If you’ve been paying attention then you probably know about the rising relevance of photo estimates. You also probably know the opponents believe it is unsafe to judge damage through a photo, and the proponents argue for the time savings to shops, insurers and consumers.

Even though Tony Ferraiolo knew the ins and outs of this trend, it didn’t quite prepare him for this moment: a photo estimate produced by a customer. For this particular accident, a driver’s photo led to a R7 000 estimate from an appraiser, when the damage was really around R47 000.

“Many insurance companies have begun to employ their very own customers as photographers,” says Ferraiolo, owner of A&R Body Specialty in Wallingford, Conn., and president of the Auto Body Association of Connecticut. In particular, Allstate’s QuickFoto Claim mobile app feature has been sold as a convenient, time-saving option – while also catching many shop owners by surprise. At this point, Ferraiolo says 15% of his customers are producing photo estimates.

“While driver-produced photographs could merely be a trend, it could also easily become the norm’” Ferraiolo says. That’s why it’s important to understand why it’s happening, where it’s happening, and how it could alter the estimating and negotiation process.

The driver’s photo

While Allstate declined to speak with FenderBender, the company’s website provides an explanation for QuickFoto Claim, which is intended only for “minor accidents” (although it does not specify to the driver what a “minor” or “major” collision claim constitutes).

“The QuickFoto Claim feature of the Allstate mobile app helps you get paid quicker so you can get back to normal faster,” the description reads. “After a claim is filed and submitted, a claims team member will determine if your claim is eligible to use QuickFoto Claim.”

The driver is instructed to take photos of the entire vehicle and the damaged area. The app also instructs drivers on how to properly align photos for appraisers.

Not every company has an app like Allstate. Ferraiolo says many of them ask drivers to email photographs to appraisers.

The campaign against customer photos

Tony Ferraiolo has utilised the reach of the Auto Body Association of Connecticut and taken to the airwaves. “The appeal of photo estimates has caught on well with the actual drivers,” Ferraiolo says. The J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction Study states millennials are the most likely to submit photos for an appraisal. Ferraiolo also claims that a majority of drivers taking photos at his shop are, indeed, millennials.

“I get the appeal: You don’t have to leave the house. You can take photos at home and get a check in the mail,” he says. “Insurance companies are preying on that, especially with the younger generation, with these technological services. To them, this might become normal – and it shouldn’t be done that way.”

The potential ramifications

With the addition of customer photos, Ferraiolo believes that negotiations could now heavily disrupt his estimating process by adding yet another step to the appraisal process, inevitably leading to further debate during negotiations and increased cycle times.

“The biggest issue is that customers aren’t trained to take photos that properly identify damage. With the example noted at the beginning of the story – where a R7000 estimate turned into a R47 000 one – the situation could have potentially led an unsafe vehicle on the road,” Ferraiolo says.

“I physically took the bumper off the car for the customer and showed the damage behind the bumper,” he says. “The exhaust system was damaged, and the sensors for lane changes were impacted.

“With the complexity of these cars, it’s not a legitimate way of assessing the damages.”