By Chris Stanley, IA Path Founder and Host of The Independent Adjuster Podcast
Once upon a time a young appraiser (me) had a large coverage area, 3hrs x 3hrs x 3hrs x 3hrs.
After spending a long twelve-hour day of inspections, I sat down to input the damage from the many cars I had looked at. Upon review of the first file I realized that the very first one could not be completed.
The reason why?
I had forgotten to take a VIN photo.
The owner and I had some great conversation about what had happened and I simply had gotten distracted and forgotten to take the photo. In the end this one photo cost me 6 hours of my life (re-driving out to the border of my coverage area to re-take that photo and driving back).
My hope is that I can help you never experience that pain in your career.
As an auto damage appraiser or adjuster, there are few tasks we are given that are as easy to judge or be judged on as the photos you take. When you receive an assignment from the appraisal company. You are contracted to complete (at minimum):
To document the damage with photos
To write an estimate
To fill out an appraisal report
Both the estimate and appraisal report’s validity are judged and based on the photos we upload to the appraisal and insurance company. Within that assignment that is sent over is a set of guidelines and expectations for you. This is what must be completed for you to be paid for completing the assignment. Review these guidelines before completing an inspection.
Let’s look at the most commonly requested photos first.
Standard Required Photos
99% of all files that I have ever completed have requested the following photos;
Four Corners (Left Front, Right Front, Right Rear, Left Rear)
Damage Photos (minimum of three)
I will present them in the order I take them in every time. Doing photos in an order and rhythm will ensure THAT YOU NEVER MISS A PHOTO!
Four Corners – The four corners allows anyone who looks at the photos to see the overall condition of the car. Many times you will be able to see a majority of the damage, license plate, and prior damage all from just the four corners.
The key to getting a corner photo correct is to ensure that you can see one end of the car and one whole side of the car. For example, when taking Front corner photo you should stand to the left and front of the vehicle. You should be able to see the entire front and left of the vehicle. a eft Front corner photo you should stand to the left and front of the vehicle. You should be able to see the entire front and left of the vehicle.
I take the photos of the four corners in this order:
License Plate Photo – The license plate photo is good for identification purposes. The insurance company will be able to verify if this is the correct and if stolen in the future have record of what license plate was on the vehicle they are insuring. It will also provide information regarding when the registration will expire. In the event of a total loss insurance companies will reimburse owners for the months of taxes they pre-paid.
VIN Photo – The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is the unique identifier for the vehicle. The VIN is located in multiple places on the vehicle.
Drivers Side Door
Frame of the Vehicle
The best VIN photo to take is the one of the VIN plate on the driver’s door. (or on inside frame or pillar of the door). This will also include the manufacture date which is important when determining if a vehicle qualifies for A/M or LKQ parts. (Like Kind Quality)
Odometer (or Mileage) Photo – Similar to a timestamp on a photo, this photo is a timestamp of when in the cars life span the insurance company inspected the vehicle. It can be useful in future investigations and claim, but once again it also can be a determiner or qualifier for A/M or LKQ parts depending on the insurance company guidelines. The odometer is located on the dashboard behind the steering wheel. In newer vehicles they are all digital, but older models will be analog.
Make sure when you take a mileage photo that the displayed mileage you are taking a photo of is the “odometer” or “odo” and not a “trip” mileage. I’ve had this happen more than a few times and can be frustrating and embarrassing to call an owner asking them their current mileage.
If a vehicles digital dash is displaying the trip it can be a game of hide and seek to find the correct button to change that to display the odometer. Many owners are not aware how to change the dash to display the odometer.
Dash Photo – Although not required on all inspections I highly recommend taking a dash/radio photo after you snap your odometer photo. You only have to move the camera a little and will literally add on two seconds to your inspection. This is important in the case of a total loss, but it also will display a lot of options on the car that could come into question later.
Headliner Photo – Right after I take the dash photo I point the camera (or phone) up and take a photo of the headliner. This shows the condition of the headliner and also shows if the vehicle has a sunroof. This is very important when a vehicle is a total loss or on hail inspections where performing R/I on a sunroof is a big item to miss. I recommend taking a photo of the headliner on every file.
Drivers Door Photo – Stepping back after the headliner photo I snap a picture of the driver’s interior door trim, front seat, and dash. Once again this shows the condition of the vehicle and a lot of the options that may come into question later if the vehicle is a total loss or a part is needing to be replaced. I recommend doing this on every vehicle not just total losses.
Damage Photos – Now onto the main event. After having a conversation with the owner, taking all of the required photos, you can no move onto the damage of the vehicle. Taking good clear photos is essential to the insurance company. If they can’t see it in a photo they will not want you to write it on an estimate. Don’t be afraid to use your finger to point out what you are taking a photo of. I recommend even if the damage is a small scratch that you take at a minimum the following three photos:
Looking straight at the scratch
One looking from the left of a scratch
One looking from the right of a scratch
If the damage is more extensive than a scratch make sure you take a photo of:
Every part that is damaged
One of the overall damages from the left
One of the overall damages from the right
Anything that would justify why you are writing something on your estimate (example hood gap being different from side to side)
Take a measurement photo of the primary point of impact. (Take this photo with the damage photos)
Using a Dent Stick or a Keson Pocket Rod is an easy way to do this. If you use a measurement tape make sure you put the beginning of the tape (before 1 inch) on the ground and measure up to the point of impact. The insurance company wants to see the tape on the ground to the point of impact. Make sure you photo shows the tape or yardstick on the ground for this to count as a proper measurement photo.
Total Loss Photos
Here is the standard total loss photo’s for most insurance carriers. Don’t forget to also check your guidelines for anything else the insurance company may require.
I recommend you take ALL PHOTOS INCLUDING TOTAL LOSS PHOTOS on EVERY CAR!
Carpet/Front Seat Photo – Taking a photo of the carpet and drivers’ front seat will show the condition and allow for proof of whatever rating you condition the vehicle. The driver’s side carpet and seat are the most used part of the vehicle and will usually be the best reflection of the condition of the vehicle. If the driver’s seat has a tear in it then that will justify a lower rating on the conditioning chart. Between this photo and the driver’s door photo you will have a proper representation of the driver’s seat condition.
Engine Photo – Taking a photo of the engine compartment with the hood up shows how well the vehicles engine has been maintained. If an engine compartment is sparkling clean this will justify a higher rating for total loss conditioning or vice versa. After I take the carpet and front seat photo I’m conveniently located by the hood lever and it makes it a perfect time to pull it and then walk up front and to take my engine photo.
Four Tread Depth Photos – Standard equipment for an auto damage appraiser or adjuster should be a tread depth gauge. You can easily pick one up for a few bucks at any auto parts store.
This gauge shows how much tread is left on the tires. When a vehicle is a total loss the insurance company uses this measurement to rate the condition of the tires. You only have to provide a rating for front and back, but since you already have the gauge out go above and beyond and snap a photo of the depth of all 4 tires. The key is to put the gauge in the center of the tire to get an accurate reading.
You will NEVER miss photos if you…
Read the guidelines prior to the inspection
Take your photos in the same order every time
Take all photos, including total loss photos on ALL VEHICLES.