Tag Archive | "Inspection"

A Matter of Trust

There are many factors that make a good mechanical inspector. Along with knowledge and experience, high on the list of importance to agencies and administrators would have to be trustworthiness, integrity and reliability. When performing an inspection, I try to put myself in the place of an administrator/adjuster. I attempt to gather enough information and pictures so that when they are reviewing the report they can make a decision that they feel completely comfortable with; literally without any shadow of doubt. At the same time, I ensure that photos are clear and match the reports. I always feel the need to back up a statement with a photo. This builds the trust that is needed between the inspector and the administrators. For instance, if I said we test-drove the vehicle five miles, I take a photo of the mileage on the odometer before and after the test drive.

Today with modern cameras and tablets, which can produce high resolution video and audio, it is now possible to demonstrate and prove items that in the past were not possible – administrators had to rely on the word of the inspector. Now, movement/excessive play and abnormal noise or a combination of both can be demonstrated through video and audio. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then video and audio must be worth a million words. I try to use them whenever it is necessary or when it will help the administrator make a decision. But even with the technology today, there are still some things that cannot be completely revealed by picture, video, or sound and will come down to a matter of trust of the inspector.

One example that comes to mind is that of a transmission delayed engagement. Pictures can’t prove it, and unless the engagement is harsh enough where the clunk can be heard on audio and the jolt of the engagement shakes the camera, it is just going to come down to the word of the inspector and the trust that the administrators have in him. There are also some agency’s that don’t have video uploading capabilities. That is unfortunate because it can be an invaluable asset. I will never forget a conversation I had with a manager of an agency that was using my services for the first time. He brought home the message of technology and trust, all at the same time.

It just so happened that he answered the phone when I called in to find out if there was a way for me to send them a video of the failure since the uploader did not have video uploading capability. I suggested sending it by email. I told him the video shows the blend door only opening partially before binding and then the actuator starts making a loud tapping noise. That was the only way I could prove the failure without removal of the dash and opening the actuator for a still picture.

He responded “I don’t need to see no stinkin’ damn video. If I can’t trust the word of my inspectors to be honest and truthful with me, then I don’t need to be using them! Hell, the industry is developing nothing but a bunch of photographers! What’s needed is good quality and trustworthy inspectors. I will believe you until you give me a reason not to. At which point I will no longer call you.”

My first thought was “Wow! They broke the mold after he was born! How refreshing it is to find someone who still does business where your word is your handshake!” My immediate response was, “Fair enough! Lets do business!” I still disagree with him on the videos as being unnecessary, but we have maintained a good working relationship. And although I do everything I can to uphold my integrity when performing inspections, I somehow feel the need to take extra precautionary measures when performing inspections for that agency so as to never let him down and betray his trust since video/audio is not an option. Being completely honest, trustworthy and unbiased in performing inspections can sometimes come at a price for inspectors. We may be well liked by agencies and administrators, but not very popular at the repair facilities. The risk of never receiving an invitation to return to a shop is always present when your findings conflict with their diagnosis.

I remember once informing a manager of an agency that I could no longer go to the repair facility for the inspection he had just assigned me. He responded by saying he likes to hear when an inspector is no longer allowed in a shop, because that tells him that the inspector is standing his ground and not laying down for them! Not much consolidation for the inspector whom has to turn away the assignment and wages for having done good honest work. My friend, who is the manager at the agency that does not believe in videos, would probably say, ” there’s the repair facilities opinion and my inspector’s opinion and the repair facilities opinion doesn’t count!”

I would still take being excommunicated from a repair facility any day, over the alternative of being banned from an agency or administrator for giving a less than honest inspection. The latter scenario can be much more of a financial disaster to the inspector. I don’t intend to delve much further into that subject matter because I believe a person should not provide a grievance without a solution, and I don’t have a solution to add.

The complexity of the matter is vast. There are large amounts of money in play between the underwriters and the high volume repair facilities, and in the course of the conversation, the needs of an inspector is not even on the radar screen. Not to mention, is it really a good idea to force two people to be together under the same roof who have had personality conflicts in the past? And what liability is there if a conflict turns into an altercation?

An inspector once told me about a repair facility manager who was so highly upset with the findings of the inspection report, that not only did he refuse to sign the report, but while the inspector was calling in the report, the manager grabbed the inspector’s cell phone from his ear and slammed it to the ground creating impact damage! Aside from the Judge Judy show, where do you go from there? Even without a college degree, I at least know better than to call in a report in the presence of an already agitated repair representative!

No matter how you look at it, honesty is always the best policy when performing inspections. When enough trust has been built between the inspector, the agencies and administrators, and a failure or symptom cannot be demonstrated by photo, video or audio, hopefully they will be thinking to themselves “has he ever given me a reason not to believe him?”

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Don’t Forget the Basics

Before I begin, I would like to express my respect for technicians. They have a difficult job and many are highly skilled and reliable. However, as an inspector, I have noticed that technicians far too often rely on technology and past experiences rather than the basic fundamentals of diagnostics. The actual problem can be overlooked due to technicians depending on high tech equipment and the multitude of modules that are standard in most of today’s vehicles. Starting with step one – doing an overall check of the vehicle – seems too simplistic and is often bypassed, even though it takes very little time and usually does not require specialized tools or equipment. Therefore, an inspector should never assume the basics have been checked. Although it is not an inspector’s job to diagnose the problem, taking the time to do so can sometimes reveal the actual cause of failure or a potential pending failure. Below, I have chronicled times when this has occurred in my own personal experiences.

