Wednesday, 31 October 2007 17:00

Insurers Keep Right On Steering

Written by Autobody News staff

Steering 101
I found your article while surfing the net looking for this exact topic. I am currently going through this issue with my insurance company. I took my car to a shop which charges a higher hourly rate than my insurance company agrees to pay in that area.

I was told by the adjuster that the shop may request I pay the difference. I don’t understand how I can be expected to pay more than my deductible because I have chosen a shop which is not a direct provider with my company.

It’s clear the consumer can choose which shop to take their vehicle to. The adjuster said they pay “reasonable and customary” charges. I checked with five other shops in the same town and their rates were all comparable to the shop I took my car to, and approximately $6.00 more per hour than my insurance company’s approved rate. So to me, the average rate of these shops combined is the more “reasonable and customary” charge, meaning the prevailing charge made by most providers of a given service in the geographic area where the service is received.

My insurance company’s own preferred shop had a higher rate posted than what was on my estimate. I guess to get the business from my insurance company, they agree to take the cut in rate. The insurance rep said what is the “posted” rate and what the shop is “willing to take” are two different things. I’d like to know if my insurance company has any rate survey on file with the Department of Insurance. Obviously, they are not taking an accurate survey of the rates in that area, or are just surveying their own “preferred” shops.

Of course I called the California Department of Insurance this morning and will probably end up having to file a Request for Assistance if the issue does not resolve itself. I had State Farm for years, and never had an issue with them like this. I just switched a few years ago to my current company. I had no idea these kind of tactics such as “steering” were taking place. My car is in the shop because I was the victim of a hit and run and now I feel I am being victimized again by my own insurance company. Very disappointing.

    Temecula, California, Resident, name withheld by request


Dil-Em-Ma: Stereotypes Confirmed
by Karyn Hendricks

My friend Em is generally very knowledgeable. She researches everything from dish soap to retirement funds. She’s the person you want as your phone-a-friend. A couple of Friday’s ago, Em was a block and a half from her home when a car in front of her stopped short and she slammed into it in her 2003 Hyundai Sante Fe. The doctors didn’t notice it, but all her common sense was banged out of her head by the impact of the accident.

With no previous claims on her long-standing insurance policy, Em depended on being in good hands. Instead she found herself in the midst of a “stereotypical” insurance claim complete with steering, aftermarket parts, incomplete work, a lost license plate, and missing military base stickers.

Once the police were on the scene, Em called her insurance agent, who directed her to call one of the company’s preferred body shops and have it pick up her car. The shop neglected to inform Em that the car was at the shop and what the plan of action was, then promised to call with an estimate before close of business the next day – a call that never came.

Em spent the weekend on pins and needles, not knowing if the car was totalled or would be repaired. Would she need a short-term rental just until she purchased a new vehicle or a long-term rental until the car was repaired, she wondered.

The first indication Em received that the car was not totalled was a message left on her home answering machine (while she was at work, but accessible by cell phone) to come to the shop to sign papers to order the parts and start the repair process. The estimate to repair her vehicle began at $7,500. After checking with her insurance agent, she signed off on the estimate. Plans were to replace the front bumper, hood, all the metal around the front of the car, engine cover, windshield and air bags. By the end of the job, the final invoice came to $11,000.

Including waiting for parts, the repair process would take approximately three weeks. When she expressed that seemed like a long time, she was told that the shop always leaves a cushion when promising a delivery date. After all, they had to custom order the parts. Naively, Em thought this meant new parts. Imagine her surprise to finally see that other than the bumper, radiator and air bags, all the parts were used.

A major faux pas on the part of the shop was not to save the stickers from the windshield which permit driving on military bases. Since this is a military community, it is routine to remove stickers before a windshield is replaced. If one is unable to exchange the stickers, one point is assigned to driving records particular to the Federal government. Rack up three points and you’re banned from driving on military bases, dramatically affecting one’s employment. Further inconvenience ensued while waiting for the replacement stickers.

{mospagebreak} 

If that wasn’t bad enough, a day after picking up the newly-repaired car, Em discovered her front license plate was missing also. The shop said it wasn’t there when the car was brought in. However, it was not found amongst the debris of the accident which was collected by a police officer or anywhere on the route between the accident and the shop. More time and expense to replace the license plate.

