm the failure. Multiple shots of front end components without the proof of excessive play are not beneficial. How was the failure verified? Perhaps the use of a dial indicator would be helpful.
  • Avoid discussing items with the technician or service advisor that are not on the repair order, yet discovered by the inspection. Instead, note it in the report, and the administrator will make the decision regarding the add-on.

From the inspection agency perspective, improvement in the following areas can positively affect the outcome of inspections:

  • Place greater emphasis on communicating the expectations from an inspection with the repair facility before the inspector arrives (i.e. type of testing, level of tear down and how they want the failure demonstrated).
  • Ensure the vehicle is truly ready for inspection. Verify all disassembly is complete and the technician is available to demonstrate the failures.
  • Provide as much information regarding the present claim and any related claim history.
  • Ensure all adjusters within an administrator follow consistent procedures.
  • Develop and provide inspection standards where possible to enable consistent methods of communicating credible inspection findings and other information.

From the inspector’s perspective, these are some of the challenges they face:

  • Excessive hold time when calling in the verbal report.
  • Lack of teardown at the repair facility.
  • Excessive photos – time is better spent investigating the claim (for example, pictures of all four tires that are the same size seems unnecessary).
  • The repair facility did not agree with the inspector’s last findings, they complain, and the inspector is no longer allowed into that repair facility.
  • Technicians that lack knowledge, and the breakdown in communication between the technician and the service advisor, between the service advisor and the customer, and between the service advisor and the administrator’s claims adjuster.

These issues have been in the spotlight for a considerable amount of time. But instead of waiting for a certification program to solve it wll, it will benefit the industry as a whole to work out some of the more troublesome issues together. We may not be able to address all of our concerns, but doing business as usual isn’t solving the problem.

To accomplish this, it will be necessary to have cooperation and feedback from independent inspectors, inspection agencies and administrators, as well as their recommendations on how to address these issues. At the very least, the administrators should meet with the inspection agencies they chose to work with and establish effective communication channels and guidelines.

The Fallout
One of the most important factors relating to the reputation of an administrator is the integrity of their claim adjudication philosophy. Disastrous results can befall an administrator if there is even the appearance that claims aren’t being adjudicated with 100% straightforward intentions. These consequences include increased customer complaints, Better Business Bureau inquiries, Department of Insurance investigations and lawsuits. Does this sound overly dramatic? It is the reality that a number of administrators have experienced over the years.

Most administrators simply want a true and accurate verification of the reported facts, confirmation that the technician’s diagnosis agrees with the complaint and proof that the condition can be demonstrated. There is absolutely no place in our industry for service contract administrators who look for ways to deny legitimate claims – these tactics circumvent a healthy business environment and cast a negative shadow on everyone in the industry. However, it is appropriate to request very specific points of inspection to determine if non-covered factors caused a failure. Some of these points might be:

  • Did the condition exist prior to the issuance of the contract?
  • Was the vehicle being operated with sufficient fluids/lubrication?
  • Did the driver do everything possible to protect the vehicle from further damage after the breakdown?

It is a prudent business practice to ensure that both the inspector and agency know exactly what the administrator is attempting to ascertain. This is where improvements in communication may also need to be made: It will certainly help to develop consistent and comprehensive methods to ensure that each of a given administrator’s desires and protocols are understood and communicated to and by the inspection agencies, inspectors and the dealerships/repair facilities. To that end, we as administrators, inspection agencies and independent inspectors need to come together to discuss the issues and create communication standards. This won’t address all the issues, but it will get us closer to understanding each other’s challenges and allow us to work together in a cooperative manner to improve our part of the industry.

This article was written by:

- has written 3 posts on P&A Magazine.

Don Larsen brings over 30 years of combined experience from the service side of the franchised new car dealerships and the VSC industry. He works for American Guardian Warranty Services, Inc. in the capacity of Loss Control Coordinator analyzing dealer /client loss experience in order to create rehabilitation plans to make an account profitable. He also works with internal administrative departments to develop and implement quality assurance processes and measures where needed. He can be contacted at dlarsen@agwarranty.com or 800-579-2233 ext. 4144

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The views expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of P&A Magazine or any employee thereof.

14 Responses to “Independent Inspections – What is all the Fuss About?”

  1. LTonya Carr says:

    Great article Don, and I think you pretty much nailed the issues for all concerned parties. Hopefully the WCM conference in March will afford the industry another greater opportunity to come together, share ideas, and finally facilitate some change.

    P.S. For those inspectors who read this article, and are confused by the statement attributed to issues from an “administrators perspective” concerning the Inspectors “personal opinion”. I am confident it’s a simple misstatement, as we know that your Personal Professional Opinion is exactly what you are contracted to provide. However, personal commentary, and not fact-based opinions can create significant issue for an administrator.