  1. The technician claimed a vehicle’s overheating was caused by no coolant flow in the radiator due to a failed water pump impeller very rare. The actual problem was caused by a worn radiator cap that was not pressure tested.
  2. The technician claimed the failure of a front wheel bearing was due to excessive play at the wheel. The wheel was very loose. The C/V axle nut did not appear to be threaded all the way on to the shaft. After asking the technician to tighten the loose nut, the play was eliminated.
  3. When inspecting a diesel with a supposed fan clutch failure and a code of “circuit failure/no communication,” I found the problem to be a severed harness at the connector caused by, none other than the fan itself! The technician never checked the connector!
  4. The technician claimed that no voltage to the alternator was due to failure to the harness. He came to this conclusion because “they see it all the time.” Failure was actually due to a very loose battery cable end at the battery. The technician actually thanked me for discovering the loose cable because he was not looking forward to replacing the harness.
  5. The technician claimed that all TPMS sensors had failed because they all had codes and would not reset. The vehicle was a ¾ ton truck with new tires that required 78 psi in the front and 55 psi at the rear, as stated on the tire placard. All four tires had 45 psi. After inflating the tires to the proper pressure the warning light turned off.
  6. After replacing the left rear folding seat back motor on a van, a technician found that the right side would not raise properly, even though it had been working when he lowered it. Therefore, he claimed it also needed a new motor. The failure was actually caused by the headrest binding on the front seat back because the technician had not removed the headrest before lowering the seat.

Other basic checks that are often overlooked are fluid levels. This is an area that should not be overlooked by the inspector because it can, at times, reveal the cause of failure. Examples of these occurrences are included below.

  1.  The technician claimed failure to the compressor was due to a severe leak. Only light seepage showed under the black light and amber lenses. I had noticed the cooling fan connector was loose and figured he must have checked the power to ground for an electrical issue that was keeping the compressor from engaging. After some questioning, I discovered that he could not get the compressor to operate, but since it was leaking, he felt it should be replaced. I told him I had found that the coolant level in the reservoir and radiator were empty, therefore, that sensor may not allow the compressor to engage. After topping off the coolant, the compressor engaged.
  2. The technician spent two days running tests to diagnose very rough engine vibration and some blow-by on a used replacement motor brought back by the owner after less than 30 days of use. After performing my basic checks, I told him that I had found the problem. The problem turned out to be the oil, which was very much overfilled. He drained ten quarts out of a five-quart system. The vehicle ran smoothly after the pistons were no longer being smashed into the oil. Even though it was the owner, rather than the technician who was responsible for the excess oil, the technician said calling the extended warranty company back was going to be the most embarrassing phone call he would ever have to make!

Checking fluids is a must on all transmission repairs due to possible intermix from ruptured transmission coolers built into radiators. This is a problem some vehicles are notorious for. I make it a habit to look in the oil filler when there is a direct view into the valve cover. Sludge and varnish can be detected at this time. I once came across a vehicle with intermix in the radiator, but also heavy intermix in the engine. After some questioning, I found out the shop knew of the condition but did not report it to the extended warranty company. I suppose being a transmission specialist shop might have had something to do with it!

It is obvious in all these examples that step one was skipped in the diagnostic process. It is for this reason that I feel an inspector should never assume the technician has done the basics.

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Parts Sourcing in Today’s Service Industry

When a customer files a claim for a repair, they start the ball rolling in a dynamic process involving a number of potential parties; the repair shop, the Vehicle Service Contract (VSC) provider, an inspector and likely a third party parts supplier. If a dealership’s service department handles the repair, their relationship with the warranty company also comes into play. In the middle of all this is the customer. P&A Magazine spoke with claims managers and parts suppliers to gain a better understanding of how parts can most efficiently and effectively be supplied for VSC claims – where they are best sourced and the optimal process involved in getting them from the supplier to a repair shop and into a vehicle.

The customer typically has no idea how many wheels are turning in this process and is unaware of the relationships involved. If the warranty company has to obtain a part through a third party parts supplier, the customer probably only learns of this if there is a delay or a problem with the part. They view the service, promptness and the quality of the parts as a direct reflection of their warranty company – not the parts supplier.

The warranty companies we spoke with typically offer the repair shop an opportunity to quote and provide parts before seeking parts elsewhere. The repair shop may not have the necessary parts or their price may not align with the warranty company’s pricing data. In a case where a repair shop’s offer is denied, the shop can be more critical when they receive parts supplied by a third party supplier and convey to the customer that the packaging or part is not in the best condition. A dissatisfied customer, of course, does not bode well for the warranty company.

When it comes to mom and pop shops, there is a lot of variance in their ability to supply parts. A number of the providers we spoke with said small shops often do not have as many resources and don’t want to take the time to shop. In these situations, the warranty company can assist them in obtaining the needed parts, saving time and money on the cost of the parts. This is a win-win scenario for everyone.

