Profile “Flexibility” But No Guidance Change: Mitchell Responds to SCRS Blend Study

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

Since the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) released the results of their blend study in late 2022, collision repairers have been waiting for updates from the three major information providers (IPs), but while CCC/MOTOR and Audatex both addressed the concerns raised by making changes to their systems last year, Mitchell remained reticent…until earlier this year when Jack Rozint, repair sales senior vice president, casually announced an imminent enhancement to Mitchell Cloud Estimating during open mic at the Collision Industry Conference, held in Palm Springs in January.

“There have been a lot of questions, apparently, about what Mitchell is doing in the area of refinish calculations,” Rozint acknowledged, explaining that an upcoming release to Mitchell Cloud Estimating would offer “the opportunity for users to set up, at the profile level, seven different areas of refinish calculations,” allowing users to “set up their own default settings for clear coat, three-stage and two-tone blend refinishing adjustments as well as different blends for each insurer, giving a ton of flexibility to our customers.”

In response to Rozint’s announcement, SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg asked, “Will the guidance in the Mitchell Guide also change relative to any of the formulas, or is it just the flexibility in the actual profile setup?” to which Rozint responded, “Our defaults will not change at this time.” So, Mitchell’s guide still indicates blends as 50 percent of the full refinish time, unlike the other two IPs that updated their solutions to provide profile flexibility and updated their guidance to recognize the variables associated with blending and changes in modern automotive refinish products. The updated guidance in CCC and Audatex addresses the difficulty of blending by recommending deference to the judgment of an estimator or appraiser  following an on-the-spot evaluation of the specific vehicle and refinish requirements in question.

While Mitchell communicated these changes as an improvement, their insistence on adhering to the 50 percent formula that has been utilized in their Collision Estimating Guide for more than three decades is likely to continue to make it challenging for shops to take advantage of the system’s newfound “flexibility.” 

Although Rozint claimed that the enhancements are designed to provide users with greater flexibility and control over labor time calculations and will enable repair planners to adjust all seven common refinish calculations in the estimate profile (clear coat, refinish, blend, three stage, two tone, finish sand and buff and de-nib and finesse), Mitchell’s insistence on maintaining its previous guidance seems to indicate a refusal to actually accept the facts that have been repeatedly presented.

“The fact that they are addressing it is encouraging; however, I believe they have lost touch with the fact that today’s processes and procedures require much more time and material costs than it did years ago when they derived their blend formula,” ABAT President Burl Richards shares his thoughts. “They disagree with the results of the SCRS Blend Study and refused to participate, so in my opinion, they are catering to the insurance companies by not allowing the formula to be corrected.”

The SCRS blend study, conducted in collaboration with AkzoNobel, Axalta, BASF, PPG and Sherwin-Williams, evaluated blending in comparison to full refinish values when considering solid, metallic and tri-stage refinish options across all the paint manufacturers and concluded that blend times are 31.59 percent greater than full refinished value on average, a significant difference than the 50 percent formula utilized by the IPs at the time.

After conducting its own observational studies of the blend process, MOTOR/CCC released guidance in April 2023, changing its Estimated Worktime Development Methodology related to color blend of adjacent panels to account for variations in modern vehicle paint refinishing. Since their October system enhancement, users are able to click a blend button in CCC ONE which automatically calculates a two-stage blend at 50 percent of the refinish time and a three-stage blend at 70 percent of the full refinish time. An on-the-spot evaluation allows users to either input a default value for two-stage and three-stage blends or opt to have the system prompt them for the blend time specific to that repair.

CCC also updated its Guide to Estimating to remove the prior formula and add verbiage clarifying that “estimated refinish times for color blending should defer to the judgment of an estimator or appraiser following an on-the-spot evaluation of the specific vehicle and refinish requirements in question.”

MOTOR specifically identifies judgment time as “the outcome reached when an estimator or appraiser considers the specifics of the vehicle and repair or refinish operation being evaluated to determine the estimated work time,” according to their response to an inquiry submitted by the Database Enhancement Gateway (DEG).

DEG’s inquiry questioning MOTOR’s removal of blend formulas elicited the following clarification: “MOTOR removed the previously published color blend formulas after determining they may not reflect the many variations encountered with modern vehicle finishes and designs. Citing these variations, MOTOR does not intend to publish a list of included or excluded items specific to color blend.”

Audatex followed suit with a July update, ultimately providing users with the ability to adjust refinish labor time to specify a value between 50 and 150 percent in October, and by the end of 2023, the IP had updated its Database Reference Manual to remove its previous 50 percent blend formula guidance which was replaced with the following:

“Audatex refinish labor is based on the use of new and undamaged panels. Audatex Estimating does not provide a standard labor allowance for blended panels as this requires the estimate preparer’s judgment, expertise and consideration of the unique requirements for each repair. Determination and assessment of labor and materials necessary in the blending process is best provided by the estimate preparer during the estimate preparation process. To assist the user, profile settings allow for customization to enter a specified blend percentage, as necessary.”

“They didn’t just update their system based on our research; they conducted their own research and based their system updates on their findings,” Schulenburg notes an important factor related to the IPs’ updates. “These changes are based on their decisions and are NOT the result of the SCRS blend study; that study was merely the catalyst that prompted them to re-evaluate their own information.

“This is an important fact for shops to understand and use as a talking point because an insurance company doesn’t need to believe what SCRS found during our blend study…those well-documented findings were persuasive enough that the IP re-evaluated its own studies and came to its own conclusion.”

Acknowledging that some shops have reported challenges in conversations with  bill payers around blend times, Schulenburg suggested that repairers might find it valuable to present insurance carriers with documentation related to the IPs’ responses, including trade press articles on the topic, as a means of furthering the conversation. “When we have representatives from the estimating providers who share that they are aware and have been aware of this being an issue long before the SCRS blend study ever occurred, that’s probably useful in your dialogue.” 

In fact, Solera Product Management Senior Director David Davoodi told industry news outlet Repairer Driven News in November 2023 that Solera was already aware of the concerns SCRS and other repairers had for months – if not years! – prior to the release of the results of the association’s blend study results. 

Schulenburg encouraged repairers to be conscientious that they spend time understanding the variables within their own process at their facility and use that to present data in a meaningful way.

“It’s easy to state that you’re doing something because of what the blend study says, but it fails to really express how the research relates to what is happening in your repair process and tasks that your technicians are already performing in your repair facility. Some carriers may push back because they don’t recognize SCRS as an entity that does time studies, and that’s fine; we’re not. But the IPs didn’t make those changes just because SCRS did the blend study. The study opened a conversation that led them to do their own research and come to their own conclusions, and noting that could lead to a very different conversation.”

Want more? Check out the March 2024 issue of Texas Automotive!