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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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Whenever you buy auto insurance, the insurance company agrees to repair or replace your damaged vehicle if it is involved in a qualifying accident. The coverage that you purchase determines what your insurance company will pay for. For example, collision coverage pays for damage caused by an accident with another person or property; liability insurance pays for damage that you cause.
After an accident occurs, you can contact your car insurance company to file a claim. The representative you speak to will be able to discuss your coverage with you and schedule an inspection for your damage to be assessed. He or she might suggest a body shop where you can get your repairs completed. While you are not obligated to use this shop, it may be the most efficient option for your repairs. Ultimately, however, the decision of where to get your vehicle repaired is your own.
The Estimate Process
Once your claim has been filed, your car insurance company will need to see your vehicle in order to determine the cost of repairs. In times past, it was common for an individual to obtain three estimates from the shop of his choice and provide those estimates to the insurance company. This is a less common method now; in order to keep costs down and reduce insurance fraud, more companies are hiring damage adjusters to review the damage on a vehicle and write an estimate.
Depending on the extent of your damage and the staffing needs of your insurance company, this inspection may take place at your home, a drive-in inspection or a body shop. Some insurance companies are able to send an inspector to look at your vehicle the same day as the accident occurs; other companies may have a longer wait time.
Once your inspection is complete, you will usually receive a check for the damage amount less any deductible. You would then pay this deductible to the shop at the time repairs are completed. If your shop of choice cannot complete the repairs for the estimated amount, the shop can file a supplement request with the insurance company. Depending on the amount of the supplement, a new check might be issued or a new adjuster might come out to assess the damage once more.
If you are making payments on your vehicle, the check will need to be issued two-party to you and a repair shop or to you and your lien holder. If you own the car outright, be sure to bring your clear title to the inspection appointment. This will allow you to have the check made out to you directly.
Preferred Repair Option Shops
Many car insurance companies are taking advantage of preferred repair shops or in-network body shops. These are shops that may or may not be owned by an insurance company, but that have an affiliation with that company. This means that the shop will usually do the repairs for a discounted rate for an insurance claim, and the insurance company will pay the shop directly rather than issuing a check to the insured.
Preferred body shops can usually do the repairs without a separate inspection being completed first. This means that the you can bring your vehicle to the shop and start on repairs immediately, rather than waiting for a damage adjuster to come inspect the vehicle first.
Most of the time, a car insurance company will offer a quality guarantee to customers who use the affiliated shop. This means that if there are any concerns with the repairs, the insurance company will ensure that the vehicle is repaired to your satisfaction. If you use a shop of your own choice and have any problems with the repairs, you would need to negotiate the concern with the shop directly.
You can use any shop that you choose, and you are never obligated to use a shop your insurance company suggests. The repairs are usually faster and more convenient when you use an affiliated body shop, however, and the satisfaction guarantee often makes using an insurance-suggested shop worthwhile.
Whenever you file your claim, your car insurance company will provide all of your inspection and repair options. You can discuss your options in detail to determine what the best choice is for your vehicle. Ultimately, the decision is yours as to where to have your vehicle repaired. Your insurance company will pay to have the vehicle repaired regardless of what shop you choose, and your satisfaction with the vehicle’s repairs is the most important factor in choosing a body shop.