George Krnich vice president of claims at AAGI says that getting a part delivered in professional packaging has a big impact on how it is received by a repair shop. If a part arrives that is poorly packaged, there will be no confidence in the repair shop or tech and there may already be some ill will present because they aren’t getting the part themselves. Krnich says that this dictates which vendors they use. “If they don’t send a presentable quality part, I won’t use them. I ask for the repair shop to send a photograph using their smart phone if they call because a part they received is poor quality. I log the information and the parts company in a spreadsheet. I will give them another chance but three strikes and they are out.”

When a customer makes a claim, all decisions about the type of part to use for the repair are made on a case-by-case basis, regardless of the providers we spoke with. Rhonda Chaplin, claims manager for NWAN says, “VSC policies dictate what type of parts to use – and there are many types of VSCs. Certain ones say to only use one type of part or to use remanufactured if the vehicle is over a certain mileage. Some VSCs may say replacement parts will be at least in the same quality of the part it is replacing – or if the vehicle mileage is over 60,000, parts will be rebuilt or remanufactured in many cases.”

“Our guidelines for ordering a used part is what we to refer to as a ‘like, kind and quality’ part,” explains Rob Davis, vice president of claims, Old Republic Insured Automotive Services, Inc. (ORIAS), “Put simply, if someone has a ’06 model car with 100,000 miles on the odometer, we’re hoping to locate a 06’ model engine that just has 70,000 or so miles on it. Or, if a newer model engine is the same as the 06,’ that’s okay too but we’re not going to put in an older engine with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. We’re trying to either do better or as close to the same as what the customer had, which is what we mean by ‘like, kind and quality.’”

According to providers, factors that weigh in on the decision of what type of parts to use are:

  • Terms of the VSC
  • Age and mileage of the vehicle today and at the time of purchase
  • How long since the VSC was written and when it will expire
  • Parts availability
  • Cost
  • Dealer input

Krnich noted that in some cases, dealers may pay a little extra premium for VSCs and never want anything but remanufactured or brand new parts. He summed up the types of parts that are available:

  • Used /Recycled– a used part is taken out of a car from salvage and sold as-is
  • Rebuilt – for example: an alternator – it is made up of 150 different parts that all work together as an assembly. If one or two of those were bad, they would be replaced and the rest of the alternator would be left as-is.
  • Remanufactured – this means everything inside the case or housing of that part is replaced. Everything inside will be brand new- the only thing reused is the case or the housing itself.
  • New – brand new off the shelf – may or may not be new from OEM.

The type of part used in a repair is not necessarily determined by the type or price of a vehicle either. Chaplain says there is no set correlation between a high price vehicle and the decision to use new parts, which they always try to use when possible. “Often it is amazing how little difference in cost there is between a new and remanufactured part. You always want to have cost in mind, but you also want to provide the best part possible to the customer.”

With engines and transmissions – which are typically most expensive parts on a car – the price difference in a used or a remanufactured engine is sometimes $500 to $700. The difference between used and new can be thousands of dollars. “Brand new engines and transmissions are just ridiculously expensive,” explained Krnich, “which is why they have remanufactured parts to begin with – because by using the block or the housing of a transmission, you save all kinds of money.”

Along the same line of thought, Chaplin added, “A higher mileage vehicle can get a remanufactured transmission with a three year, 100,000 mile warranty. If you look at the difference between that and a used one – for a few hundred dollars less, you could get a used one with only a 12/12 warranty. Obviously you would go with the better one in that instance.”

AUL’s niche market is high-mileage vehicles. Repairing a vehicle while staying within the limits of the VSC, in order to save the customer money also plays an important role in satisfying customers, according to AUL’s claims manager, Frank Pfister. “We always try to work within the coverage level and aggregate to keep the customer from paying out of pocket. We also want to repair the vehicle and provide the customer assistance on any future claims that might come up.”

Parts and Pricing

Parts suppliers primarily obtain parts from salvage but some also get them direct from fleet customers. George Laurie,national account sales manager for LKQ Corporation explained that once they obtain the parts, they inventory and price them. “It’s a pretty simple process. The price we offer parts for is based on supply and demand – how many of that part-type we have in inventory by location and the turnover of that type – in other words, how long it takes to sell that particular type. Our system has an algorithm built into it to adjust the price. On the recycled side, prices are always changing.”

Krnich pointed out that since many car guys grew up when there were junkyards housing old, wrecked cars sitting in puddles of oil, they still imagine this is where salvaged parts come from. “They aren’t like that anymore at all. I have been on tours and they are completely professional. They get vehicles that have damaged fenders and doors but the insides look new. The first thing they do at salvage yards is drain the fluids from vehicles and scan VIN tags. They track all parts and know which vehicle they came from. The parts are removed and stored in climate-controlled warehouses. If a customer wants the mileage and VIN for a part, we can always provide it.”

Davis pointed out that the type of part – and where they get it – would be based on availability in the location where the car has broken down. “For instance, if a dealer sells a used car and the customer brings it back to them for repairs, the selling dealer wouldn’t stock parts for other manufactures. So, they’re going to have to find parts from another dealer or an aftermarket parts store. When we’re covering a repair on a car that’s seven to eight years old, there may not be a new part from the dealership available. … If you have a Ford, Chevrolet or Dodge truck that may have used the same part for three or four years, such as an air conditioner or starter, then pretty much everyone is going to have that part available. As soon as a car has gone out of production, the part’s inventory is going to start drying up and the prices are bound to go up.”

