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Strategies for working with your insurer and repair shop

Strategies for working with your
insurer and repair shop

With winter fast approaching, so is the chance that you'll be involved in a car accident. Here are some suggestions to help you get the best possible service from your insurance company and best possible repair from your shop. Drive Carefully!

Read your insurance policy. Every insurer in Massachusetts has the same auto policy.  With collision coverage, it's short, easy to read, and easy to understand. Take a minute to read what you are owed under your collision coverage now.

Have your insurer elect its payment of loss option in writing.The MA Auto Policy provides your insurer with three options to settle your collision claim. "Pay for repairs" is one. The second option states "we will, at our option, repair the vehicle" and the third option is to "declare the vehicle a total loss." Its that simple.

Caution: Insurers like to mix and match their options. They often want to "pay for repairs" but they base that payment on their own internal low-ball repair estimate. It's one or the other.

Do not use a referral shop of the insurer. We've talked about this in the past. There is no legitimate reason to use a shop that is more focused on satisfying your insurance company needs rather than your needs. If you end up at a referral shop, ask to see the contract the shop has with the insurer. It may be the best question you can ask.

Insurers go to great lengths to encourage the use of referral shops (its called steering, and its illegal) that are willing to perform repairs at the lowest possible price. That means the shops with the lowest overhead, the lowest employee costs, (wages, training) and the lowest capital expenditures (tools and equipment.) You have the right to choose the shop to repair your vehicle. Choose wisely.

Once you have your insurer's payment of loss option in writing, and have chosen the shop that will handle the repairs, there is one more thing you need to know. How much is it going to cost?

All repair shops are required by law to provide you with an accurate cost to repair. If those repairs exceed $10.00 of their estimate, they MUST call you to explain and obtain your authorization to continue with those repairs.

Obtaining an accurate estimate is fairly easy to do with scheduled service work or a brake job. Obtaining an accurate cost to repair a wrecked vehicle, on the other hand, can be difficult. You'll hear and read comments on the estimate like "hidden damage likely" or "this estimate is for visual damage only" If you see or hear comments like that, you can be sure the repair cost is heading up...Sometimes by as much as 150%.

The best way to avoid any surprises is to authorize the shop to carefully disassemble and diagnose ALL the damage before beginning any repairs, rather than rely on any "visual damage estimate" that is worthless.

Depending on the extend of damages, the "disassemble and diagnose" should include a complete listing of all parts needed for the repairs, confirmed part prices, a full detailed accounting of paint and body repair material pricing, all labor, pre-repair frame measurements, factory recommended repair methods and any sublet charges to name a few. With few exceptions, there is no reason for any price surprises at the end of the repair.

Now you have your insurer election to "pay for repairs." (Evidenced by the check they most likely sent you) You have a high quality, consumer focused shop working for you, and a fully detailed and accurate blueprint for repair with accurate pricing.

At this point, you should offer your insurer one more opportunity to view the vehicle after it has been disassembled and diagnosed. This is done to avoid any delays by the insurer in issuing final payment for the repairs. Once they have taken their pictures, authorize the full repair. If all goes well, you'll have the second check before the repairs are completed.

Best Practice: Make an appointment to meet the insurance appraiser at the shop. Its always best for the vehicle owner to hand the insurance appraiser the blueprint for repairs.

Remember, your insurer has promised to "pay for repairs" under the contract of insurance. The vehicle owner owes the shop for those repairs under the contract and authorization for repair. Two entirely separate contracts in play. Don't mix them up.