Tag Archive | "Inspections"

Streamlining the Inspection Process with Technology

There are both positive and negative aspects to performing the same task over and over. By doing so, we develop methods that work best for us, both as individuals and teams, and we build confidence after repeated successes. Countering that are the effects of stagnation and complacency. How many automotive shops still in business use outdated computers, scanners, and paper forms? Inspectors, how many of you are using standalone cameras, maps, and desktop computers? Throughout our industry, technology is not being kept up with. The time to eliminate paper, deliver real-time inspection results, and keep all involved parties simultaneously up to date is here. Having the capability to operate at this level is not in the future, years away, but is available now.

Warranty companies, as do all businesses, want to remain profitable. Typically, this is achieved by providing solid service and/or products in a timely manner. Perhaps our industry’s largest obstacle in providing coverage in a “timely manner” is the claims and inspection process. The generation of a claim requires phone time for service writers and adjusters alike. Some warranty companies offer relatively quick web-based claim generation, while others choose to allow one-hour plus telephone wait times. As an inspector, these differences are often brought to light at repair facilities. Frequently, requests are made for warranty companies to “get a website!” These requests typically come from service writers and management who become perturbed by the lengthy processes. The use of email, private messaging or online chatting could speed up many parts of the claims process, particularly for simple claims.

Inspection services serve the warranty companies, the public, repair facilities, insurance companies and just about anyone who would like a car to be inspected for a fee. Each of the multitude of functions an inspection service performs requires different web forms, access methods, and people to be involved. Timelines for service turnaround are critical for these companies and given the effort and expense involved, technology can help out considerably. Some warranty companies are extraordinarily easy to work with, using web, email, phone, text, voice reporting, and mobile web access. There are other inspection companies that solely reply on the telephone, web, and fax machines.

The people who operate repair facilities bear the largest part of the warranty process burden: customer satisfaction. Collectively, our customers are the path to success. Three-day inspection turnarounds (from the time a repair order is written), coupled with a clouded understanding of policy coverage hinder a repair facility’s ability to deliver the timely service customers demand. This can be assuaged by simple smartphone apps (from the repair facilities and warranty companies) that provide specific policy coverage, and allow for vehicle status tracking and collective communication between all involved parties.

Our industry’s inspectors face concerns juggling warranty companies, inspection services, and repair facilities. While all of these disparate entities are vying for the inspector’s attention, the need for a streamlined inspection approach is not just a matter of convenience, but one of necessity. Between traffic, communication issues and all of the other factors involved in performing an inspection, it is not surprising to find inspectors (and everyone else involved) to be frustrated with obstacles that interfere with getting the job done quickly and accurately. Despite these challenges, inspectors are called upon to be the voice of logic, fact and sound judgment. This becomes easier to achieve when technology is brought to bear and used to its fullest. Should a repair facility challenge inspection results, the immediacy of fast photo delivery and findings onsite allow for a consensus to be reached without relying solely on after-the-fact information. This also improves relations between repair facilities and inspectors.

Current technology can solve many of the challenges of the warranty industry by simply embracing a few new ideas. Chief among these is the use of smartphone cameras instead of standalone digital models. These cameras are more than sufficient for the purposes of an inspection and the screen on a phone is typically larger than a traditional camera’s, thus enabling the inspector to achieve a higher degree of accuracy and clarity in photographs. Many smartphones have editing functions that allow for circling and highlighting portions of a photo to reinforce the content of a report. The Internet is typically accessible via smartphone and could serve as a real-time medium for picture and report uploading to be done onsite. A major benefit to this is less processing time for inspectors at the day’s end, which improves motivation, organization and timeliness. New camera technologies are now available in the form of fiber optics. These cameras are capable of passing through small gaps and around corners allowing the inspector to verify faults that would otherwise remain unseen; particularly when lack of disassembly is a concern. Exploitation of the audio/video capabilities in a smartphone is useful for documenting noise and difficult-to-photograph subjects. The benefits of using a smartphone extend beyond the technology. As phone technology improves, all aspects of the inspection business can benefit from shrinking equipment costs, compactness, and most importantly, less time consumption.

Improved mobile web applications are easily developed, and can improve expediency for both inspection services and warranty companies. Imagine an inspector receiving notification, accepting, performing, and submitting an inspection with a single, highly portable tool. This would improve efficiency and have the major benefit of near real-time review of reports and findings. If fast enough, it has the potential to allow same-day claim approval/resolution.

The single biggest hurdle to streamlining our industry is cooperation. All involved parties have their own particular economic interests, including the customer. While all the parties in the warranty industry need each other, they are at odds economically. This tends to breed a bit of shortsightedness, stunting people’s ability to cooperate. Business tactics and trade policies do not allow for much sharing of private business practices, but reaching a consensus on technological standards would benefit everyone involved; much the way OBD-II diagnostic standards improved diagnostics and general levels of understanding. A case in point would be this: one inspection company requires a warranty company’s verbal report, followed by the inspection company’s verbal report; A competing inspection company (working for the same warranty company) only requires a single report with photos uploaded at night. This disparity in processes frustrates many who are involved, particularly the repair facilities and inspectors. A simple standard, even if de facto, would make our industry more predictable and profitable.