Pfister says that when it comes to parts, the warranty matters. They require a 12 month 12,000 mile part and labor warranty on all parts they use. This practice seems to be standard among providers.

Typically, used parts are not even considered in smaller repairs. “Nobody ever puts a used starter or used water pump in because you are only saving $20 and its just not worth it,” says Krnich, “I am not going to upset a customer, contract holder or a dealer just to save small amounts of money. You’ve heard the saying; ‘I won’t let a dollar slip out of my shirt pocket just to pick up a nickel.’ I’ve got a dealer selling hundreds of my contracts for thousands of dollars a month. Am I really going to upset one of his customers over a $50 or even a $100 savings? No way.”

Kevin Peltzer, senior account executive with Meridian, a company specializing in small parts, says they do not sell used parts at all and only 10% of the parts they sell are remanufactured. “It doesn’t fit in our business model to put our name with a part that is used. You are shooting in the dark not knowing what you are sending. All the remanufactured parts go through extreme quality control to ensure they are up to OEM standard. Some of the third party rebuilders or remanufactured are even authorized for the big three – Chrysler, GM and Ford.” He also mentioned that OEMs, such as Bosch, remanufacture parts.

Challenges – so many companies, so many parts!

Peltzer says their biggest hurdle as a supplier is core allocation. “If we have a certain product line – steering rack and pinion, for example – and we send out a pallet of 150 to one rebuilder, 75 to another and 100 to another, not all of those parts are re-buildable. So at that point, we would have to venture out to source cores elsewhere and find the right core. Then we send it through our network to be rebuilt and put back on the shelves. On a scale of 300 parts – depending on the product line – the number of ‘bad cores’ would probably be under 5%.”

In layman’s terms, Peltzer described the core as the failed part that is being replaced with a remanufactured part. “Typically if remanufactured part A cost $100, there could be a $50 core deposit. If the faulty part is then sent to the parts company, they will deduct the core deposit from the cost of the remanufactured part they supplied. If the faulty core is not returned, then the repair facility would have to pay for the cost of the core deposit since they were responsible for returning it. Nine out of ten times, this is done with remanufactured parts. It is a common industry standard.”

Managing the process when a parts supplier is regularly dealing with 45 to over 100 warranty companies can prove challenging. To be successful, they must take into account the unique expectations and process of each company. Laurie, whose company assigns a single parts sales specialist to each company, says that the first thing they do with a new customer is to get a clear understanding of their requirements. “In the old days, a customer would look for the nearest LKQ location to where the vehicle was going to be repaired and they would get one of who-knows-how-many parts sales specialists each time they called for a price quote or to place an order. We found that having only one person for the customer to talk with helps with the consistency in meeting that customer’s expectations. We produce a profile of their requirements and provide that to the designated parts sales specialist. We provide a ‘one call does all,’ regardless of where the vehicle is going to be repaired. The customer only needs to call one phone number and he will be talking to one of our parts sales specialist dedicated specifically to his account.” Laurie pointed out that it is a lot easier to get one person to follow the client’s requirements than it is to get a hundred people to do that. It also establishes a good rapport and that has been their MO since they started. Each specialist is matched up to a customer and the number of clients each specialist has depends on the workload. On average, each deals with only five or six companies.

Mitch Rand, president, C&K Auto Parts, meets the challenge of working with so many administrators by spending a lot of time in airports, traveling across the country to meet with clients and better understand how they want to do business. He then feeds that information to his employees. He has a number of warehouse locations across the US in order to ship parts more quickly to different parts of the country.

“I meet with their claims management and adjustors,” says Rand, “and try to understand what we have done well and what we have come up short on during the previous six months. I look at any new programs they are putting out there, learn anything new they are doing and keep them updated on anything new we are doing; I’m also trying like heck to get them to integrate their computer system with ours so we become more efficient working as a team.”

Rand makes his employees aware of things such as knowing that when “company A” calls, they don’t even want to know about used parts – they are only interested in new or remanufactured parts because of their investment in a dealership program. Another company might be very cost conscious and only interested in the least expensive part, even if it is a used part.

Peltzer described their biggest challenge in working with so many administrators, is knowing each one’s process in adjudicating claims and aligning his company’s values with theirs. “Some deny a lot of claims and others authorize everything. …With so many parties involved, the end goal is keeping all parties satisfied.”

“Our biggest challenges when procuring parts is the timeline,” says Pfister, “When a claim is delayed due to shipment, it can add frustration to the customer. AUL will weigh out all options before committing to shipping in a part. AUL may elect to pay more for a part, rather than save a buck only to pay out in rental, mark up, etc.”

