How to handle an insurance claim

by Don Stec

It is at least a weekly occurrence when a vehicle owner, during the course of getting an Insurance collision estimate, will express concern about an insurance company cheating him on a collision repair by not allowing a complete repair.  

After dealing with insurance companies and vehicle owners for over 47 years in the collision repair business, I have formed my own opinions.

Insurance companies are largely honest and want you to get a complete repair. If you do not get a complete repair it may be because of one of several deficiencies occurring during the estimate process.  Some of the most common ones are….

Number one: The insurance adjuster wrote the [preliminary] estimate at the owner’s home, workplace or at a “Drive thru Claim Center.” It is often impossible to write a complete estimate until the vehicle is in a shop and parts are removed for further inspection. Insurance adjusters are aware of this and expect to be notified by the shop if there is discovery.

Number two:  Vehicles today are very complicated.  Additional damage discovery is common at shops that analyze thoroughly.  It is the shop’s responsibility to keep the owner and insurance company informed.

Number three:  The owner of the vehicle did not understand the estimate and gave no input on problems or concerns with the vehicle that only he knew about.

Number four:  The insurance adjuster and/or shop estimator simply did not understand the extent of the damage.

The most common conflict is:  Many owners are oblivious to normal wear and tear and blame normal wear on the collision.  If the wear is obviously not related to the collision and not made worse by the collision, the insurance company is not required to repair it.

Example:  A rear lamp was damaged and there was a very small dent on the trunk lid.  The owner claimed the vehicle’s steering never pulled before the collision. Physical evidence, however, showed uneven tire wear, an indication the problem existed well before the collision.  

Many owners will not accept physical evidence as proof.  They are convinced they would have noticed a vehicle pull. But wear often occurs very slowly and the vehicle owner is not aware of it.  When he drives his older car for the first time after days or even weeks after being in a new rental vehicle---the difference is noticed.  

Another common conflict is: The owner claims old damage as part of the new insurance claim. Example:  The front end of the vehicle was damaged and the owner claimed the driver’s door dent is part of the collision.  It was pointed out that the dent had excessive rust, it was obviously old damage. The owner ignored the physical evidence and the insurance company was falsely blamed.

Some owners also blame the body shop.  They feel the shop estimator should have stood up for them and found a way for the insurance company to pay for the old damage. This is difficult for an honest person to do when the physical evidence shows the damage to be old, or not related.  It is also against the law.

We have worked with insurance companies to accept claims that do not seem related when there is a remote possibility all damage occurred in one incident.  It simply takes a knowledgeable shop estimator with the ability to make the case for the vehicle owner. We have been very successful in our efforts by explaining the progression of the initial impact as it goes through the different components of the vehicle body.

We have also been very successful in our efforts to re-open closed claims.  Imagine the surprise when owners that brought a vehicle in for a maintenance repair learned they do not have to pay for it.  We discovered an incomplete old repair was causing their complaint. We were able to prove this damage was related to an old claim and the insurance company paid to have the repair completed.

Coachmaster Collision repair* is a past recipient of the District Attorneys award for honesty and integrity in business.

Don Stec is the founder of Coachmaster, a full service collision repair facility also specializing in the collision repair of RV’s. Now retired, Don is proud to have sold the business to long time manager Allan Gordon. Call Coachmaster at 530-243-1310, or stop by at 6851 Eastside Road. Redding, CA.