To avoid damage claims, every car hauler should already know that before any vehicle is loaded for transport, it must be inspected for previous damage; and it is essential for all parties involved that the inspection report is prepared methodically and precise. The format of the recorded document is called the 'condition report' (also referred to as a 'bill of lading' or 'BOL.') Car shipping inspection report documentation historically has been paper-based, but with recent changes in digital technology, smartphones and handheld devices with touch screens are now being used to complete a digital car hauler BOL. (As you continue to read this, it is very important to keep in mind that in nearly every case where a truck driver arrives to load a car, the pickup contact at that location has never met that driver before, and therefore, that person has no way of knowing if he or she will do a quality job of protecting the vehicle from damage during transport. This is exactly why if anything is damaged between pick up and delivery, blaming the driver is nearly always the first reaction.)
...if anything is damaged between pick up and delivery, blaming the driver is nearly always the first reaction.
Regardless of the circumstance, if the owner of the company cannot prove the driver did not cause the damage, official incident reports will be generated and delivered to the owner and insurance company, who in turn will be legally required to pay for the vehicle to be repaired. Consequently, the transporter's insurance premium will increase, and a growing history of causing vehicle damage during transport will have a severely negative impact on their ability to find business moving forward. This chain reaction is exactly why every transporter must do everything possible to avoid auto transport damage claims from the very beginning. Here are the five best ways to complete the perfect car hauler inspection report.
Obtaining a signature from somebody (sometimes anybody!) at every pickup and delivery location that can compare the vehicle with the inspection report and verify the two identically match and will sign to that effect can make a world of difference. Ideally, the driver can also verify this person has the legal authority to enter into this part of the contract, and speak on behalf of the transport customer. Oftentimes, the driver cannot obtain any signature, such as at auctions, dealerships, terminals, or when it’s outside normal business hours. But the effort to attempt to get a signature as often as possible should always be present, especially with residential customers. No matter where you are, that signature is gold if anyone raises a question after the fact, so you must try, try, try to get a signature every time!
...but the driver knows if they have pictures of the damage before they ever touched the car, there is little other proof they will need...
Everybody knows the saying: "a picture is worth a thousand words." Taking photos takes extra time, but the driver knows if they have pictures of the damage before they ever touched the car, then there is little other proof they will need on their inspection report to argue they didn't cause it in the first place. Getting clear photos of vehicles can be harder than it looks, because of a car’s naturally reflective surface, the brightness of the daytime sun, and shadows that can interfere with clarity. That's why it's best to take a lot of pictures, including close-ups, all sections, and panels, from top to bottom, and for parts with obvious damage, to take many different angles for complete coverage. If you have the photos, you have supporting evidence and total peace of mind. In addition, transport companies using special BOL apps using third-party time stamping and geo-tagged features will have that extra layer of protection that most insurance companies will request should a fierce dispute arise in the future.
It's very important for an insurance claims adjuster that all pre-existing damages are marked accurately. If it's 'dented,' do not indicate 'scratched.' If it's 'cracked,' then don't put 'chipped.' To drivers, these may seem like semantics, but just because a damage spot has been identified doesn't mean that's enough to fight a claim. When a vehicle has been damaged, nobody wants to take the blame, and everyone is ready to point the finger at the trucker. New cars require an extra level of care because of their high value. If the driver is picking up at a rail yard and the broker has provided a list of Universal Damage Codes, the driver is expected to use them. Transporters must also follow any broker notes regarding notating damage if they expect to get paid in a timely fashion, so drivers really need to read the dispatch sheets so they know exactly what is expected. There are also times when the tow yard or terminal accidentally causes minor damage to the vehicle, and those employees might be hoping the driver doesn't notice before loading. If the driver does load without taking proper steps, they deliver and the customer notices, that driver will take all of the blame and have to pay for repairs - and this scenario happens all the time! And that goes double for marking all damages on the gate pass! Here’s a good tip: many experienced drivers use the most comprehensive and thorough approach by also taking photos of additional documentation and attaching those files to the digital BOL app they are using.
Even if the transporter has just completed an excellent inspection report, they can also be required (based on the type of pickup location) to mark any and all damages on additional forms of documentation, such as auto auction gate passes and manufacturing plant gate copies. A digital BOL can be very helpful in this regard whether to print or email an exact duplicate copy to the security guard to include with the gate copy. Additionally, terminals and tow yards can have their own variations of this rule, and the brokers that use them frequently oftentimes have their own in-house BOL or condition report (with other additionally needed details) that they require be completed and signed for before a transport meets their own standards of completion. While it may be a real hassle for the driver to follow through with all of this documentation duplication, not doing so can create exponentially more problems and lost wages in the future.
Call the dispatcher, call the owner of the company, but be sure to call somebody!
Finally, if a driver notices something that doesn't seem quite right, identifying and communicating with the auto broker can stop a problem from snowballing. If a floor mat is obviously missing, if there's a strange smell, if a fluid is leaking from underneath - anything out of the ordinary - the driver is responsible for letting somebody know right away. If it's not on the dispatch sheet, there could be something wrong that nobody else even knows about. When a broker indicates on the dispatch sheet to call them 24/7 with any questions or concerns, heed their warning and call them. Call the dispatcher, call the owner of the company, but be sure to call somebody! Then take photos and email them, and do not load the car. Good communication prior to loading can be indispensable to avoiding a major damage claim in the future.
Having been an auto transport dispatcher for many years, I've seen every single one of these key elements for the perfect car hauler inspection report followed - and ignored. Having worked with dozens of drivers and hundreds of auto brokers, I think I know what it takes to avoid the filing of an insurance claim. Therefore, I hope my review and advice is helpful to you - as well as thorough, practical and realistic. And may you never have another unfounded damage claim for the rest of your travels. Please share your thoughts, comments and advice. Thanks, and keep on trucking.
- Super Jay