Five Things You Need to Know Before an Auto Accident
To successfully negotiate a quality repair with minimum confusion or frustration, there are five things you need to know. Though you may not have control over being involved in an accident, by following these guidelines, you can have control over the quality of repairs your vehicle receives, and the accompanying peace of mind.
1. Keep in mind that insurers' main business is making money, even though they may promise you the world when vying for your policy dollars.
It is common for insurers to retain millions in profits annually by limiting or denying pay-out to repairers for certain necessary repair operations and materials. Consequently, a lack of vigilance may result in your vehicle receiving a repair of lesser quality than the "pre-loss condition" your policy promises.
Insurers are increasingly dictating to repair professionals how vehicles will be repaired, the type of parts that will be used, the timeframe in which repairs must be completed, and at what price. This cost-containment pressure can result in repair practices that produce unsafe repairs and loss of resale value.
Contrary to what you may have been told, it is your right to choose the shop that will repair your vehicle!
2. Deal with the shop that puts your concerns ahead of insurer alliances.
While many collision shops are in business only for the money, and many have "partnered" with insurers in DRP arrangements (similar to medical HMOs), those who have chosen to not make such agreements are generally better able to cater to your personal needs and provide you with a more positive repair experience.
DRP agreements generally imply that the insurer will supply the DRP-partner shop an increased flow of insurer-directed work in exchange for that shop performing repairs in accordance with insurer-mandated guidelines, often including discounts on labor and parts, and denial of payment for certain procedures and materials necessary for proper repairs. The result: Insurers, not you, become the shop's long-term customer. An excerpt from SmartMoney Magazine’s article 10 Things Your Insurer Won’t Tell You, confirms this disparity. "State Farm's Service First program even includes a 'gag clause' that prevents shop owners from talking to customers about their cars until they've cleared it with State Farm first" (Smart Money, February 1999).
Before an accident occurs, seek out a collision shop that covets you as its customer above insurer ties — a shop that is interested in the quality of each repair, and satisfaction of every customer, rather than insurer-directed volume.
3. Take the initiative in choosing the shop that will repair your vehicle, rather than entrusting this all-important decision to an insurance representative.
Some insurance representatives have become masters in the use of cleverly worded statements that direct work away from many quality-conscious shops, and into shops with whom they have agreements. This sometimes forces these DRP shops into questionable practices at your expense. Your automobile is a major investment. Choose a collision repairer based on the testimony of satisfied friends. Also, before an accident occurs, review your insurance policy's fine print with your agent and attorney to confirm that it doesn't restrict your right to patronize the shop of your choice.
4. Make sure your vehicle will be repaired using Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM) parts.
OEM parts and components have been designed and manufactured to very strict tolerances and collision specifications by your vehicle’s manufacturer. If you aren't watching, though, the replacement parts installed on your vehicle may be of much lower quality. Insurance companies, seeking low-cost substitutes to OEM crash parts, created the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA), touted as "a standard setting organization to insure the quality of (aftermarket / imitation) crash repair parts."
Consumer Reports’ February 1999 article Shoddy Auto Parts: Parts that Don’t Fit, Bumpers that Shatter, Fenders that Rust concluded, after rigorous laboratory testing of these mostly "CAPA certified" imitation parts, that "cheap car parts can cost you a bundle" (Consumer Reports, February 1999). Only OEM replacement crash parts perform as originally intended, restore your vehicle's pre-loss safety factor, and fully maintain its warranty and value.
5. Investigate the credentials of your shop of choice.
Any reputable shop will be proud to give you a tour. Check their certifications, written warranty, general cleanliness, organization, and collection of notes from satisfied customers. Patronizing a shop displaying certifications from automotive repair standards-setting, training, and testing organizations – among them Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) – doesn’t necessarily guarantee a perfect experience. Generally, though, these shops are above average.