Now here’s where she lost her common sense. I had previously explained the Motorist’s Bill of Rights: her right to take her car to the shop of her choice, use of aftermarket parts. I gave her my own referral to a body shop. Finally, I was the expert and could give her a hand. Instead of hearing me though, she went barreling down the stereotypical slippery slope.

“My insurance company said I could choose a repair shop, but they would only guarantee the work if it was a place they recommended. They also said it could take longer to agree on a repair price with a non-program repair shop because they would need another estimate,” Em explained, as I started to twitch.

“They said they were going to tear down the car to do a thorough estimate so how could I take the car to another shop in pieces? And the irony – they didn’t tear it down, so I could easily have moved it,” she told me as my head began to pound.

Em wondered why the estimate started out at $7,500 but increased to $11,000. Is that normal? she asked me, as my tears began to well up.

“How come they didn’t talk to me about the kinds of parts they were using. I was really surprised to find a used windshield and all that used metal,” she queried as I started pulling my hair in clumps.

The shop offers web site tracking of repairs, but Em was not informed and didn’t know about it. Is it possible it didn’t come with the insurer’s deal with the shop? The final insult: she was told that she was high maintenance and called too often.” I started to choke.

Even the most together people can become unglued during the trauma of an auto wreck. My professional recommendation now: go get a post-repair inspection – either through the Bureau of Auto Repair (BAR) for free or from a private source. If the car doesn’t pass with flying colors, talk to an expert about where to take the vehicle to be re-repaired!

Fortunately, for my own composure, there was someone who had to listen to me – my husband. Here he relays his own experience in getting some out-of-pocket work done at a collision repair shop.


No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
 by John Hendricks

A few months back when a starving college student needed to move a desk, I saddled up my white horse (a Ford F-350 SuperDuty) and drove to the rescue. With lifting limitations myself, I told her to scare up some manual labor.

 I pulled down the alley and parked in the store’s designated parking by their back door. The alley was wide enough for cars to park diagonally down the left side. I went to the head of the alley and sat down at a sidewalk eatery to have an iced tea.

After the young lady and her entourage of young men (who may have volunteered for less than altruistic reasons – she being a hottie) went to secure the desk, I waited in my truck to complete this easy errand.

To make a long story short, the manual labor brought the desk out the wrong end of the alley and I ended up backing up to meet them. Why I didn’t I just drive around the block will remain a mystery to me. Picture a one-ton dually backing down a row of cars trying to avoid any catastrophes. I did fine on my left with the cars, but failed to notice that the alley narrowed by the extension of the very restaurant where I had that iced tea.

“CRACK” went my right side rear fender, which of course required a foot and a half more room than my rear view mirror showed me. I rolled forward and got out to look. The adobe wall didn’t suffer too much, not enough for the employee to care, so I pulled forward, corrected, and backed on down to the sidewalk to load the desk. It arrived at its destination and was unloaded (and carried way farther uphill than the alley length) at her home. Of course, I nobly refused gas money and went home.

{mospagebreak} 

It wasn’t until after the truck was washed that I saw the full scope of the damage to my fiberglass fender. Not only was it seriously ripped open, the marker light was pretty much destroyed.

About that time, I decided to retire as Sir Lancelot and decided to sell my one-ton 7.3 liter diesel. Now I was between a rock and a hard place; I couldn’t get top dollar on a sale or trade-in in that condition. A 1997 truck with 58,000 miles and a ripped up fender was not the asset I had hoped for.

Fortunately, my wife had done a profile for Autobody News on a business here in Lemon Grove. I drove over to A&C Paint & Body on Broadway and renewed my acquaintance with Armando Villegas, the owner. Armando admired the truck, appreciated its potential value, and “tsked” at the damage.

It’s so nice to have an open, friendly place to go for the work. He gave me a reasonable estimate and said it would take about a week due to the extent of the area to be resurfaced. I had scraped the same fender about a week after I bought the F-350 and kind of ignored it until now.

Deciding to go for it, I dropped the truck off on a Saturday morning and it was ready to go, as promised, by Friday of the following week. You absolutely could not spot the repair or the repainting. A&C Paint & Body did an excellent job.

The happy ending is that I found a 2005 Dodge Magnum and traded in the truck, got top dollar for it and am now happily not shifting, not climbing two-and-a-half feet to sit down and Thank you, Lord, don’t have a clutch to irritate my old bones. Even though I paid a price for my generosity, I came out pretty well in the end. I’ll still do favors, but not unless they fit in my little red wagon.

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