Saturday, July 15, 2006

COPING WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES AND BODY SHOPS

I guess one of the worst things that can happen to us in our driving experience is to be involved in an accident. Hopefully there are no injuries, but we still have to cope with our insurance company and maybe the other party’s insurance company. We also have to select a body shop or accept the one recommended by our insurance company.

After you notify your insurance company of your accident, your first big decision is to select a body shop. This is every bit as important as selecting the right doctor or dentist, except they are working on your car, not your body or teeth. Most of the time your insurance company will recommend a body shop. Consider their recommendation, but also do your own due diligence. If you choose the body shop, that body shop is working for you and is your advocate, not your insurance company’s. Remember that your insurance company is the one paying for your repairs and one of their very important considerations is the cost of repairing your car. They, of course, are interested in a quality repair too, but cost is, at least, an equal consideration. Your number one concern should be quality, not cost. Your insurance company may tell you that it’s OK to have your car repaired at the body shop of your choice, but they “won’t guarantee the repairs”. A reputable body shop will guarantee their own repairs and you don’t need two guarantees. I strongly recommend that you give first consideration to a body shop owned by a franchised dealer of the make of your car. This body shop will have an advantage of faster availability of factory parts, more experience repairing your make and model, and the technicians will usually be better trained in repairing your make of car.

Obviously, a car that has been damaged and repaired is worth less than one that has not been repaired. Even with a quality repair, a late model car with substantial repairs could be worth thousands of dollar less when you trade it in. This sad fact is a very good reason you should be sure that your car is ruled a “total” by your insurance company if it meets their criteria. A car that will cost 70% of its current market value to repair is usually considered a total and your insurance company should replace your car, not repair it. If it’s a close call resulting in a decision to repair the vehicle, you should get a second opinion. This is the time when it’s good to have a body shop that you chose that is beholding to you and not your insurance company.

Your insurance policy will dictate the parts the insurance company may use in repairing your car. It is highly desirable to use OEM parts (parts manufactured by the company that built your car) as opposed to “after-market” parts often manufactured in Taiwan or another foreign county. These parts are copies of OEM parts and much cheaper than the genuine parts. They may not fit as well or have the correct tolerances. You should find out before you purchase your policy if it will provide for OEM parts. If your insurance company won’t authorize OEM parts, ask if you can pay the difference. It is worth the investment.

It is very difficult to forecast accurately the time it will take to complete a major repair. This is because there is usually hidden damage that is impossible to detect until the car has been disassembled. When hidden damage is detected, the body shop must call your insurance company’s adjustor to authorize supplemental work. This work may require parts that were not anticipated in the initial repair and they have to be ordered. There is no one to blame for this; it’s just a fact of collision repair. The bottom line is to expect delays when your car is having a major repair. A quality body shop will “under promise and over deliver” by building in some extra time to allow for the inevitable supplemental repairs.

Be sure you understand what degree of rental reimbursement coverage you have. It varies from policy to policy. Some policies have no rental car reimbursement whatsoever, some have partial, and some complete. In a major repair, you can be without your car for over a month.

In summary, choose your insurance company carefully and read your policy carefully before you commit. Choose your body shop just as carefully. You need a quality body shop owned by the franchised dealer for your make of car that will be an advocate for your interests, more than your insurance company’s.

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