Davis pointed out that the process for getting parts from third party suppliers has become more efficient over the last decade. “Overall, the changes we’ve seen in the last 10 years or longer are that most of the manufacturers have established regional supply centers or part distribution warehouses. Dealers may not have to stock as many parts as in the past because they can get parts in a day or two. For example, a dealer in Oklahoma can get parts from Dallas or Kansas City the next day.   This has helped in the availability of parts. Way back in the day, if a part was unavailable locally and the order was coming from very far away, it would seem to take forever -or they’d have to try to find it at another dealership. Someone had to locate a part from the parts department, pull it, pack and ship it or whatever. That was a lot clumsier than it is for them to call the regional parts center. In other words, they’re more efficient this way. The regional parts center will have an inventory that meets their everyday demand because every dealer in the area doesn’t have every part they need sitting on their shelves. So, that’s probably helped the parts availability compared to five or ten years ago. You can easily put in a part number today on the computer and find a price versus the days of when people looked parts up in catalogues. Dealers used to have their own catalogues from the manufacturers, which weren’t open to the public. So, if you needed a price on a part, you had to call the dealer to get a quote. Now, you can find comparisons for most parts online or via different subscriptions. We use several on line web based systems, which provide both parts and labor pricing.”

Improving the Process

When we asked warranty companies and parts suppliers what they would like to see more of – or if there was some part of the process that could improve, everyone had suggestions to offer. From the adjustors’ skills to electronic interfaces and real time availability of parts and their arrival time, each party shared something that they felt could improve the process of working together.

Laurie says the one thing he would like to see more of from warranty companies is automation – more electronic interface between customers and suppliers for parts procurement. “We have a few customers who are headed in that direction. For others, that has not been a pressing issue yet in their organization …Eventually, I think most of them will be looking to an electronic interface for parts procurement where they can locate the part, order it and have it shipped all electronically.”

Having adjustors who are all experienced, obviously makes everything go more smoothly. Sometimes, due to a company’s rapid growth, new adjustors with less experience are in the position of dealing with claims, according to some of the suppliers we spoke with. Laurie says he would like to see more training on the mechanical side for those entering the field as adjustors. If all adjustors better know what they need, they will be able to effectively and accurately communicate that to a parts sales specialist, making the process faster and smoother. “What can – and does happen occasionally,” says Laurie, “is an adjustor will tell us he needs a certain engine for a particular car, but there may be three different engines or applications for that particular model. We have to know which one.”

So what do they do in a situation like this? “First,” says Laurie, “they have to give us the VIN and our system has a VIN decode program. We have to find out the production date of the vehicle but the VIN doesn’t always tell us. In a particular year there may have been a change, where the manufacturer has come out with a different variation of an engine type. This determines which engine we send to the repair shop.”

Rand, however has a different take on the skill sets that best serve adjustors. He says finding a really technical, mechanical person who is really good on the phone and has really good computer skills is a “tough nut to crack.” “You gotta pick and choose your poison. If you want someone who really knows a car inside and out, you may have to give up some computer skills and typing – and you have to consider communication skills over the phone. We get the most out of a service writer type of adjustor who is very good over the phone and is able to translate a certain amount of technical knowledge. We need someone who has really good communication skills.”

If they send a part and the repair shop calls back saying it doesn’t work, Rand says that even the most technical person in the world being able to tell the shop exactly where they are going wrong and how to remedy the situation, wouldn’t be enough to iron out the problem. “The bottom line is that they would get really upset that a company like ours is trying to tell them how to do business. So we may win the battle, but we lose the war. Its almost better for us to say, ‘Hey, I ‘m really sorry that you are going through this problem. If your technician says he needs another transmission, I will send you another transmission. It is better to just make the problem go away [even if the part is not really the problem] and keep the dealership happy. The dealership in turn has a relationship with our customer and we keep them happy.”

Krnich would like for parts suppliers to provide a tracking and shipping number that he could then pass on to the repair shop. This would help the repair shop to better schedule the repair and they could pass that information on to the customer. Currently, he says this information is only given if there is there is a problem.

Real time availability in data – knowing the availability of a particular component at anytime – is the thing Chaplin would most like to see happen. “We never know how many of a particular item is available or when the count might change. If we get a quote, it would be very helpful to receive notification if that part is no longer available. Real time updates letting us know when the part is boxed and shipped, when it is in transit and when the part has arrived would also be helpful.”

In closing, Pfister offers advice to strengthen the relationship between warranty companies and parts suppliers, “Set a true expectation on when a part will arrive and stand behind your product. Honor the warranty provided. This will provide trust and create sales.”

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Time Management for Warranty Inspections

Since the commercial advent of digital cameras in the middle to late 1990’s, warranty inspections have gone through their own renaissance. The advent of the availability of photos over the Internet has in many cases, stimulated the demand for and the volume of professional warranty inspections. The inspector who was used to performing two or three inspections a day was, in short order, swamped with five, eight, or ten daily inspection requests.

I should not need to stress, but I will anyway, that the quality of all the inspections performed need to be top notch. Inspectors who don’t consistently perform top notch inspections find out quickly that their services are expendable. How then, does an inspector balance quality work with the volume of inspections required to earn a living? The answer to that question, in this inspector’s opinion, is by utilizing effective time management techniques.

