Consumer satisfaction with automobile insurance claims is dropping, according to a recent study by J.D. Powers. And consumers have good reason for their dissatisfaction– the study found the average wait time to get a vehicle repaired is now 15.8 days, up almost a full day from the last quarter of 2011.
There are some simple things you can do to increase your chances of having a good claims experience. They include:
Don’t delay taking your car in to get repaired. The longer you wait, the longer you are without a properly functioning vehicle. If you do as many drivers do, and wait until a weekend or holiday, you’re likely to wait even longer, as repair shops tend to be overbooked during these times.
Even if your insurance company wants you to use a certain repair shop because it has a relationship there, you may still be able to patronize your favorite mechanic. Some states have laws protecting consumers’ right to choose where they get their cars fixed. Search online or call your state government’s Department of Insurance to find out if your state is one of them.
Out With the Old, In With the New
Ask the repair shop if they will use new or used parts to repair your car. “We’re all for using recycled materials, and it’s fine to use recycled parts for fixing doors, roofs and the like, but some parts, such as suspension, are not safe to recycle, no matter how much money it saves your insurer,” says Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a non-profit insurance consumer advocacy group based in San Francisco. Talk this over with the shop manager before work begins.
Ask for a Loaner
Another question to ask is what you will use to get around while your car is being repaired. If you carry rental car coverage on your insurance policy, this should be easy to answer. If not, you may still be able to get a free loaner car from your collision repair garage. Body shops that are part of new car dealerships may be more likely than independents to offer this service to people having their cars repaired there.
Get it in Writing
Also ask what kind of warranty the repair facility will give you — and get it in writing. Auto body repairs paid for by an insurance company will usually have lifetime warranties, but you’ll need to check with your agent to make sure. If you get the warranty in writing, it could help if a problem arises with the repair, or later when it comes time to sell the vehicle.
Become a Record-Keeper
Keep a log of conversations, emails, letters and other communications with your insurance company and repair shop.Written notes will help you know what to expect, as well as remind the other parties what they’ve promised.
Details, Details, Details
When the repairs are completed and you are picking up your car, take a few minutes to look over the work. It’s best to do this during full daylight. Make sure doors, trunk and hood close properly and edges don’t stick out. Check for unequal gaps between body panels — a pad of paper can be used to measure for comparisons. Eyeball the paint, looking for color variations between panels and rough or uneven finishes. Even if you’re not an expert, you don’t have to accept unsatisfactory work. And it won’t hurt to ask for an explanation if something doesn’t seem right.
It can be inconvenient and unsettling to have to turn your precious car over without knowing for sure whether it will be repaired properly or how long it will take. By taking a few simple steps, and asking some smart questions, you can increase the odds your auto accident claim experience will be a good one.
“Taking the Hassle Out of Making an Auto Insurance Claim” was written by Mark Henricks.