Assessing the role

As the ‘go to’ person for so many elements of a bodyshop business, the value of a highly-talented vehicle damage assessor (VDA) cannot be underestimated. But what does it feel like to be one of these individuals in today’s sector? bodyshop magazine caught up with two such specialists to find out more.

Nick Westmoncott-Grint, senior estimator, Fix Auto Bristol West

What, for you, is VDA utopia?

I sometimes think that working in a quieter environment, where examining and assessing damaged vehicles using the correct methods and tooling was at a slower pace would be my idea of estimating heaven.

I still maintain though that knowledge is an invaluable tool in correctly assessing vehicles, as vehicles are changing so rapidly that you can easily be left behind. Fast paced changes in vehicle structure and the use of sophisticated electronics mean that a VDA needs to understand so much more about how a vehicle is constructed and what impact that has if the vehicle is involved in an accident.

As someone once said to me; ‘it’s not about repairing a car, it’s about making sure it is correctly prepared for its next accident’.

How is the job of a VDA evolving?

When I first started as a VDA, it was no less busy but there was a lot more negotiating with insurance engineers over cost and method of repair. There was therefore a real need for a VDA to be able to create estimates and then negotiate these costs.

The skillset now required is one that is much more customer focused, with very little insurer intervention. The VDA is now the hub of a modern bodyshop, being the ‘go to’ person for customers, insurers and other members of the business. Suppliers are very keen on high levels of communication with the bodyshop, so communication skills, for me, are very high on the agenda.

The VDA needs to understand the wants and needs of both supplier and customer, understand what the impact their role has on the business and its overall performance.

What ‘things’ have proved greatly advantageous to your role?

Information technology links between suppliers and ourselves has helped us enormously – speeding communication and creating a platform for sharing vital information. Efficiency and effectiveness have become ‘buzzwords’ in the bodyshop industry and are often used to describe performance.

From a resource perspective, efficiency is defined as ‘an internal standard of performance and effectiveness as an external standard of fit to various demands’ (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978). I feel it is vital that a VDA can be measured then on performance, and what that performance is depends on how the business they operate within wants to measure it.

Continuous, relevant training, good communication skills and being part of a great team are, in my opinion the foundations of being a great VDA. In fact, those principles could be applied to most jobs.

 

Russell Taylor, VDA, Trustford Warrington

What is VDA utopia?

In a word, retirement! No seriously though a VDA’s role is becoming increasingly challenging by the minute and I think anyone coming into the role needs to be very determined, enthusiastic and focused on delivering the best service possible.

How is the job of a VDA evolving?

I believe that continuous training, education and self-motivation are very important as the role of a VDA is constantly changing due to the ever evolving vehicle repair techniques and the use of hi-tech construction materials available to vehicle manufacturers which included plastics, composites, alloys and high-strength steels.

Another challenging area of vehicle construction is the complex and technical advances in advanced driver assistance systems, supplemental restraint systems and pedestrian safety impact areas which, without vehicle manufacturer information, would be a minefield to deal with.

What ‘things’ have proved greatly advantageous to your role?

I have found a number of things greatly advantageous during my career both as a way of keeping me in touch with the sharp-end of my role but also as a reminder that there is a great deal I still need to learn.

The bodyshop/Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors (IAEA) VDA of the Year Competition is one of the events that no matter how many times you enter, still catches you out and throws a curve-ball just when you think you have are getting to grips with it.

I have also found the IAEA distance learning course to be a huge education, which I was privileged to be awarded by the institute as part of the Jimmy Budd scholarship I received when I was awarded the 2013 VDA of the year accolade. I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to get involved with this, as it is extremely informative.