During the course of a busy inspection day, we run into a daunting number of serious constraints that steal time from us and can rob our livelihoods. Let’s analyze the typical inspection performed on a weekday. Most inspections occur in car dealership service departments. Their hours are from 8:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m.. That’s ten hours to do inspections, right? WRONG! Sometimes, your first appointment can be scheduled at 8:00 a.m. but most of the time, for a myriad of reasons, this doesn’t work out. Then there is the lunch hour… the repair shop’s lunch hour. That’s another hour lost in the middle of the day. And sometimes the technician you need has a different lunch hour than the service advisor. Often, if you call the service advisor fifteen minutes or so before he or she goes to lunch, they will send your call to voice mail and not even check the messages until returning from lunch – or they may not check voice messages at all. Then there is the end of the day. It is rare that a repair facility will take an inspector past 4:30 p.m.. Many technicians are going home by 5:00 p.m. and they are washing up to leave at 4:30 p.m.. Our 8 to 6 day just turned into a 9 to 4:30 day, with a two-hour lunch. That sounds a lot like five and one-half hours. How can we combat this?

Chart Your Course

Planning ahead is the answer. Keep a log notebook in your pocket and record your assignments as you get them. As your list grows, determine your potential first stop and call them the day before to see if the service advisor will commit to an 8:00 a.m. appointment the following day. This eliminates calling them first thing in the morning and losing an hour drive time getting to the appointment. Put your smart phone to use and jot down the particulars of the 8:00 a.m. assignment. Ask the advisor to inform the technician of your 8:00 a.m. arrival the following day so they can be prepared. Make sure you leave early enough to arrive on time. Don’t keep anyone waiting for you.

If you can arrange to gap a large distance of windshield time during the typical afternoon lunch hour, this is an excellent use of your time. Plan to get in touch with the service advisor for your afternoon inspection before they go to lunch and ask for the name of their technician. Try to arrive at the next repair facility before 1:00 p.m.. If this is not possible, at least you already know the name of the technician, which will aid you in getting the inspection done.

Use a GPS! I know that, in most cases you “know how to get there.” Great! But your GPS will also tell you when you will get there. This is important. It will allow you to communicate the specific time of your arrival to the service advisor. While the travel time given by the GPS is very accurate, allow a ten minute grace period, just in case. That service advisor will get to know that he can set his watch by your ETA declaration and many times if you do this, he will have the vehicle on a lift, with a tech waiting on you. Don’t be late! I cannot stress enough the importance of requesting that the service advisor notify the technician of your arrival time. Many service advisors won’t inform their tech anyway – but some will. That tech will respect you more for not wasting his valuable time.


Preparation is very important. You should be prepared with the needed inspection forms. Personally, I have a small plastic file box in my car. I try to keep approximately fifty of every inspection form – even forms for the companies whose forms print out on their web page. Keeping those blank forms will allow you to pick up an extra inspection from time to time. Let’s say you are in a city one-hundred miles from home and you have an hour left to do an inspection that just came in. Use your smart phone. Collect the particulars for that inspection and use a generic facsimile of the normally printed out inspection form. Make sure you have a signature page if it is needed. Then call that dealership! They will probably be glad to hear from you so quickly. Get there in ten minutes. Even the warranty company will be happy with your efficiency and the vehicle owner may get their repairs done more quickly. Think of the gasoline and windshield time you will have saved. Everybody wins.

Writing the Report

How you write a report could be a time saver or a time thief. First of all, exploit your digital camera. Take good close-up macro photos of the VIN and odometer, tire size, tire placard, engine decal (EPA decal), etc. When you are sure you have ALL the photos you need for your client, find a corner to write the report. Use the camera’s display to get the VIN, odometer, etc. In other words, don’t write down the specifics during the inspection. Instead, write them down when the inspection is complete, using the record from your digital camera. Oftentimes, your camera will let you crop the VIN number from the whole VIN tag by zooming on the image after the photo is taken. Many dealerships will permit you to use the employee lounge to write up your report. A secluded area is conducive to writing concise, well-composed inspection reports. Attempting to compose an inspection report with many people around you will invariably waste time and compromise the overall report quality. Also make sure that you have an explanation of each photo inside the text of the report.

We’re all getting them: inspection requests with multiple failed items listed in the request. When you get an inspection like this, it is crucial that you meticulously photograph and report on each item. Having to go back to a dealership for a second inspection because you missed one or more items on the failure list wastes everybody’s time. READ THE REQUEST CAREFULLY! Before the inspection, make a handwritten, vertical numbered list of the parts needing to be inspected. This will take a minute but may save you from having to go back to the repair facility a second time. Let’s say one item on the list is “failed front sway bar links.” The technician tells you that is incorrect; that the vehicle has failed rear sway bar links. He then demonstrates failed rear sway bar links. Ask the technician if he will also demonstrate that the front sway bar links are okay. If he will do this, take photos of the demonstration of the good links. And of course, make sure to include photos of the failed rear links as well.

Fault Codes

Let’s go HIGH TECH. At least half of today’s inspections involve fault codes. When you start your inspection, the technician has already pulled the fault codes and he has a printout of the codes (or a handwritten version). We have all stood there debating with the technician about how the warranty company wants a photograph of the fault code screen (and not a piece of paper). The technician wants to know who will pay him for rechecking fault codes (and checking freeze frame data and clearing the fault codes and rechecking them to see if they returned – all items not on most printouts). The short answer is nobody wants to pay this labor charge. DON’T ARGUE! It’s a waste of time and it’s not your place to argue. You can explain that it will probably take less time to recheck fault codes than it will to debate over who will pay for this service. You can also point out that it will probably save the time of a second inspection.

