Even the best driver in the world must drive on roads with those who are less aware, less careful, and pay less attention to what is going on around them. In fact, the auto insurance industry estimates the average driver will file a collision claim roughly every 17 years.
If, or perhaps, when, you’ve been involved in a collision, you’ll start with the basics. First, verify that everyone is safe. Report the accident. Take care of any injuries.
Then, as soon as you can afterward, file your claim.
The post-collision claim process has a lot of variables, including the specifics of your policy, fault determinations, settlement offers, and so forth. For many who simply want the entire ordeal behind them, the process may seem fairly opaque.
But it shouldn’t be. Drivers should be involved in the process, as aggravating as it can be sometimes. In fact, you should be involved in your post-collision claims process all the way through the repairs and determining how your car will be fixed. Believe it or not, being involved with the repair process choices might not only save you money – A LOT of money – not for your repair today, but possibly preventing your costs from being sky high when you file your next claim in 17 years or so.
Filing the Claim
Once you’re clear of the accident you should start the post-collisions claims process by contacting your insurance agency. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), there are several pieces of information and documentation you’ll need to provide to your insurance company:
- Names and contact information of all involved, including insurance information
- Vehicle information for the cars involved in the collision, including make, model, and year
- Location of the collision, the time of day, and the weather conditions at the time
- Any photos you were able to take of the accident
- The name and badge number of any officers who responded to the accident
- A copy of the accident report and the report number
What About Your Coverage?
- Does it include a rental car while your vehicle is being repaired (sometimes called transportation expense coverage)?
- Do you have a deductible? How much is it?
- What about collision or comprehensive coverage?
- How long do you have to submit your claim? There may be different time limits for different types of claims, such as personal injury vs vehicle damage.
Once your claim is with the insurance company, the process begins. One thing to remember – while you are the customer for the insurance company, that doesn’t mean they are 100% looking out for you. Remember to be your own advocate throughout the process. Ask questions. Understand what you’re being asked to provide, and answer any questions carefully. Don’t provide more information than the insurance company needs to process your claim.
Insurance Adjusters and Estimates
Your insurance provider will likely want to have an adjuster sent out to look at your vehicle. Sometimes, if the car is in safe, drivable condition, you may be asked to bring it to a central assessment office.
The insurance adjuster will do the initial assessment of the damage to your vehicle. This is just the beginning of your estimate. The adjuster’s role is to investigate what happened in the accident, making sure that everything aligns with the documentation and information about the accident. Part of this is so that the claim can be aligned with your policy or with what the insurance for the other party is saying if there is fault involved. The adjuster also provides an initial estimate of the repair costs that is used as a benchmark.
From there, your insurance company may request you to take your car to repair shops to have a more complete and accurate estimate done. Some insurance providers require only a single estimate from one shop while others may require multiple estimates. Those estimates are used in their determination of the amount they will pay toward your repairs.
It’s important to note that your insurance company may recommend a particular repair shop or group of shops, and even incentivize you to use their preferred repair shop. In the end, the choice is yours.
Managing Repairs and Costs
Once the claim has been processed, the insurance provider will let you know the amount they are offering for your repairs. A few things to note about the amount the insurance company offers:
- The insurance company may choose the lowest bid as the amount used for the settlement
- If you only received one repair shop estimate and the insurance company believes it’s too high, they may request that you get another estimate
- Your insurance company may pay you or may pay the repair shop directly
- Your insurer can’t require you to have repairs done at a particular shop
- If the shop you want to work with is more expensive than the amount agreed upon with your insurer, you may be responsible for the difference
- You can negotiate with your insurer if you feel that the amount won’t adequately cover proper repairs
- If you receive a check from your insurance company, do not cash it or sign it over to the repairer until all repairs and concerns are resolved. Cashing or endorsing the check can be construed as settlement and any residual repairs be your obligation.
If Your Car is a Total Loss
It’s possible that the cost to repair the damage to your car, if it is significant enough, may exceed your vehicle’s actual cash value and therefore could be considered totaled from the insurer’s perspective. In this case, they will pay you the cash value for your car, and not for the repairs.
If your car is in significantly bad condition after an accident, it would be to your benefit to be aware of the value of your car in the condition it was in before the accident. Refer to the Kelley Blue Book for your make, model, and year, so that you have an idea of its value before discussing this with your insurance company.
Parts Can Make The Cost Difference
One of the biggest differences in cost that you’ll see when getting estimates is between the use of original manufacturer equipment (OEM) and alternative parts – what was formerly called aftermarket parts.
