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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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If you carry comprehensive and collision insurance on your vehicle there may come a day when your car heads to the repair shop for work covered under an insurance claim. Whether it’s a cosmetic repair to the body or structural or mechanical work, you are ultimately responsible for the final outcome. To that end, we’ll provide you with some important dos and don’ts for dealing with car insurance repairs.
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Before getting into the do’s and don’ts of car insurance repairs, keep in mind that all of this is moot if you don’t have comprehensive or collision coverage. If all you carry on your car is standard liability, you will be left to pay for repairs to your vehicle on your own. The only type of damage your policy will cover is the property damage you inflict on others in a crash you cause.
Know Your Policy Coverage and Limits
The first in our list of things you should do is to be aware of your policy coverage and its limits. Only the most expensive car insurance policies will cover everything with little or no deductible, if you can even find that type of policy.
Most of us have policies that require us to pay a certain amount toward repairs ourselves and limits what the car insurance company will pay for. Knowing your coverage and limits ahead of time will help avoid arguments with the insurance adjuster in the future.
As an example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that claims for hail-related damage spiked in 2011 thanks to severe weather in the nation’s Midwest last spring. Yet among all those who attempted to file such claims there were undoubtedly drivers who didn’t realize their coverage did not include such damage.
Making claims not covered under your policy only leads to arguments between you and your insurance company; arguments you don’t need after having a crash.
Contact Your Insurance Company ASAP
Next, we cannot understate the importance of contacting your insurance company as soon after an accident as is reasonably possible. If you have a medical emergency that needs to be attended to, the call to your insurance carrier can obviously wait. But in the absence of such emergency, the best time to contact your insurance company is right from the scene of the accident, if you have a cell phone or as soon as you reach a location where you have telephone access.
The sooner you can get an insurance adjuster involved the more likely you are to receive a favorable outcome. If you wait a couple of days, it becomes harder to investigate an accident and get to the truth. If you wait a couple of weeks there’s probably no hope at all of seeing the most favorable outcome. As a side note, insurance companies generally have policies in place to encourage drivers to report accidents as soon as possible.
Document Before and After
If you have a Smartphone with a built-in camera, it’s a good idea to take pictures of the accident scene and your vehicle as soon as it’s safe to do so. These pictures are valuable documentation should your insurance company questioned your claim. You should also take pictures after the work has been completed. Make sure that you get paper documentation from the repair shop and the insurance company detailing all the repairs that were done and why they were made.
Why do all of this? Because you have the right to reject any settlement your insurance company offers as well as the right to be treated fairly by your insurance company at all times. Some states, like Texas, have codified consumer rights to ensure that both insurance companies and their customers know where each one stands.
Documenting damage and repairs is helpful in making sure your consumer rights are properly applied.
Get Multiple Estimates
The first on our list of things you should not do is to accept an estimate from a single repair shop for your vehicle. Just like routine maintenance and repairs, different shops may charge different prices for the same work. Getting the absolute best deal in relation to the quality of work is always in your best interests; both in terms of getting your car repaired properly and keeping your insurance rates as low as possible.
Along those same lines, you may get an estimate from a repair shop whose service manager offers to inflate the final price in order to get a higher payout from the insurance company. Despite the fact that the individual may offer to split the difference with you, this is a crime prosecutable as insurance fraud. If you are caught, you will be taken to criminal court by your state and possibly civil court by the insurance company in an attempt to get its money back. You don’t need the trouble.
Be aware that in most states, if not all of them, you have the right to ultimately decide which repair shop will do the work on your vehicle. Arizona makes this abundantly clear through regulations published on the state legislature’s website. To find out if you have this right in your state you can contact your state insurance department or legislative chambers.
Accepting Insurance Company Settlements
As previously stated, you do have the right to reject any settlement or car insurance company offers you. Should you decide to do so your case will probably head to litigation for a civil court to decide.
Nonetheless, according to Miller & Falkner of Louisville, Kentucky, you should never accept any form of payment that is marked or accompanied by a statement saying “final payment” or “paid in full.” Doing so amounts to you foregoing your right to dispute a settlement in a court of law.
You should also not sign waivers regarding personal injuries without the advice of a doctor. Such waivers are sometimes presented by insurance companies to prevent you from filing a personal injury claim later on down the road. If you are concerned you may have sustained any type of injury in an accident always be checked by a doctor as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to make a claim.
Finally, in all your dealings with the car insurance company and the repair shop, don’t delay when it comes to what’s expected of you. For example, in the state of Maine an insurance company must print in its documentation whatever time limits might be imposed on you for filing a claim. The insurance company then has 60 days to address your claim with either a settlement or a denial. Since insurance companies have the right to set such limits, you’ll have to read your documentation to find out what they are in your case.Furthermore, even when you work within those deadlines you’re not doing yourself any favors by taking more time than you really need. If the insurance company requests a certain documentation, you can get together within three days there’s no point in delaying for three weeks. For every delay on your part, you are increasing the chances you won’t receive a favorable settlement. Be thorough in all your dealings, but be as quick as you possibly can.
Have a Little Understanding
Now that you know some of the things you should, and should not, do regarding car insurance repairs, do your best to try and have a little bit of understanding about how car insurance works before getting into a tussle with your carrier.
While it’s true that some insurance companies go out of their way to avoid paying claims at any cost, and are unscrupulous in doing so, they are the exception to the rule.
Please understand that car insurance is a business no different from your local department store or restaurant. If they don’t make a certain level of profit, it is not possible for them to remain in business. If insurance companies collapse, the entire U.S. banking system would go with them. Insurance companies don’t exist for the benefit of customers alone; they are also for the benefit of the owners and investors that make them run.
Also, understand that insurance fraud costs car insurance companies billions of dollars every year. The reason your insurance policy probably states your provider reserves the right to investigate any and all claims lies in the fact that fraudulent claims are rampant.
It’s neither fair nor practical to expect a car insurance company to blindly pay any claim that comes across their desk when the chances of fraud are so high.
As long as you are honest and forthright, and your insurance company is the same, you’ll be able to reach an amicable settlement that satisfies both of you.
If you’re ready to look for a new policy, you can start comparing affordable car insurance rates now by entering your ZIP code into our FREE search tool on this page!