The uses for modern technology in our business are varied and widespread. The difference in usage can make or break a warranty company, inspection service, inspector, or repair facility. We would all prove wise to start talking and cooperating to improve our industry, lest our differences prevail and we continue dealing with individual processes instead of working towards improving our industry as a whole.

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A Positive Outlook Can Change Everything

As mechanical break down inspectors, we all face certain challenges during the course of our day-to-day duties. One of the biggest challenges can be getting the service advisor and/or technician to readily assist in the inspection process. I am well aware that some of the service contract providers could do a much better job of explaining to the repair facility the purpose for the inspection, and exactly what their role in the process is, but the best tool for dealing with negative perception from anyone is a positive attitude.

Responding to resistance or frustration with statements such as, “I’m just an independent inspector,” or “I don’t work for the warranty company,” are only perceived as excuses and typically are not very helpful in gaining the assistance you need. Relaying that you understand the difficulties and delays created by the inspection request is usually more positively received.

Also assure them that your verbal or written report will be given to the warranty company and/or the inspection agency before you leave the repair facility to ensure that the decision making process moves along as quickly as possible. This lets them known that you all have the same goal – which is to get the vehicle repaired and back to the owner.

We must also remember that most of the technicians we will deal with are on a flat rate pay plan and in their mind, the time spent with us is unpaid time. I have found that being direct and straight to the point, telling them exactly what information is needed to accurately answer all of the service providers’ questions and complete your report works best. Once they are aware of what you need, let them take the superior role during the inspection. Defensiveness and resistance are the “knee jerk” responses if a technician feels his abilities are being questioned.

A firm hand shake and a sincere thank you at the conclusion of your inspection can do wonders for all future inspections. All people are more apt to be helpful and giving of their time to someone they like and have a mutual respect for. Along with the challenges, there are numerous benefits to our chosen profession. We all encounter service personnel on a daily basis who would love the opportunity to do what we do. Keep in mind that your outlook is the lens that you view every situation through. Stay positive and the rest will follow.

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Good Communications Result in Thorough Inspections

For the inspection process to be thorough and completed speedily and efficiently, effective communication is of utmost importance to all parties involved – the vehicle owner, the warranty company, the repair facility, the technician and the inspector. I started my inspection business in 2000, after working for 20 years as a line technician in independent shops and a GM dealership, ten years as shop foreman at the same GM dealer, then ten years as a service manager in two different GM dealers. During these last 14 years, I have performed too many inspections to remember and have experienced all the communication breakdowns that occur in this business.

These communication breakdowns cost the vehicle owner frustrations and expenses because their vehicle is not repaired speedily. The warranty company experiences frustrations and incurs expenses from delays or inspections that have to be repeated. The repair facility experiences frustrations and incurs expenses because they have bays or lifts tied up waiting on claim approval. The technician experiences frustration and a loss of income because his stall or rack is tied up, or he has to spend his time repeating the testing to demonstrate the failure. The inspector experiences delays in the daily scheduling of his workload, and often has to juggle appointments because an inspection is delayed.

Take this real life example: I received an inspection request from the warranty administrator to check a vehicle’s seat heater grids. I called the dealer to confirm that the vehicle was present at the shop, and the technician was present to demonstrate the failure. The service advisor assured me they were both there, so we set the inspection time at 10 am. I arrived on time at the dealer for the inspection. The service advisor paged the technician to come to the service drive. When the technician arrived at the service drive and retrieved the keys, he said, “Let’s go out to the vehicle.” Once in the vehicle, the technician turned the right and left seat heater controls on. The LED lights illuminated, but only stayed on for approximately 45 seconds. The technician stated this as failure. I asked what part in the system was the failure; he replied that it was the heated seat grids. I then asked what the resistance value of each grid was. The technician said he had not checked them, but thought that must be the problem. I explained to the technician that I was tasked to verify the failure to the seat grids, and to document that failure with photos and videos. He said he would have to remove the front seats to gain access to the connectors. I informed the service manager of the situation, and told him to call me when the technician was ready to demonstrate the failure, and I would return to the dealership to document it.

That was on a Monday morning. Finally, I received a call from the dealership the next Friday at 4:30 p.m., stating they had the seats out and were ready for me. I informed the dealer I was already on another inspection and could not get back to the dealer by the close of business. The service advisor said she had to put the car back together because the customer wanted the vehicle for a trip. I told her to call me when they were ready to demonstrate the failure to the heater grids. The warranty administrator then cancelled the inspection.

The next week, on Thursday, I received a re-inspection request from the warranty administrator. I called the dealer again to confirm the vehicle was present and they were ready to demonstrate the failure. I arrived on Friday morning at 9 am. The technician was upset because he had to remove the seats again. I asked him to check the resistance of the seat heater grids with a digital volt ohm meter. When he tested the seat heater grids they were both within the GM’s specification. The failure was in the memory seat module, not the heater grids.