  2. Paul Dusablon Independent inspector Boston Ma says:

    Don great article. I agree with Latonya you nailed the concerns. I was thrown out of a shop due to a tech not being able to demonstrate a failure on a transmission. The service manager told me that was the second time I did not get a claim approved and the other inspector never had a inspection denied for him. I found out about being banned when I was assigned a assignment (by mistake) then called the shop to confirm the vehicle was ready. I called the inspection company who assigned the inspection and they stated oh yeah sorry. I wish I was called and let known that there was a issue with the shop and or inspection and why. The only reason I knew why I was thrown out was because the service manager told me when I called to see if the car wa ready. The service manager told me the other inspector was easier. Just like any business there are better inspectors and there are inspectors that are better at inspecting transmissions than engines and the other way around. I would love if there was a inspector convention yearly which I would attend.

  3. Ken Wheat , Independent inspector, Seattle,Wa area says:

    I also enjoyed your article Don and agree that you have highlighted many of the needed changes, at least from an inspectors point of view.
    One change that I have come across that I have found helpful is a disclaimer form that LKQ has generated that I have been asked to provide to the repair facility when I arrive. It clearly states what the purpose of inspection is and what the responsibility is of the repair facility. Better yet it leaves no doubt as to what MY responsibilities are during the course of the inspection. When I make contact with a repair facility to schedule the inspection I always ask 2 questions : Is the vehicle there and is your technician prepared to demonstrate the failures. Even after being assured of these 2 points I will still have repair facility representatives toss me keys and say “its parked out back.” I am certain that many if not most of the administrators are informing the repair facilities that tear down and failure verification needs to be done by their technician, but if a standardized form letter could be faxed and/or emailed to the repair facility representative handling the claim explaining the purpose and each parties responsibilities it would take the ” I didn’t know” excuse off the table and could also prevent putting the inspector in the bad guy role. Maybe I could stop explaining why pushing the unlock button several times with no response is not actual confirmation of a failed actuator.

  4. Ron MacPherson says:

    Good article, good comments. I would like to add to Paul’s discussion. Our job is to VERIFY the complaints. We do that by the shop having the vehicle/technician ready to demonstrate the complaints. Either sensorally(visually or auditory) or road test if it’s a driving concern, like transmission malfunction. If we cannot verify the complaint, then why are the inspectors maligned by the shops. I have had shops question my diagnosis and when given the chance to show what I found and based my diagnosis on, been apologized to. Have also been refused admission to a shop by a service advisor, because I would not verify a concern to his girlfriend’s van, that was not proven to me. So Fidelity quit using me, because of his ranting and raving. Now, when a shop does restrict admittance they leave themselves open for “restraint of trade” lawsuit. But to me the effort to overcome that is not worth it. My time in the field leaves me with more advisors requesting me to work for the companies that now use inspectors whose dogma is that denying the claim will enhance their reputation in the eyes of the insurance company. Which I cannot understand.

  5. Phillip Riggs says:

    All very interesting comments.The inspectors job is pretty basic,you must answer two questions 1st is it failed? yes or no and if the answer to the 1st question is yes than the 2nd question is why.The majority of failures are serial failures and there are very few mysteries left out there.It seems to me the biggest challenge for an inspector is to hone there communication and people skills.I have read and commented on previous forums of this sort and i honestly feel we are repeating ourselves.I have the up most respect for LT and her staff and have had many,many interesting conversations over the past eighteen years.I remain willing to participate in any type of round table discussion/think tank on the industry.Just send me the notice with time and place.Respectfully Phil

  6. Jeff Frazier IMI TX. says:

    I am always glad to see these types of articles and the responses they generate. The one thing I have seen over and over, (remember “where have all the good inspectors gone?) is with the exception of LaTonya Carr, no other agencies and no administrators chime in. It makes it hard for me to believe other agencies and any administrators are actually interested in the state of the inspection process and improving it. I hope I’m incorrect. Just my two cents.

  7. Jeff Frazier IMI TX. says:

    Well it has been nine days and still no one from an administrator or agency other than Carr has had anything to say.

  8. Jeff Frazier IMI TX. says:

    Well it has been two weeks now and I see no agencies or administrators have had any input to this tread. How important is the “fuss”? I think any of the inspectors who are on the email list for P&A Magazine have probably been in the industry for a while. It seems only the inspectors take time to contribute to these threads. Remember “Where have all the good inspectors gone?” I think we all know what is expected of us, how we are to perform and report the inspections. I think the bigger issue here is unrealistic promises and expectations created for the inspectors, not by the inspectors, in the inspection process. Some of us cover a large geographical area and must schedule inspections some times 150-175 miles away from home territory. I see administrators being given unrealistic ETAs by agencies and then the agencies getting bitter with the inspectors when things don’t happen as fast as they promised to the administrators. Agencies asking for an ETA early one morning and then not assigning the inspection for over 24 hours, then being bitter because the inspector had made other commitments, having not heard back from the agency in a timely manner. I know there are many agencies out there completing for the administrators business but the irony is most agencies use the same independent inspectors. I for one will receive a request from one agency for a distant inspection, give them a REALISTIC ETA and then later in the day hear from one or more other agencies requesting an ETA for the same assignment. I give them all the same ETA and usually I get the assignment. It seems to me, and I may be wrong, some agencies fear giving and administrator and ETA they don’t think the administrator will accept. Other agencies don’t seem to have this fear and they usually are the agencies I receive the assignment from. When I was in the dealer ship environment we practiced under promising and over delivering. I still practice this today and feel it has made it possible for me to continue in this business now for 15 years. I have not intended to upset any agencies in this post but this is just how I see things in the field. What’s your thoughts? Anyone?

