Are you required to use your insurance company’s preferred body shop?

Here’s some words from Anderson Cooper on what body shops and insurance carriers are doing across the country:

Rest assured that by law you have the right to use the body shop of your choice. Does that mean it’s as simple as refusing your carrier’s recommendation in favor of a shop you’ve researched on your own?

Well, not exactly.

While they can’t force you to choose their preferred shop, carriers will certainly make it seem like you have no choice. They will do everything in their power to steer you to the shops in their networks.

It’s important then to know why insurance companies prefer certain auto body shops to others in the first place. After all, it may seem like common sense to trust in your carrier’s recommended auto body shops, especially since they’re the ones who are footing the bill to have your car fixed. They wouldn’t want you to get overcharged by shops looking to milk you for every penny, so they always send you to places they know will do the best job, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, there are too many cases in which an insurance company isn’t taking into account a policyholder’s best interests. Carriers are often more interested in protecting their own pockets than anything else. That means there is a chance your insurer will pay for a subpar repair that could even end up putting your life in danger.

Take a look at how it turned out for this Honda Fit that had it’s roof glued back on improperly:

Here is another example of how they take care of their own vehicles:

Here are main top reasons why insurance companies have preferred body shops:

The fact of the matter is that insurance companies and specific shops have cozy trade deals and contracts; there’s a symbiosis between the two that doesn’t often rest upon the well-being of the person who’s been in an accident.

Having a preferred body shop allows an insurance company to dictate and expedite repairs to save money by deviating from the manufacturer’s protocols. It allows shops to employ the use of aftermarket parts, or the cheapest components out there despite their inferior quality, parts that may not always fit perfectly and can’t be warranted. Skipping standard repair procedures saves labor and time, which means reduced costs. The body shop gets work, the insurance company cuts corners and gets a discount on repairs, the customer gets his or her car back nice and fast; everyone’s happy.

Until things take a wrong turn.

Rushed repairs that bypass proper procedures and make use of inferior parts are the foundation for dangerous accidents waiting to happen. Hidden damages remain, and second-rate repairs mean aftermarket parts get knocked off and glued back together as if they were dealing with plastic toys and not sophisticated technology.

What’s worse is that if things do take a wrong turn because your car received slipshod treatment, some insurance companies have been known to then wipe their hands clean of any responsibility by either denying having dictated the terms of their preferred shop’s poor-quality work, or by simply stating that they didn’t force the customer to go anywhere; the customer was given a recommendation, nothing more.

There are rules and protocols established by manufacturers, about how a car should be fixed, and what parts should be used. That’s why, aside from doing your own research, you should select an auto body shop preferred by dealerships, and not blindly base your choice on your carrier’s recommendation.

Body shops with the necessary certifications mean to fix cars correctly and accordingly – that’s why they have the certifications – and this is done by following the standard procedures. You simply have to ask your shop to show the manuals and certifications that justify all of their repairs, which would make it impossible for an insurance company to prove your chosen shop’s price is not fair or reasonable. This is important because, while a carrier can’t force you to go to any particular shop, it can certainly try.

How do insurance companies try to coax a customer into choosing
specific shops?

Some insurance companies have an 80/20 policy, which means they will only pay for 80 percent of the repairs if you choose a shop that’s not in their network. Make sure that your insurance policy doesn’t include this.

However, deterring you from venturing outside of your carrier’s network of body shops can be a bit more complicated than that. Here’s a list of ways your carrier might use to drive you to choose its preferred shop:

1. Refusing to Pay

–Your carrier could threaten to pay less or nothing at all for repairs should you choose to take your trusty steed to get fixed at a shop outside of their control. Their justification will be on the basis that their shops do better work and that your chosen shop overcharges by taking unnecessary measures. It then becomes the client’s burden to prove whether or not this is true, but as mentioned above, all you have to do is to show that your shop of choice is certified by the major manufacturers and that it is simply following the standard procedures required of them by the BAR (Bureau of Automotive Repair).

2. Offering or denying a warranty

Carriers could threaten to not offer a lifetime warranty on the repair. The thing is, warranties are offered by shops, not insurance companies, and any shop worth its salt provides a lifetime warranty no matter who is settling up the bill. Shops certified by manufacturers have to handle your claim using established procedures to restore your car to pre-accident conditions.

An insurance company might give the false impression that they’re doing you some sort of favor by sending you to their preferred shops by highlighting that they can supply you with a warranty. Again, insurance companies don’t give warranties, shops do, and shops aren’t owned by carriers.

At this point you might want to ask yourself how a shop can offer a warranty in the first place if it doesn’t follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on repair procedures and part usage. The manufacturer has technical manuals that detail how repairs must be conducted, and if a shop offering a warranty skips standard protocols, that can only mean that not only are they veering away from the BAR’s requirements for repair facilities, they are essentially offering to cover the costs if the shop in their network makes a mess of your car, something which you might not become aware of until its too late.

Bear in mind that there is no hassle comparable to trying to bring your car back to its factory specifications once it’s been poorly repaired. You only have one chance to fix your car properly.  Once your car undergoes a shoddy repair, it is almost impossible to bring the car back to factory specifications.

3. Scaring you with time

A carrier may attempt to deter policy holders by scaring them with the length of time some shops might take for specific repairs, compared to the ones with which they are in-cahoots. But as we said before, faster does not necessarily mean better, in fact it could mean that your car has been transformed into a vessel for hazards (see picture above). The length of a repair and the parts used should be carried out according to the manufacturer’s protocol, not to the whim of a carrier’s desire to be stingy.

Conclusion

To wrap things up, keep this in mind: instead of relying on the word of your carrier, you must do your own research. Make sure that your body shop’s workmen have I-CAR and ASE certifications, and that the facility follows the manufacturer’s specifications regarding parts (i.e. doesn’t use aftermarket or junkyard parts) and repairs. Check the reviews a shop has on yelp, take into account how many years of experience it has, and make sure the repair facility is recommended by dealerships.