What Should Today’s Work Authorization Forms Look Like?

with Mike Anderson

This month, we “ASK MIKE” to share his thoughts on what should be included in a work authorization form. We at Hammer & Dolly hope you find the following exchange useful, and we encourage you to reach out to us if you have a question for Mike on this or any industry-related matter that he can answer in a future issue.

Hammer & Dolly: With so many changes hitting the industry these days in terms of technology and marketplace trends, now is a good time for shops to make sure their work authorization forms include everything necessary to perform a repair in 2024. What should a good work authorization look like? 

Mike Anderson: Number one, we need to think beyond just the work authorization. There are certain things we need to communicate to a customer before they even drop off their vehicle. When I had my shops, we’d typically tell the customer to have a full tank of gas and to bring their locking wheel lug key if they had one. You didn’t want to be working on the car and suddenly be unable to get the wheel off. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon to disconnect the radio, so you’d need a radio code. We would ask the customer these things before drop-off. The authorization form in those days basically said, ‘Hey, we’re going to work on your car. Do we have your permission to do the repairs?’ Back in the day, we even used a Direction to Pay form. Today, things are much more complicated. 

When a vehicle needs an ADAS calibration, the manufacturer will say 99.99 percent of the time that the vehicle needs a full tank of gas to do a proper calibration or even a suspension alignment. I know of a shop that did a calibration on a customer’s vehicle and filled it up with gas. When the customer came to get the vehicle and noticed it had more gas than before, they asked the shop which kind of gas was added. It turned out that the shop didn’t add the type of gas the customer wanted. The shop had to drain out all that fuel and replace the fuel pump. That’s why it’s important to tell the customer to bring in their vehicle with a full tank of gas. 

Every technician out there has probably cursed the day when they had to work on the rear of a vehicle, took off a back bumper and found a bunch of the customer’s personal belongings in there. It’s a pain to remove all that out of the vehicle and store it. That’s something else that needs to be communicated to the customer before the repair. In some cases, the vehicle may have a ceramic coating for paint protection. We may need to know that when we write the repair plan. All those things need to be discussed with the customer before the authorization. 

Now back to the authorization form. There’s no magic answer that says, ‘This is the perfect authorization form,’ because they can vary a lot today based on state laws. We may need to have a written authorization to use non-OEM parts. Another form may need to say that we need to perform a test drive to achieve set conditions for calibrations and that we’ll need to perform diagnostic scans and then share that data with a third-party payer. Some state laws say that you need an authorization to disassemble the vehicle and then a second one to begin the repairs. If you use texting to contact the customer, you need to have their authorization to either opt in or opt out. I’m not an attorney by any means, but I know some shops that have their customers sign a hold harmless agreement or a Power of Attorney form. If you have an authorization form, you should really think through all those scenarios and have it reviewed by your attorney. We’re not in the ‘old days’ anymore. 

Here’s something else regarding test drives. Every year when I had my shops, I would submit my employees’ driver’s licenses and a copy of their driving records to my business insurance carrier. Maybe you have an employee who has a DUI or too many tickets. They may not be covered to test drive a customer’s vehicle.

H&D: It’s interesting that you mentioned state laws, as it’s not uncommon these days for a shop to repair a vehicle for a customer who lives in another state. What are your thoughts on what shops should do with authorization forms when they have an out-of-state customer?

MA: That’s a great question. When I had my shops in Virginia, we had customers from Maryland and DC. Again, those laws can vary. I’d say it’s important to check with state officials – whether it’s the insurance commissioner’s office or another entity – regarding whether the work authorization form applies to the state the vehicle is being repaired in or the state where the policy was written. That may be something that WMABA or the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) can provide some clarity on by reaching out to the right people.

H&D: It seems to me that a shop could end up having to draft a different work authorization form for every vehicle that shows up. 

MA: You absolutely need to think about that. We live in such a litigious society today. 

Want more? Check out the May 2024 issue of Hammer & Dolly!