Happy trail blazing. Get out there and be the best that you can be at what you do!

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Communication for Peoples’ Sake

The automotive industry has seemingly endless avenues for ideas, jobs, and business opportunities. I have walked many of the typical paths in our industry: technician, writer, teacher and now, inspector. Day in and out, I watch people struggle against the challenges that come along with getting their respective jobs done. The most prevalent factor that we all struggle with is interpersonal communication. Modern technology, despite its great advantages, has actually hampered communication. Sure, the messages get sent, the jobs posted, and the repair orders dispatched. But how often do we all run into concerns where human-to-human communication could have solved a problem? The concern is growing and it is affecting our industry negatively, particularly with inspections and compliance consultations.

Our industry is one of people, not just machines. Each and every inspection or consultation affects someone else’s life. The tech works, the parts get sold and the customer drives again. That is food on the table for everyone. A bill gets paid. A long deserved vacation gets traveled. As an inspector, I see this ignored daily. It seems most people worry about their piece of the job, not the overall outcome. When we don’t know each other’s faces, or even voices, folks on the other end of the Internet or phone become a “they”. It becomes “the warranty company” instead of Bob at The Warranty Company. I am “the inspector,” not Trinidad. It is “the car,” not Ms. Smith’s family wagon. It is difficult to maintain this level of consideration when we are all so busy.

Daily, inspectors and consultants around the nation juggle multiple work streams, traffic and critically, the phone. Often we travel almost an hour to get to a job, take the time to get our pictures and call in our reports/status. On a perfect day, there is no traffic, the shop is ready and there is no waiting around for an adjuster to answer the phone. Usually, however, there are traffic jams, shops with resistant staff and phone tag games to play. As an example, I had to travel recently through a major metro area, during rush hour to perform an inspection for a major warranty company. Following multiple voice messages to the writer and manager (with requests for a call back), I decided to risk traveling to the repair shop, even though I did not receive positive confirmation the car was ready. I arrived and was greeted by the writer. I asked if my message was received and was told it had been. I chose to ignore the slight, as I had work to do and needed cooperation. The technician was already highly disturbed I was interrupting his day, and I made it worse by telling him I needed reasonable proof of fault, not anecdotes and pattern fault diagnoses. At last, I completed the information gathering and photos. Then came the dreaded report call. A half hour goes by on hold, devastating the profitability of the job. All of this could have been avoided by spending the time to communicate. No harsh feelings, no rush, only a customer well served and a car well repaired.

It is typically unwise to offer complaint without suggesting a course of resolution. The resolution does not cost much, only patience and a few precious bits of time here and there. If some sort of standard existed, even de facto, we could all have a much better time working together. The four parts of the inspection/consultation business all have a common goal: serve the person who bought and signed the policy that is being put into use. This goal is plainly lost when the people involved are only looking as far as their own involvement. The inspectors are concerned with performing the job efficiently enough to make it worthwhile. The inspection companies are concerned with completion and accuracy to satisfy the warranty company. The warranty company is concerned with making sure their policy is not being taken advantage of. The repair shops/techs want clear information and minimal interruptions to their workflow. Keeping sight of the policyholder and how best to serve them is the missing factor. Ultimately, the entire industry is dependent upon customer satisfaction. The easiest, least expensive and most logical way to achieve that is to collectively work on our communication and simply do what must be done.

Warranty companies state instructions for handling an inspection. It is not too much trouble to have instructions clearly state that communication must take place. Clear instructions from a warranty company help greatly. Simple research into terminology, component location and reduction of information duplication are all common areas that would start improving inspection instruction clarity. Inspection agencies could also help by proofreading and giving feedback to warranty companies when instructions are not clear. Advising repair shops that communicating with the inspector is key to a satisfactory inspection would also assist the inspectors greatly.

Inspection agencies’ assistance as an intermediary between warranty company and inspector is crucial to an inspection being carried out satisfactorily. Ensuring the most suitable inspectors are chosen and held to standard matters when it comes to a dependable flow of information. Often, a warranty company may ask for something that seems illogical or for something that oversteps the typical requirements for an inspection. Prior to assignment, these sort of matters could be ironed out by the inspection agency. For example, requiring underside photos at all four corners, under dash, scan data, and checking for emissions software updates on a window regulator inspection does not makes sense, aside from it being a simple data gathering job. Clarifying the rationale behind this sort of thing will ease tensions and smooth the path for clear information flow.

The inspectors are the “boots on the ground” in the warranty business. They usually take jobs on the fly, during the course of the workday. There is not much time to review each inspection request prior to accepting the job. Organizing time and travel is a challenge, further exacerbated in metro areas. Given the multiple inspection agencies an inspector may work with, clarity of communication is key. Reporting workflow slowdowns, shop difficulties, and complications to all the parties involved ensure everyone can adjust their workflows in turn.

The repair shops must call in the claim initially; that provides a chance for clear instructions to be shared with the repair facility. At that time, the repair facility should simply be told the inspector will not arrive until a call is made and inspection requirements clarified. The writer would be wise at that point to review the requirements with the tech, and arrange the time and compensation if need be. If all this were a perfect scenario, the inspector would be in and out quickly, with minimum interruption to the shop. If we could improve communication, it would go a long way in improving the whole process. Doing this, however, seems to be the highest hurdle.

