After any kind of traffic accident, getting a trustworthy repair estimate (or numerous estimates) is a necessary first step toward getting your vehicle fixed and back on the road, so you can get on with your life. But where (and how) to start? In this article, we'll provide three helpful tips on getting a quality estimate for vehicle damage after an accident, what to do if the car insurance company is dragging its heels during the estimate process, and how to protect yourself from getting tied to a low-ball estimate.
After a car accident, seek out estimates for repairing vehicle damage -- or any other kind of property damage -- only from places where you would actually go to have the repair work done. Make sure that the repair shop is qualified and thorough enough to find and assess all the damage. And make sure that the estimate quoted will be an amount sufficient to repair the property to the highest standards. If a piece of business equipment or a vehicle is damaged, for example, get your estimate from a factory-authorized repair facility.
If you just get the easiest estimate -- taking your car to the corner gas station, for example, or taking your laptop computer to the neighborhood tech repair "specialist" -- you may find that the amount quoted will not be enough to cover the repairs you eventually have done at a quality repair shop.
Do not allow an insurance company's inspection or estimates to delay repairs unnecessarily. If the insurance company does not inspect the property within a week or so after the accident, and you have given the insurer a reasonable opportunity to do so, and if you already have two independent written estimates, then there is no reason to delay getting your property repaired if you can afford to pay from your own pocket.
The strategy here is to get the repairs done and then demand reimbursement from the insurance company. Of course, if you get the repairs at the shop that gave the highest estimate, the insurance company might agree to reimburse you only for a lower estimate. Also, be aware that getting car repairs before you agree on an amount removes one of the incentives for the insurance company to settle quickly. Once you have your car back, the insurance company no longer has to pay for alternative transportation (a rental car, for example).
If a third-party insurance adjuster (from the other driver's insurance company) tells you the company has a repair shop that will fix your car for substantially less than the estimate you got, be cautious. Insurance companies sometimes have sweetheart deals with local repair shops that do cut-rate work for the insurance company in exchange for lots of referrals. But that doesn't guarantee that the inspection for damage is thorough or that the work done is good quality.
You should always get your own inspections and estimates from independent repair shops. If two or three independent estimates are higher than the one insurance company estimate, the insurance company's estimate is probably a poor one. Repairs should be made only by a shop chosen by the car owner, regardless of how much money the car owner receives in settlement.
For more tips on getting your vehicle repaired the right way after a car accident -- and all the information you'll need to navigate your case -- get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).
And if the insurance company is refusing to cooperate in the vehicle repair process, or if your car accident claim is being ignored, it may be time to discuss your options with an experienced car accident attorney.