Nine tips on how to deal with body shops and insurance companies
1 If your car has to be towed from the scene of an accident, be sure it is towed to a place where you will not be charged outrageous storage fees. If there is a delay in getting insurance company approval or getting started with repairs, consider having it towed temporarily to your home driveway or to a shop you know won’t take advantage of you. “Sometimes consumers have been charged up to $2,000 per day by storage facilities,” warns Dick Allender of the Division of Insurance in the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
2 If you know a good shop and an insurance company wants you to use one of its preferred shops instead, you can insist on using your shop. Be aware that the insurer can refuse to pay more than its shop would charge, leaving you to make up the difference. If you use your shop rather than an insurer’s preferred shop, the insurer will not guarantee the repairs, but you can have your shop give you a guarantee for the life of your car.
3 If the car can be driven, consider getting estimates from several shops. For major repair jobs, this might save you hundreds or thousands of dollars—especially important if you will be paying.
4 If the repair will be inexpensive or most of the cost will fall below your deductible, consider leaving your insurance company out of it and paying on your own. Although companies’ practices vary, any claim you make might raise your insurance rates, so that you end up paying more in increased premiums than you collect on your claim. The possibility that claims might trigger rate hikes is an incentive to get a fairly high deductible—$500, $1,000, or more—when signing up for collision and comprehensive insurance coverage since you might not want to file small claims anyway.
5 Don’t use your insurer’s appraisal center. You are better off to have your insurer send its adjuster to a high-quality shop where you have gotten a good estimate. In the shop, with all of its equipment, you can usually get an accurate evaluation of the damage, and the shop can then act as your advocate.
6 If another driver is at fault and you have auto rental coverage, consider arranging with the insurer for a rental car, even if you don’t really need one. Having a rental car running up a tab that the insurer will have to pay is likely to cause the company to settle on a repair plan quickly and not require you to use replacement parts that might not fit, causing delays.
7 Although you may be most comfortable with new replacement parts made by the original equipment manufacturer, used parts and “aftermarket” parts sold by independent parts manufacturers often cost less and may be perfectly acceptable so long as they are in good condition and fit properly. Insist that your shop (and the insurance company, if there is one involved) tell you in writing whether each part is new, used, or aftermarket. If a shop will be using an aftermarket body part, ask for one approved by the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA). Insist on being given a copy of the CAPA label that documents certification and get a written parts and labor guarantee on the part for the life of the car.
8 After work is completed, make a thorough inspection before leaving the shop with your car. There is a lot you can judge for yourself. Look and feel whether repaired surfaces are smooth, and paint has the proper gloss and color.
9 After a major repair, consider taking the vehicle to another shop to check that the repairs and replacements of mechanical components and structural elements have been done right.