The variations in communication seem endless. Different warranty companies deal with different inspection agencies that, in turn, deal with different inspectors and consultants. The potential for miscommunication is high with all the variables in place. Everyone in our industry relies on solid information. Inspectors and consultants, however, are only an intermittent occurrence in a repair shop’s day-to-day business. This sets us apart from their normal communication scheme during the workday. All too frequently, I encounter rushed indifference from repair shops when I call for an appointment and detail what I need to satisfy the warranty company’s requirements. This results in unprepared vehicles, upset technicians, and lengthy inspection time due to things such as waiting for car warm-ups, open vehicle lifts, available scanners, etc. As a result, the inspector’s timeline takes a turn for the worse.

Inspectors would be wise to get involved in the process of improving communication in our industry, as they are uniquely positioned to do. The balance between asserting the warranty company’s demands and alienating the shop staff can be challenging. Most inspectors are self-employed to one degree or another. It is easy for an inspector to feel they are taking a risk by asserting what they need. This is symptomatic of what hampers communication as a whole.

Maintaining dependable, clear communication is the key to our mutual success as a warranty and inspection industry. We will all benefit by serving our collective customers, the policyholders, in a manner that promotes free flow of information, encourages trust and hampers fraud. We are a service industry – a collective of individuals who have individual concerns. Some are in it for a living, others because it is their passion. Our goals as individuals do not have to be to the exclusion of others, so long as everyone understands that they will all be met by doing one simple thing: Keep the flow of communication moving so we can work together to serve the policy holder in a professional, responsible and timely manner.

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Five Key Attributes of an Automobile Inspector

As a soldier, I learned the value of having attention to detail, practice and experience. Many days spent in the hot sun repeating the same actions. At the time, it seemed redundant and monotonous. However, it ultimately lead to a better understanding of what we were trying to accomplish—a perfected skill set that would put us a step ahead of any other military force. When I first started in the inspection business, I quickly realized that the same attention to detail and experience required of a soldier was also required of an inspector.

Inspectors come from a variety of backgrounds. Whether it be the auto shop teacher looking to supplement their income, or an ASE master mechanic looking to reduce the daily physical toll off their body and get away from “turning wrenches,” they all require the same skill set—a refined ability to detect problems and details that others might not. Furthermore, they must be able to accurately describe what they find in a way that makes sense. It is one thing to understand what you see, but another to explain it to a claims adjuster who may be hundreds of miles away.

Years of working with inspectors have lead me to a better understanding of what makes a good inspector. These include:

1. Experience. There is no substitute for experience. This does not mean the type of experience you gain from changing oil or performing a tune-up. This has to be “hands-on experience” for an extended amount of time. It includes removing and replacing engines, overhauling transmissions and performing other major mechanical repairs. These tasks ultimately allow a person to gain enough experience to be a good inspector. As with many other things in life, this also allows the inspector to learn from their successes and failures.

2. Attention to detail. Inspectors have to be the eyes and ears of their clients in the field. They have to look for details that a repair facility technician might overlook — either voluntarily or involuntarily. Metal in transmission pans, the smell and color of fluids and checking for aftermarket modifications are just a few of the many details that an inspector must look at on any given inspection. Missing a particular detail could mean the difference between a claim being approved or denied. The smallest of details can cost thousands of dollars to the client or the warranty company.

3. Communication. As in the military or any other facet of business, communication is a vital component to success. An experienced inspector must be able to take what they find and communicate it in a manner that everyone can understand. Everyone has heard of the phrase “you just had to be there.” However, such phrases are not acceptable during the inspection process. The inspector has to accurately communicate their findings in a fashion that allows the claims adjuster to clearly understand what was actually found.

4. Affability. Inspectors have a tough job. No one likes to have others following up after them making sure they are doing the “right thing.” In reality, this is what inspectors do on a daily basis. They are verifying what the shop’s technician is telling the claims adjuster. This can create a potentially frustrating situation for the tech. Because of this, initially, the tech might hold some contempt towards the inspector. The inspector has to be able to acknowledge this potential frustration and be able to change the technician’s attitude towards them. Trust me, this is not an easy task. This is where affability or the “likeability factor” comes into play. If someone is really likeable, they can adjust and adapt to almost any situation. This is vital to being a good inspector.

5. Integrity. Society acknowledges integrity as one of core values each one of us should hold. It has been often said that integrity is what you do when no one is looking. It is one thing to preach integrity and another thing to practice it. An inspector must have a high level of integrity and remain unbiased when reporting their findings, understanding that the information they provide ultimately contributes to a decision whether or not to apply warranty coverage. Good or bad, a professional inspector must remain impartial.

In business, we all establish relationships that will eventually end. These relationships can end when better opportunities or retirement occur. That is just life and we all have to deal with it. While it is always sad to see a good inspector go, inspection providers have to always be searching for the next generation of inspectors. It is important that we seek those future inspectors who have the traits to handle their profession in the same manner and respect as those who came before them. Inspectors make up 80% of our work product and, without good inspectors, no inspection company can succeed.

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