After an Accident

My Vehicle is Damaged. What do I do?

One of the biggest hassles of getting in a car accident can be dealing with car repairs. If your car is a total loss, the process can be entirely different than if your car is damaged but repairable. The good news is, it is in the best interest of insurance companies to help you through the process because it makes you happy and in the end, saves them money.

When you call your insurance company to file a claim, they will discuss with you different ways you can go about getting your car repaired. This process will likely begin with an appraisal, which can mean either the insurance company will send someone out to your car to evaluate the damage, or you can take it somewhere where a representative will evaluate the damage. An estimate will be sent to your insurance company. Insurance company representatives will help you find a body shop to repair your vehicle and will either pay the shop directly or will reimburse you for any payments made.

Choosing an Auto Body Shop

The best way to ensure a fast repair and an easy claims experience is to choose a body shop that is within your insurance company’s approved network. Your company will supply you with a list of car dealers and body shops that are within its network and are geographically close to you. If you already have a favorite mechanic or shop, you can check to see if they are in your insurance company’s network. If they are not in network, your insurance company will likely still work with them, but the paperwork and payment process may be lengthier.

Tip:If you are very particular about your vehicle’s appearance and consider yourself knowledgeable about cars, you may want to meet with the shop manager ahead of time to discuss your expectations, or else choose a high-quality independent shop that’s not on your insurer’s “program”. Many “preferred” shops depend on high-volume and fast-turnaround repairs to turn a profit, and are hard pressed to get every detail perfect with such a business model. Many independent shops may charge a bit more, but will provide better quality repairs.

When searching for a good body shop, there are a few things you can research on your own.

  • Check to see if your mechanic is Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified, and recognized under the ASE Blue Seal of excellence Recognition program or AAA “Approved Auto Repair” network.
  • Evaluate the shop through the Better Business Bureau.
  • Find online reviews of the shop, but keep in mind that most online reviews come from people who were either very satisfied or very dissatisfied with their service.

Rental Car Coverage

Basic car insurance packages do not include coverage for rental cars, but many drivers might want to consider adding rental coverage to their policy, as it is typically only going to cost a few extra dollars per month. You might want to consider their alternatives to driving should something happen to your vehicle: if you were without a car, could you still get to work? Could you get your children to school? Could you run all necessary errands for a few days or a week without a car? If so, you may not need rental car coverage. If not, you probably do.

Rental car coverage includes rental reimbursement for a vehicle while yours is in the shop. Various insurance companies and states have different daily maximums that drivers can spend on a vehicle. Your policy may cover any damage that happens to your rental car as well, but it may not—the only way to know is to contact your company and familiarize yourself with your policy. Your policy may require you to pay a deductible before you can get a rental car, or you may have to make up the difference between the daily amount your policy will pay and the car that you want or that is available to you.

Inspect, Protect, and Warranty

When your car is complete, check over the repairs with the body shop representative and ask them about any paint care instructions or restrictions for the new bodywork. Applying wax to a recently repaired car can damage the new paint, so be sure to ask your body shop if anything needs special treatment. Finally, get a copy of their warranty, or if you chose a “preferred network” shop, ask your insurer to provide the warranty along with a list of other shops that will also honor the warranty. If you find out later that your insurer’s preferred shop jury-rigged your car with unsafe repairs, you’ll need to have that repaired by a competent shop who won’t hide poor work. In that case, if your insurer recommended the first shop, they should pay for another shop to get it right. Be sure to check the terms of your warranty to see if there are any exclusions, time restraints, or caveats that might prevent you from getting your car back in top shape after a wreck.