Local Contributor: The DEKRA-Certified SCRS BLEND Study, Invoicing and the Paint and Material Calculator

by Brian Griffith

The blend study initiated by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) and certified by DEKRA is undoubtedly one of the most significant and impactful studies completed in the history of auto damage collision repair.

Estimates – and ultimately compensation for collision repair – depend on countless time studies, which have determined fair and accurate times for innumerable labor operations involved in collision repair. Every operation, except for those necessitating “repair judgment,” identifies a predetermined labor time which was established through some sort of time study. 

Occasionally, the published time for an operation becomes obsolete or inaccurate due to changes in the operation, such as complexity, advances in technology, substrate type or size of the component involved. In the case of blending panels and ultimately refinishing within certain scenarios, the complexity of color prompted the industry to unanimously question the deductions created decades ago when blending and spot refinishing. The complexity of color has become incredible with various rare pigments, translucent colors, quad-coat colors, pastels and matte finishes. Blending into adjacent panels or refinishing within a panel takes a high level of skill and spray gun technique to complete. 

Finally, SCRS stepped up and brought all five of the major North American paint manufacturers, including BASF, Axalta, Akzo Nobel, Sherwin Williams and PPG together with DEKRA, the largest independent North American expert in time testing, inspection and certification. Each manufacturer provided refinish experts for their systems who completed a comparative analysis to determine how long it takes to blend a panel in comparison to performing a full refinish (the study is available for download at scrs.com/blendstudy). The results of the independent study validated what so many technicians have been telling us for many years: It takes more time to blend, and consequently refinish within in many instances, than it does panel-paint…to the tune of an average of 131.59 percent of the allotted refinish time per panel!

I have spent the last 31 years in and around the collision industry. I began my career as an insurance estimator and advanced through various claim positions to estimatics team manager. Insurance staffing migrations to centrals and virtual claim handling practices prompted me to leave that side of the industry and become a repair facility manager for a large dealership and later for an independent MSO. Finally, my career path led me to collision refinish sales where I currently work as a territory manager for a collision refinish coatings company, covering portions of West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky. I have a tremendous heart and passion for the collision industry and feel we have reached an extremely critical time where repair capacity is shrinking at an alarming rate and not just through retirement of an aging workforce.

Young and talented technicians are leaving our industry every day for less stressful opportunities that offer better incomes. Cutting refinish hours when blending non-damaged panels and blending within repair panels are prime examples of issues that frustrate technicians, unreasonably shrink vital profit margins and result in animosity within repair facilities and toward insurance companies. The paint and material calculation has historically been a simple math equation of the refinish hours on an estimate multiplied by a numerical factor, set by the insurance industry. The reality is that the paint and material rates resulting from insurance industry surveys and other insurance market analysis have unequivocally failed to keep pace with inflation for far too many years. 

For my entire career, I have witnessed the frustration and disgust of refinish technicians, repair facility owners and managers over the issue of cutting refinish time on blend and refinish within panels. The DEKRA-certified blending study completed in August 2022 was long overdue. Finally, industry painters have concrete evidence and validation that it takes more time to blend than simply panel paint; however, as I travel throughout my four-state market, very few repair facility estimators, managers and owners are using the results of this study effectively. Accurate paint and material invoicing and adding a negotiated increase based on an “on-the-spot” evaluation in refinish time beyond full refinish on blend panels is a reasonable expectation in the industry now. 

Given the results of the study, it’s obvious that deductions on refinish within repaired panels are now negotiable as well. If it takes an average of 131.59 percent of the full refinish time to blend a panel, I cannot imagine a refinish within a full clear situation that would merit any time deduction; however, the onus is very much on the repair industry to change the historic paradigm and collectively embrace the results of the blend study. At the same time, properly invoicing liquid material plays a major role in this issue of refinish deductions and how we move forward as an industry. 

From an insurance perspective, there must be some type of calculation for paint and materials other than a final bill and liquid material invoice because many collision-damaged vehicles are not repaired. Instead, the vehicle owner cash settles or trades the vehicle off. Years ago, when the paint and material calculation was established, many repair facilities bought factory packs or mixed paint from a local paint store and did not have their own mixing systems. Colors were not nearly as complex as they are today. Gradually, over time, the industry migrated toward repair facilities housing their own mixing equipment and toners to create the various colors for the vehicles they repaired and painted. In today’s repair facility, painters have an arsenal of refinish technology enabling them to determine the appropriate color to complete the refinishing process in collision repair, also allowing them to accurately measure the exact amount of material used on each individual job to the ounce.

This is significant in relation to blending and spot-refinishing for several reasons. Why would the industry deduct half of the refinish time when blending into a non-damaged adjacent panel or take significant deductions when refinishing within a repair panel, if all parties agree the same basic steps are required for both full refinish and blend, other than the difficulty of effectively performing a color blend in relation to just panel-painting? The allotted time for applying base color within the total panel refinish time is around 10 percent, not 50 percent, and blending is undisputedly more difficult than simply panel-painting. Also, a wet bed of clear base material is typically sprayed onto a panel to blend the color into, so the panel is commonly fully painted with product anyway. The obvious answer is that taking deductions in blending and refinishing within scenarios is the only way, given the current method of establishing paint and materials to capture the base color savings. In a blend or refinish within scenario, base color is not applied to the entire panel.

The current insurer-generated paint and material calculator remains necessary, given all vehicles are not repaired, but I believe the repair industry must transition to job costing their liquid material use on all completed repairs and final bill situations. This removes all incentive to take any paint deduction to achieve a savings for less base color applied for blends, and it will also ensure the initial paint and material calculation is more accurate for customers who cash out. Theoretically, if the industry invoices all liquid used for a repair, CCC, Mitchell and Audatex – in a very short amount of time – will be able to provide very accurate data on the real cost of liquid per refinish hour. They will have an accurate paint invoice and the total refinish hours for each job. A simple math equation will validate an accurate paint and material rate for the insurance industry.

The blend study has brought new life and excitement to a very volatile and fragile industry. Repair facilities and their technicians should be accurately compensated for the industry to attract and retain talent and for repair facilities to remain profitable and in business. The complexity of color in collision refinish, the cost of liquid and the tools and techniques involved to replicate complex colors have evolved immensely over the last few years. Repair facilities have an excellent opportunity to positively impact the accuracy of the current paint and material calculation and be appropriately compensated for the work and materials used during repairs by simply embracing the results of this very valid blend study.

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