Choosing a Repair Facility

Choosing a Repair Shop

There are several things to consider when looking for a shop to repair your vehicle. One of the most important, if not the most important concern, should be quality. An automobile is typically the second largest investment you’ll ever make. It can be very difficult to actually see the quality of a repair. Most repairers pride themselves on a good-looking job, but more important than the outward appearance of the finished product is the underlying structure. Today’s automobiles rely almost entirely on inner structure for safety; the outer panels that you see are merely cosmetic coverings.

One of the best indicators for quality is reputation. Ask around and you’ll undoubtedly find a neighbor or relative that has had to have collision work done on their vehicle. Someone who had to return to the repairer several times with problems has had the misfortune of choosing a shop with quality problems. Don’t rely solely on the Better Business Bureau’s information – the BBB essentially “sells” membership to anyone, and the complaint resolution process is less than perfect.

DO NOT RELY ON THE INSURANCE COMPANY’S CHOICE OF SHOP!!!

Something to be cautious of is referrals from insurance companies. Several insurers have a list of “preferred” shops or “PRO-Shops” and “Direct Repair Programs” (DRP’s). If you hear something along the lines of “That shop isn’t on our list”, it could sound as if the shop you’ve chosen is somehow less qualified to repair your vehicle. It could also be interpreted to mean that the shops on the insurer’s list are somehow better equipped, trained or otherwise able to repair your vehicle. While it seems to be a simple statement of fact, it serves the purpose of steering the consumer to a shop that the insurer has an agreement with. Rarely, if ever, does the consumer inquire as to why their shop is not on the insurer’s list, and even rarer is the case where the consumer asks what the requirements are to be on such a list. Certainly the insurance representative doesn’t go to any length to explain why their suggested shop hasn’t been included on the “list” or DRP program.

So, is it true? Are the shops on the insurers’ lists better equipped? Do they have better trained technicians? Are they more experienced? Not necessarily. The shops that are on the insurance company’s list are not necessarily better equipped, it doesn’t mean the technicians are better trained. More often than not, the criteria for getting on the list is simple. While there are some standard equipment requirements, (frame/unibody system, paint booth, air conditioning service machine, etc.) most of this machinery and equipment is in nearly every shop. The training standards are minimal, usually requiring that at least one technician be certified through a nationally recognized industry association.

Most body shops have all of the above, yet many are not on the “list”. Why? The reason for many shops not being on the list is that they don’t agree to the other “criteria” set by the insurers. One major insurance company wouldn’t even consider a shop unless it filled out an annual survey – a survey that had nothing to do with the actual quality of the work performed. Most insurers won’t consider a shop where the rates charged are higher than the other shops in the area. Other insurance companies require a discount on parts to be considered for inclusion on the list.

Another area of serious concern as to how ethical a shop may be is that the insurance company often requires the use of inferior aftermarket or imitation parts. In most instances, these parts will not serve to restore the vehicle to “pre-loss” condition – which is what you should be getting.

Is the consumer ever educated to these requirements? Are they informed that these parts are nothing more than cheap imitation “knock-offs”, primarily imported from off shore ? Of course not, at least not by the insurance representative at the time of making the choice of a repair facility, and certainly not by the repair shop who is getting fed a steady stream of work from the insurance companies.

Another tactic used by insurance companies to steer consumers to their “preferred provider” shops is to say something along the lines of “We will not be able to service your claim as efficiently if you choose “ABC” shop instead of one that we have on our list.” Don’t be fooled. While it may take an extra day or two to have an insurance appraiser inspect the damaged vehicle, the overall level of service should be the same. The quality of service received from the insurance company shouldn’t decrease simply because you chose a shop that isn’t one of their partners.

Yet another ploy to direct automobile consumers to the insurance companies “preferred” shops is to say that the vehicle owner will be responsible for any additional charges or fees charged by the shop. This is simply not true as long as the charges are related to the damage. If your insurance company is paying the claim, your Contract of Insurance is the governing document. Nearly every policy in the U.S. states that the insurer will “….. pay the cost to repair ….”, “… up to the limits of the policy….”. This does not mean they will pay the price they believe it will cost, nor does it allow them to limit the amount of payment. Clearly it says they will pay the cost to repair the vehicle.

If you were not at fault and the other person’s insurance company is paying, there is no Contract of Insurance in force with regard to your vehicle. In this case the repairs – as well as payment for them – are governed by “Tort” laws. “Tort” laws are essentially the basic laws that protect citizens from harm due to the negligence of others. In essence, you can not be held liable for the negligence of others. The “at-fault” person is guaranteed indemnification (protection) under their Contract of Insurance – which is why their insurance company is involved. It bears mentioning that the other person’s insurance company owes you nothing, it is the person who was negligent that is ultimately responsible to you. For more information on Torts, consult a competent attorney.

The best shops participate in industry reform forums, and are usually members of some professional affiliation such as I-CAN (Insurance Consumer Advocacy Network), the CCRE (Coalition for Collision Repair Equality) or the Consent Decree. These organizations are working hard for insurance reform, in an effort to gain fair and equitable treatment for consumers.

Once you’ve chosen a repair center, you should get them to prepare an estimate. It is generally best if the shop’s estimate is written before the insurance company writes their damage appraisal. This reduces the influence the insurer has on the actual repair process. If the insurance company has already written an estimate, the shop should carefully review what the insurer is allowing, and advise you (the customer – remember – it’s your automobile that’s getting repaired) of what repairs are included as well as any additional work that will be required.

You have very specific rights when it comes to having your vehicle repaired. Knowing your rights is the first step to making intelligent and informed decisions.

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