There is an abundant volume of advice that recommends that you insist on OEM parts for your repairs, even the body shop fixing your car may try to influence you to insist on OEM parts. They may use words like counterfeit or imitation parts when referring to alternative parts, just to persuade you, but actually, it is for their own benefit as they can make more money on the overpriced OEM parts. However, there is little evidence to back up this stance. In fact, choosing the right alternative parts can give you equipment that is comparable to parts produced by the car companies, and in some cases will come with a better warranty.
It’s important to note that some insurance companies may only pay for the alternative or aftermarket parts. If OEM parts aren’t covered, but you choose to go with the parts produced by the original car manufacturer, you may be expected to pay for the difference. While many articles will insist that this is the insurance company trying to “cheap out” on repairs, but actually there is testing and data which has demonstrated that the alternative parts are equal to the overpriced OEM parts. It is also worth noting that using OEM parts could cause your vehicle to be totaled because they increase the repair cost too much.
A Look at OEM Parts
- Your lease agreement requires it
- You’ll void your warranty if you use alternative parts.
- Original parts manufacturers claim that their parts fit the vehicle better, and are therefore safer.
- Original parts manufacturers claim that their parts are better made.
Reasons to Consider Alternative Parts for Post-Collision Repairs
Alternative parts are those made by someone other than the manufacturer. That doesn’t make them inherently bad, any more than parts made by the original manufacturer are inherently good. Plenty of OEM parts wear out and break all of the time.
The reality is that alternative parts come with a lot of benefits:
- Alternative parts are easier to source and use quickly.
- Insurance companies will lean toward estimates that use alternative parts.
- Alternative parts are as much as 15-50% less expensive than their OEM counterparts.
Let’s look at each of these benefits a little more closely.
Easier to Source
Because alternative parts are made by several different manufacturers, they are readily available from a national network of parts suppliers and online parts stores. That means that your car can be back to you and back on the road sooner.
Insurance companies lean toward alternative parts
Insurers tend to favor estimates that include alternative parts. That means you’re less likely to have to pay for your post-collision repairs out of pocket.
Alternative parts are less expensive
This is, of course, why insurers choose estimates that use alternative parts – they can be as little as half the cost of an OEM part!
Certified replacement parts
Being less expensive, however, doesn’t mean they are cheaper. It’s true that, because a variety of companies make alternative parts, some are better than others. However, there are thousands of high-quality alternative parts available. In addition to being well built, many are also certified to provide extra assurance in their performance and workmanship, whether you need mechanical parts or body parts.
The Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) was established in the public’s interest in 1987 to test and certify replacement parts. The testing process CAPA uses for alternative parts ensures that these parts will perform the same as the car company service parts. If a part is CAPA certified, it has met or exceeded its standards. https://www.capacertified.org/
And CAPA isn’t the only one looking out for consumers and repair shops. The Automotive Body Parts Association (ABPA) requires its members to subscribe to a code of ethics that encompasses high standards of business practices on behalf of its customers and the motoring public.
Clearly, there are lots of reasons today to choose alternative parts for your post-collision repairs. But, there is one more important reason to consider alternative parts today, and that’s because future-you will thank you.
You see, by offering parts at a lower cost than OEMs, alternative parts help to keep the overall costs of parts down thanks to the competition they provide. It was estimated by the APICIA that, without alternative parts, insurance repair costs would increase by over $3.2 billion – a cost that would be passed along to consumers. And that assumes that OEM parts would maintain their current prices. Without competition, they surely would not, meaning that the $3.2 billion cost increase is simply the tip of the iceberg.
A collision is nerve-wracking and upsetting, whenever it happens. The post-claims process, however, doesn’t have to be, being an informed consumer is the key to ensuring that the process goes smoothly and fairly.
- Get to know your insurance coverage and out-of-pocket expenses now without the post-collision stress.
- If you haven’t had the need for a collision shop, ask around; probably a friend could recommend one and note it on your insurance policy.
- Know the value of your vehicle, update it when you renew your insurance policy.
- Consider more than one repair estimate if it is not required.
- Discuss settlement amounts with insurers so you understand what is being offered.
- Above all, don’t be fooled by OEM parts. Properly made alternative parts can get you back on the road faster, with less hassle, and at a lower cost than their OEM counterparts.
You should have a choice in the parts that are used on your car after a collision.
And there are actions that you can take today to prevent high costs resulting from a collision in the future. Contact your state and local representatives and let them know that what goes into your car should be your choice, not the automakers. You can also file a complaint with the FTC at their Complaint Assistant website.