You've been in a car accident. What do you do now? First and most importantly, ensure that everyone is safe and checked out by a medical professional if they are experiencing abnormal pain. Now, it‘s time to take care of the damage to your automobile. The average driver has some type of accident at least once in every seven years; the process can be confusing and tiresome and can change as newer communication technologies emerge. We want to help you navigate the process and what to ask when you are checking out and vetting a collision center to repair your expensive investment.
1. Do I need an estimate? I was told to go around and get at least 3 estimates.
The short answer is, No, you don’t need multiple estimates, it wastes your time. This is only an effort on the party who owes for damages to get the lowest priced estimate and hopefully pay out only that amount. Here’s the reason an estimate is not sufficient: The estimate process allows you to get a quick, professional opinion of the drivability of your vehicle and whether continuing to drive it could cause more damage. The estimate also allows the estimator to provide you with a “best-guess” quote that encompasses only what can be seen from a visual inspection, without disassembling anything to determine if hidden, deeper damage exists. Whether we provide you an online estimate or an in-person estimate, the quote serves to guide the vehicle owner, or responsible party, with a ballpark figure so that decisions can be made about how to proceed; will the repair be handled out of pocket, or will an insurance claim be required? A true price to repair can only be determined by disassembly and a full inspection of all external and internal damages, checking for component failure and other factors that require in-depth repair planning. Choose a repair shop based on their qualifications and training (see below), not based on a lower estimate, or, because an insurance company tells you that they want or (even worse) require you to go to a particular company. Consumer protection laws allow you to choose the repair facility of your choice and all insurance companies are mandated by law to allow you that freedom, regardless of what they're trained, polished personnel say to convince you otherwise.
It is important to note that while your estimator is looking at your vehicle, tell them everything that happened in the accident, including how many occupants were in the vehicle, if any child safety seats were in use, if you left the road, hit a curb or other stationary object, etc, in an effort to allow them to look for additional, or secondary damage that is an indirect result of the accident. Properly trained estimators understand how cause and effect scenarios work in a collision and frequently cause other damages due to vehicle design and other items continuing in motion as the vehicle abruptly stops.
2. But, the insurance company already wrote an estimate and gave me a check. Can’t you repair my vehicle for what they paid me?
Rarely can a facility perform proper repairs based on the insurance estimate alone. Most insurers‘ estimators have been trained to write a minimalistic estimate and attempt to settle the claim as quickly as possible. These estimates written outside of a shop environment will likely not include mandated processes like pre and post-repair scans, no operations to include blending adjacent panels to properly match colors and many, many other operations that the manufacturers now require when repairing their vehicles.
The shop can and may require a copy of the insurance estimate. This is done in effort to get a baseline for what was written and begin to build upon that foundation to create a full repair plan. Our facilities take the time to review the estimate provided by the insurer to fully explain to our customers what they estimated to be wrong and needing repairs. Once we have been authorized by the vehicle owner or the owner’s representative, our process of repair planning begins to disassemble the vehicle, look at all the damage and write a repair plan based on findings and what the manufacturer deems appropriate and necessary for repair methods to each particular make and model. These requirements often lead to far greater requirements to return the vehicle to its pre-loss condition due to the complexity in today’s construction where stronger, yet lighter materials are incorporated and the many advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) that must be addressed and calibrated.
Proper repairs are far more today than ensuring the colors match. Your safety and that of other inside the vehicle and those outside your vehicle is paramount in repairs to today’s vehicle. We will not skip these important steps and we will make sure that the insurer is held to the same standard of responsibility when paying you for your losses.
3. Is the collision center properly trained and certified?
If you needed major surgery, would you trust being operated on by a doctor that has little to no training? Of course not! We all want someone who possesses the right skills to ensure your surgery is going to return you to full health. Why would anyone feel that having major surgery performed on their vehicle is any less critical? Truth is, it’s really more important because failures in the safety aspect of collision repair not only endanger the driver, but also any passengers as well as others around you.
The two most likely training/certification paths for collision repairers are from an OEM manufacturer and I-CAR.
OEM, or, Original Equipment Manufacturer training is typically training for dealer body shops or, in some cases, for repair centers that perform a high volume of repairs for individual brands in their market and are required to gain OEM training to be recognized as a preferred repairer for a particular make.
I-CAR training makes sure that your shop is up to date on how to repair your vehicle by following OEM requirements; however, they are not limited to one vehicle maker. They provide an extensive training curriculum for every position involved in the repair process, from administration to repair and detail. The highest certification for an I-CAR facility is the Gold Class Certification which indicates facilities are continuously training employees to stay up to date on the newest procedures and repair requirements. I-CAR also provides hands-on welding certification on all of the materials in your vehicle. This helps ensure your vehicle is structurally sound and will hold up again in the event of another crash.
4. How long will the repair process take?
Knowing how long your car is going to be in the shop is the most popular question asked after an accident. We all want to know how fast we can be back on the road. Perhaps you were on you way to or from work; maybe you were on a family vacation at the beach. No matter the circumstance, it is not convenient to be out of our vehicle for a repair. Depending on the shop you take it to, everyone has their own timeline.
While the extent of damage will determine the time line, other factors could extend the time. More damage could be found in the car after the technician disassembles the area of repair, the vehicle manufacturer could have a back order on parts, which has been common since COVID began with many plants on shutdown without enough manpower to produce parts. Another common factor is waiting on the insurer. If an insurer wrote you an initial estimate, there will be almost a 100% chance that additional damage will be located and a supplement will be required.
Here are a few questions you can ask if your car will be in the shop for a longer period of time:
Will I receive text or email updates about my car’s repair status?
Can I view my car's repair updates online?
Can I arrange for a loaner or rental car online, or through a rental car service with the shop
5. Can I Choose the Shop My Car Goes to?
An insurer may be able to suggest preferred repair facilities that are part of their repair network; however, no person or insurance company can demand that you take your vehicle to a particular shop. Again, you have full, legal rights to take it to a facility of your choosing and have the insurer work with that shop to handle coverage of the repair costs. This is true whether you are the at-fault party or not.
6. Does the shop offer a warranty?
Before you drop your vehicle off, ask your body shop if they offer a warranty for the repairs, what their warranty covers and how long they will warranty their work. A credible repair facility should provide you a written warranty that outlines what they do and do not cover, as well as the period that your warranty will be in effect. Also, determine if the warranty is good nationwide since life changes and sometimes we've relocated and need warranty work done. Having to take a lengthy trip to get repairs performed is inconvenient at best. Find out if the shop will honor their warranty by working with a shop local to you if you've relocated.