Being in an auto accident is frightening and uncomfortable. The steps you take immediately after an auto accident are crucial. The choices you make can affect the value of your vehicle and impact your driving record for years.
The natural tendency is to contact your insurance company, however this is the worst thing you could do. Insurance companies often lose money on auto accidents, therefore they are likely to take precautions and make recommendations to minimize their losses. They often refer you to their auto body shops, which have given insurance companies deep discounts in return for a steady stream of business.
This often leads to:
- Poor quality of work
- Devalues your vehicle
- Cost you thousands in future repairs
It’s important to know that auto body shops have your best interests in mind. Unfortunately, some body shops tend to favour insurance companies and will routinely downplay claims, use cheap parts and ignore important auto body repair practices such as frame alignment and more.
You have the right to choose your own auto body shop and your insurance company is required to advise you of that right.
To reduce conflicts of interest, locate an independent auto body shop. To verify they are truly independent, Edmunds.com recommends being a “secret shopper” as if you’re calling for advice on insurance companies. Ask the staff what insurance companies they recommend and which ones to avoid. Truly independent providers will be forthcoming when they recommend certain insurers. If they won’t say anything bad about any insurer, chances are they have compromised interest.
So what are the correct steps to take after an auto accident?
Step 1 – What to do with your vehicle?
After ensuring there are no injuries and local law enforcement has completed their review, the first thing to do is remove your vehicle from the scene of an accident. Many insurance companies will send their own tow truck to remove the vehicle, however once the vehicle is no longer in your possession, controlling the outcome becomes nearly impossible. Pro Collision Center, an I-CAR Certified and BBB accredited auto body shop, recommends locating a free towing service. For example, Pro Collision Center offers a 24 hour free tow service to their independent auto body shop. This can save you money and time, as well as ensuring you maintain control of your vehicle.
Locating an independent auto body shop with a free tow service can be challenging however they can be located by using online resources such as website directories and local business guides.
Step 2 – Research before you repair
Now that your vehicle has been removed from the scene of an accident, the search for a reputable auto body shop begins.
Many people spend hours researching which television to purchase however don’t give much thought to auto body repairs or other major purchase decisions. Websites such as Angieslist.com, Yelp.com and Google reviews are useful sources to get a sense of an auto body shop’s quality based on past customer reviews. Pay attention to well-written, thought-out reviews since they provide more detailed information and are less likely to be competitors.
A great auto body shop will provide a lifetime warranty and certifications to demonstrate their proficiency in auto body repair. Request to see their warranty and ask any questions before agreeing to do business. A good auto body shop will offer a lifetime warranty.
Ask your chosen auto body shop if any mechanical repairs will void or alter any existing warranties. Factory warranties may be voided or compromised if your car needs mechanical repairs.
“If your insurance company is mandating that after market or used parts be used that will void your factory warranty, demand a written warranty identical to your factory warranty. Most times your insurance company will pay for the original parts to avoid any potential liability” – All Nation Insurance, Auto Insurance Specialist
Go to a Shop Specializing in Your Make or Model
Many auto shops will say they work on all makes and models however auto body shops suffer from the same limitations as any other business. Auto body shops have core competencies and are limited by the amount of knowledge their employees have.
Carefully study an auto body shops website to ensure they have adequate images of them working on several makes and models including domestic, imports and luxury auto mobiles. If a body shop has hundreds of images showing only European cars, you may not be satisfied with their service on your domestic vehicle.
Also pay attention to the types of cars they work on. If you see several high end vehicles, it’s likely they are trusted by consumers with expensive vehicles, requiring attention to detail and high quality craftsmanship.
Step 3 – Get More than One Estimate
it’s always in your best interest to get several auto body shop estimates. Upon receiving the first estimate, show it to your second and third choices for auto body repair. Ask them how they compare with your first choice and if they offer any other incentives.
Price is important however the difference may be insignificant once you consider the type of repair process and the additional warranties provided by car body repair shops. Many auto body shops will have the mentality to “Seize the Keys“, which is a strategy to get your business at any cost. This often results in underestimating initial repair costs and overcharging you for repairs once the vehicle has been dismantled in their shop. Use customer reviews and word-of-mouth to spot this type of behavior.
Now that you have several estimates in writing, analyze each estimate and weigh each auto body shops incentives. Also keep in mind, some auto body shops may waive or pay your insurance deductible. This could save you hundreds on auto body repair.
Rob Koltoukhchian is an experienced auto body shop technician specializing in auto body repair and custom paint. He is the owner of Pro Collision Center in Las Vegas.