Anyone who has been in a car accident knows that even a near-miss can be traumatic. It's a high-stress situation. Any event that affects life, health or potential injuries from whiplash or broken bones can create panic and uncertainty. That's a normal response. Even if it's just a fender bender or side door ding, making the right decisions quickly after you've been involved in an accident is important.
To help you make smart decisions that maximize your car's value and minimizes the long-term dent in your wallet, Anderson’s Autobody created this complete Insurance IQ Guide in 2022. It’s based on Anderson's decades of experience with self-pay, total losses and repairable accident claims through insurance companies. And it’s based on listening to you – our customers – to address your biggest questions and concerns.
These three basic rules apply whether you decide to pay out-of-pocket or go through insurance.
Let's go into the "why" and "how" of each. Then we'll end with some finer points in today's digital world – such as options for virtual estimates, online appointments, insurance photo apps and third-party insurance.
Tow and repair your vehicle at the body shop of your choice.
It's your legal right. Insurance companies cannot steer, pressure or force you into using a particular shop, although they are required to recommend a minimum of two preferred repair shops by law. Many have Direct Repair Programs (DRP) – meaning, collision shops where they receive their own cost discount. But it’s your vehicle and your repairs, not theirs. As such, select a body shop you trust or that comes highly recommended.
Insurance companies are not allowed to steer, pressure, or force you to choose a DRP shop. If they do, push back or contact us so we can help you navigate the ins and outs.
Plan Ahead: If you’re a new driver or new to the area, visit a few local auto body shops before you run into trouble. Or research online customer reviews on Carwise, Google, Yelp, Facebook, or the Better Business Bureau. Insist on i-CAR Gold Class or ASE certification. That way, you know the shop technicians are highly- trained and current on the best auto repair practices, especially on today's highly digitized vehicles.
You are not required to take your car to a facility chosen by the insurance company, nor are you required to travel an unreasonable distance to have the damage estimated.
Get one solid repair estimate plus photos from a reputable body shop.
A myth remains that you must obtain three separate cost estimates from at least three shops to get the “fairest estimate.” Or that your insurance company requires that.
No. You need one repair estimate only – that’s the only legal requirement. Of course, you are welcome to shop around – whether it’s for long-term damage from sun, wind, or road debris; or a big door dent. You can choose to pay out-of-of-pocket or pay an insurance deductible. Just let repair shops know if you are shopping around or have already chosen them. If you go through insurance, simply share the name of your body shop to start the repair process.
Just know that prices don’t swing wildly between independent body shops (See #3 for more on this). Dealerships may be more expensive and may be more suitable for regular maintenance and mechanical fixes.
Back to accidents. Some insurance companies generate a repair estimate based solely on your accident and request that you upload photos to their app. That’s just to ballpark your insurance claim from visible damage; hence the word “estimate”.
Once a reputable body shop takes apart your vehicle and performs a pre-scan, collision technicians often find invisible damage, such as a bent connector or a broken sensor that connects to your digital dashboard. Learn about the Big 9 Warning Lights here: [CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD]
At that point, you and your insurance provider should receive a “supplement” from the body shop to cover those extra repairs.
If your vehicle was towed in, just call your insurance company and advise them of your vehicle’s location. Always let your body shop go over the all the damage with the insurance company rep. You can step out until the body shop and insurer settle on a final set of approved repairs.
Bottom-Line? If you don’t understand or agree with the final repair estimate, or with the verdict of “a total loss” contact us. Other options are available to you, especially in today’s market where new and used vehicles are so expensive.
By law, you only need one cost estimate to have your vehicle repaired. Choose a reputable body shop you trust and knows how to work with different insurance companies. Anderson’s always puts your interests first.
3. Bargain shopping is not your goal. Value is.
Your truck or car is a big investment, and your safety relies on it working properly. Have your vehicle repaired by a professional body shop that continually upgrades skills and certifications every year.
Sure, differences in repair estimates are common. But lower estimates may not include all the necessary work, or account for invisible damage. Today's vehicles are pretty high-tech with as many as 1000+ microchips in a non-electric vehicle and twice that in an electric one. So, looking for a bargain is unwise.
Here’s a little secret: when it comes to labor-intensive, service-driven, technical industries like auto repairs – whether collision or mechanical – price is not as big as driver as you think. Insiders know to choose “quality, safety, and service” over price every time.
Why? Times have changed dramatically since your father’s Oldsmobile. The cost of body and paint materials quadrupled over 50 years up to 2010 – long before the pandemic or inflationary times. Business insurance, taxes, and utility bills increased too.
You know what didn’t change much? Labor rates. Wages across the industry overall remain stagnant and undervalued for skilled collisions technicians – along with a persistent labor shortage.
What does this mean to you? Well, insurance companies keep collision labor rates pretty steady within a defined limit. Yet for the body shop, it’s one of the top costs of doing business. So, the real difference for you is not the price – but a shop you can trust and that delivers high quality, customer service and open, modern communication – everything from texts and emails to a good old-fashioned phone call to discuss solutions for your situation.
Oh sure, you say, but won’t the insurance company want the lowest-cost solution? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, your insurer won’t approve an unrelated and unnecessary repair, such as a broken air conditioner that was leaking before the accident.
On the other hand, let’s be real. Automotive repairs are not price-driven – they are value-driven. So, if your truck bed needs to be replaced or your crumpled hood needs not only pre-painted replacement parts but new Clear Bra (paint protection film), the insurance company will approve that. Why? Because the labor hours matter as much as the parts themselves.
Why spend 40 hours to get an 80% "semi-good repair" with used parts rather than 10 hours on a 100% perfect repair with new OEM parts? In the end, it may cost the insurer less to completely replace or repaint a damaged part. Either way, you should expect pre-accident condition.
However, if your OEM part is discontinued, the insurance company will approve a used or after-market part. (More on that in the next section.)
Choose a repair shop based on reputation, not price alone. Quality, customer service and open, honest communication matter most. Price is not the biggest driver in the auto repair business. Safety and quality are.
Auto collision insurance law varies from state to state. Check out your consumer rights at Idaho Consumer Protection Manual.
Auto accidents and the repairs of cars involved in auto accidents are governed by the laws of your state – in our case, Idaho. Get familiar with the laws of Idaho even if you are a part-time resident or visitor and how they may apply to you. This article is provided as education to consumers and is not legal advice.