My contention is this: If the warranty administrator had effectively communicated to the dealer to be prepared to measure the resistance of the seat heater grids on the first inspection request, we would have solved the owners concern two weeks earlier.

Good communication in this instance would have saved the dealer the expense of two dis-assemblies, the owners untold frustration, the technician from double work for the same pay, the warranty administrator extra expense on rental car, huge customer dissatisfaction, and the inspector two trips, two weeks apart, to the dealer while only getting paid for one. If this were a one-time situation it would be different. However in my experience, I have seen vehicles repaired and returned to the owner and have arrived at the the shop only to be provided with a box of used parts. I have also arrived to find a vehicle diagnosed and reassembled, and even had a shop say a vehicle was ready for inspection, only to find no dis-assembly at all when I arrived. I have arrived at repair facilities where the shop was anticipating that I was there to tell them what the failure was. I have arrived at the dealer to find extensive modifications to the vehicle, obvious abuse by the owner, that if the dealer had disclosed, the warranty administrator might have reconsidered the expense of an inspection. All of the cases above are the result of poor communications in the inspection process.

Good Communication between the dealership and the warranty company

The service personnel must give full disclosure and detailed information concerning all failures that they expect the warranty company to pay for. For example: abuse, neglect, modifications, ball joint measurements, DTCs and any tests that have been run. Also, they should let them know if the vehicle has already been repaired.

Warranty adjusters must give the dealer full disclosure of their expectations during the upcoming inspection. For example: their need for ball joint measurement and specifications, their need to know the point of failure, any and all dis-assembly required to get to the point of failure, or any testing which the shop will need to demonstrate to the inspector, thereby demonstrating the failure, any fluid sampling they will require, and notify them that for road testing, the dealer personnel are required to drive the vehicle.

Good Communication between the warranty company and the inspector

Warranty companies have the responsibility to communicate their needs to the inspector in a detailed manner. For example: what they are looking for, if they need fluid samples, the time line for the completion of the inspection, how the warranty company is to receive the inspection information, required measurements, and if they prefer video. Most warranty companies no longer work directly with inspectors, which means that the same good communication needs to occur between the third party broker and the inspector. Inspectors cannot read minds!

Good Communication between the inspector and the dealer to schedule the inspection

The inspector must promptly contact the dealer to schedule an inspection, confirm that the vehicle is at the facility, has the required dis-assembly, that the technician who diagnosed the failure is present to demonstrate the failure, and if a rack is required, confirm the dealer will have one available. It is good to inquire if the dealer has dial indicator equipment if measuring ball joints, and equipment to check the codes! Ask the service advisor for the full service history, as well as the used car inspection repair order and check-over sheet. Be sure to view the technician’s notes on all documents, as these items often reveal preexisting conditions.

Good Communication between the inspector and the technician during the inspection

In the experience of this inspector, good communications between the inspector and the technician is the most critical aspect in a thorough inspection result. The inspector must be familiar with the systems or items that he is requested to inspect, in order to ask the proper questions. If he is not familiar, a little time reading the service manual on the vehicle prior to arriving for the inspection would be a huge asset. There are a lot of services online that can be used to access the data as well.

Asking the proper questions assures the technician that your not the “hatchet man” and are truly interested in helping get the claim paid. The proper questions will reveal if the technician did in fact follow the proper diagnostic procedure to come to his conclusion of the failure. Asking the proper questions also reveals if a technician has the skills to properly diagnose the failure. Being friendly, helpful and asking the right question often times leads to information from the technician that: a.) he may have forgotten from his initial diagnosis, b.) he failed to provide the service advisor, or c.) he intentionally left out of the shop request for an inspection. Communicating that the inspector is willing to “go the extra mile” in allowing the shop to duplicate or demonstrate the failure builds confidence in the inspector’s value to the technician as well.

Good Communication between the inspector and the service advisor/manager after the inspection

Communicating with the service advisor or service manager about what you were able and unable to verify, and the reasons why, builds confidence between the inspector and the service personnel. This also communicates what will be reported to the warranty company. In simpler terms, “no surprises” that will leave the advisor or manager feeling the inspector tried to pull one over on him.

Good Communications between the inspector and the warranty company adjuster after the inspection is completed 

The inspector should communicate the failure and the cause of that failure, as well as all tests that were used in determining the cause of the failure with the warranty company adjuster. Communicating observations, denoting any subtle signs of abuse, such as constant curbing, which would contribute to premature ball joint failure. This includes communicating in both your verbal and written reports the measurements of any suspension modifications. In my opinion, photos and videos are an excellent means of communicating what you have seen. I take multiple photos in varying light conditions, as well as varying positions of an item, to give the adjuster multiple views of the failure. My reports average 40 or more photos, and I have reported as many as 160 photos for one inspection.

I encourage everyone in the inspection process to apply good communication skills to each and every level of the inspection process. The result will be thorough, quality inspections that will result in the satisfaction of all parties.

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