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WHAT YOU MAY ENCOUNTER WHEN MAKING AN INSURANCE CLAIM
Insurance companies are not all created equal and therefore there are certain circumstances to be aware of. We deal with some excellent companies and adjusters that are very professional and genuinely concerned for you and your vehicle; unfortunately, there are others that are not. I am speaking from my 35 years of experience and some of the cases I have personally witnessed or have been a part of. This is in no way meant to generalize all companies or adjusters, but more to just give you some education of what to be looking for and aware of when dealing with insurance adjusters. Most of these situations come in the form of, what is commonly referred to in our industry as, “Word Tracks”. Word tracks are simply a means of persuading you to THEIR way of thinking while not crossing a legal line, but many times coming close. Some of these are:
1.“Their shop is not in our network of preferred shops, we cannot guarantee their repairs”. Most insurance companies have Direct Repair Programs (DRPs) which are signed agreements with body shops. These DRPs are predominantly found in larger, more populous towns and are essentially an agreement or contract initiated by the insurance company (not the body shop) in which the body shop agrees to the insurance company’s standards. The shop must follow the directives and provisions set forth by the insurance company if they wish to remain on the program. Some of the standard provisions are normally items such as; writing the estimate with used/salvage or aftermarket parts, rates that are charged and collecting betterment on depreciated wearable items such as tires, belt, hoses, etc… Many of the DRP agreements contain provisions for evaluating the body shop on percentages of use or aftermarket parts figured and how quickly (cycle time) the repair is completed. The question you might ask is; why would any shop sign up for this? The common answer is; because the insurance company will direct more work to the body shop. I have been a party of this before and have worked at shops who rely heavily on Direct Repair Programs. From my experience, they have all started out working well and then went downhill from there. I was personally told, by a major insurance company, that if I did not do as I was told (even thought I had written proof from 5 major paint companies and the manufacturer of the vehicle) my shop would be kicked off of their DRP program. I resigned from the program right then! Insurance companies claim they implement these programs to streamline the claims process. Please think about that! Containing costs is a concern for everyone, but sometimes cost containment means short-cutting a part or repair process and thus your vehicle being devaluated while saving the insurance company a few dollars. Be very careful that the shop you choose has your best interest in mind instead of an alliance with the insurance company. If you are thinking of using a DRP shop, ask to see a copy of their agreement with the insurance company. If there is nothing to hide, they should not mind showing it to you. Look for concessions made by the shop in regard to parts, labor, or repair processes. You will also, most likely, see that the shop has to sign an agreement indemnifying the insurer from any and all liability with respect to workmanship and the repair process. This pretty much puts a big question mark in the statement “we cannot guarantee their repairs”. Guarantees on workmanship fall back on the repair shop regardless!.
2. “It will take longer to get your car done if you use them” or “we will not be able to send an adjuster out for several days”. First of all, there are laws that restrict insurance companies from sandbagging or delaying your claim. If thy try telling you this, let them know that you know your rights. Every state has an Insurance Commission to protect consumers from strong arm tactics such as this. You can easily find your Insurance Commission’s phone number online. Secondly, if the shop they are trying to send you to has multiple DRP agreements, they may be backed up to where they cannot start on your car for weeks after they get the OK from the insurance company. So what if it did take us 2 to 3 days to get the OK, but we could get started sooner? You may find that you can get a better quality repair in less time.
3. “That shop charges too much and you will have to pay the difference out of your pocket”. An insurance company (once they have been proved to be responsible or have accepted liability) is legally bound to return your vehicle to pre-accident condition while adhering to normal and customary practices and rates for the area. I have found that most adjusters just need proof and an understanding of the repair process in order to document their files and justify to their superiors why they are paying for a part or repair. A quality shop will take the time and effort necessary to negotiate on your behalf and not forget that YOU are the customer. Most states have laws and most insurance policies have provisions for using parts of “Like Kind and Quality” (LKQ) to the original parts your vehicle came out with new or the condition of the parts on your vehicle at the time of the accident. If the sidewall of your tire is cut in the accident, but that tire was 50% worn out, they may only owe you for 50% of the cost of the new tire. It is basically common sense. If your car is over a certain age or mileage and they find a used part for it, that is deemed “Like Kind and Quality” , they can utilize that price in their settlement. You always have the right to pay the difference between the used parts price and the new part in order to get the new part on your car. This is where a shop on YOUR SIDE will advise you and work with you to get you the best repair possible for YOU. This, unfortunately, is also where many people realize that their “Cheap” insurance is cheap for a reason.
4. “You can use whatever shop you want, but you have to go by our preferred shop first and get an estimate” or “You have to come by our drive-in claims center first to get an estimate”. We have had more problems with this recently then ever. What we have found to happen in this scenario is that, once their shop or drive-in claims writes an estimate, they set their figures on that estimate and state that: “We have an agreed price with a shop that will do the repairs for this amount so that is all we will pay”. This shop may have realized they are not going to get this job or are just following the cost-cutting practices stipulated by the insurance company they are signed up with. Usually, we have found that these estimates are short of what the vehicle really needs to return it to it’s pre-accident condition. Now you have to fight to get what is right. The way to avoid this is to simply say: “NO, I have a shop that does my work and I am going there for my estimate”. It will normally save a lot of hassle, stress and time.
THESE EXAMPLES ARE FROM MY EXPERIENCE AS A BODY SHOP OWNER AND MANAGER & ARE NOT INTENDED TO BE USED AS A POINT OF LAW. PLEASE CONTACT A LICENSED ATTORNEY IF YOU NEED LEGAL ADVICE.