  9. Kevin Nalin says:

    I agree a very good article. I to have had concerns with shops because of the way a inspection went and they don’t like it. I also cover a large service area and give very realistic ETA and also call the shops with the ETA. The bigest concern I have is some of the other inspectors do not have any true automotive knowledge and think this is a easy businees and a easy buck to make. I also wish there was a yearly inspector convention. Most of us inspectors are former mechanics/ technicians and due know our way around vehicles even though the shop think we do not.
    Just my opinion
    I have also been in business for 15 years and still going.

  10. Tk Power says:

    As always great articles in effort to streamline and make more efficient everyones role. I too have been booted out because the warranty company decided the bearings had not spun, rightfully so, the tabs were up, and numbers readable, but this friction had a domino effect with other clients on each end.
    I too think a STANDARDIZED, one page form, additional page for sign off, be faxed to the RF from administrator, to be completed after the inspector does his thing, and faxed back to administrator by the RF, and the inspector retaining a copy, I know this is a hard pill to swallow, since the inspection companies will put their slant on the “findings” in order to keep desired “continuity” or preferred outcome. But there is still the evaluation needed by the inspection company, I have had instances where inspection companies have changed my wording to slant the findings.
    As well as administrators, need to share the burden of technical expertise, If I say a bushing is separated from cracks they should know it is failed, or in a severe state of failing, vs cracked and not separated. or “wet grime ” from leakage, there are currently no drips, but wet thick grime is a completely failed seal.

    The facts are what inspectors are to confirm, the opinion is up to the administrator, they accept or deny , the inspectors don’t.

    The RF is obviously a first step of failure in the inspection, they are asked simple questions, and still cant understand. A form accompanying above suggested form, describing what to do for inspectors on given failures is the answer, its pretty obvious most of the problems are from a lack of communication. as is in most of life. Lets Evolve !

  11. Jeff Frazier IMI TX. says:

    Still only inspectors contributing to this post. What is all the fuse about? Just my opinion.

  12. Jeff Frazier IMI TX. says:

    Apparently there is no fuss about independent inspections, unless you’re an independent inspector.

  13. Jeff Yorks says:

    Throughout the years I have read many of these articles and comments and up to this point have remained silent.I too am a 15 year inspector operating in both south Florida and Massachusetts for multiple inspection agency’s.I agree there are many issues that need to be addressed regarding the inspection process.One issue that I have not seen addressed is the industry wide policy of absolutely stagnant inspection fees.As the costs of living and doing business continuously increase year in and year out it is demanded that the inspector perform continuously increased levels of documentation,obtain current and up to date equipment and certifications (which in my opinion is as it should be) for no increased compensation what so ever.I have read comments regarding under qualified inspectors in the field damaging the industry for all,all I can say regarding that is WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.I completely understand the administrative companies position that due to competition they are unable to increase their prices and fee’s,my response to that is every large industry out there has competition and yet some how find a way for their fee’s to sky rocket upward.My 15 years have taught me that we are by no means a luxury or convenience to the warranty companies,we are an absolute necessity.These companies have no logistical means to open their own inspection branches and it is my opinion that without the claim inspection process and the deterrent factor the repair facilities will basically “run wild”.In closing I would like to make a statement that was valid long before I arrived on the scene-YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Thank you for your time.

  14. Scott Miller says:

    All points made by Don are spot on as well as inspectors leaving there comments. When you have 3 separate entities [ warranty provider/insp agency/inspector ] all out to protect there own investment I believe there is a distorted form of political correctness going on. The end user/ the inspector is now and has been burdened with the responsibility’s from lazy or ill trained providers/inspection companies which at times are shameless as well as having to deal with a disgruntle repair facility . I personally see no change coming down the pipeline but will continue to do my part of the inspection process correctly.
    My last comment as to many that mentioned fee’s for there inspections, who in there right mind would think they can get a true liability or a complicated high dollar/ticket mechanical failure inspection done for a $50-60.00 fee which may have a high probability for litigation, WHERE HAS THE COMMON SENSE GONE IN THIS INDUSTRY.

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