In our ever-changing world, more and more jobs are becoming automated, and in theory, making our lives more convenient as a result.
Depositing checks into your bank account can be done from your smartphone. You can order a pizza online and monitor when it’s put in and taken out of the oven. You can lock your home’s doors and turn lights on and off from hundreds of miles away.
In the world of insurance, if you happen to have been involved in a car accident, you can upload photos of the damage done for a nearly instant appraisal from your insurer.
This, in theory, is a big win for consumers. They don’t need to spend extra time at an auto body repair shop or multiple shops and they get a quick settlement. Quickly settling the claim benefits the insurance company, especially since it is almost always going to yield a lower estimate. Also, with quick settlement, consumers may delay getting repairs, or they may fail to service their vehicles for damages at all. Then, unfortunately, the value of the vehicle is lowered due to damage and the money received is not enough to offset the value lost.
Indeed, photo estimates create efficiency for consumers, who can receive damage estimates on their own time, and the insurance claims process can be started far more quickly. This process is designed primarily for technology-driven youth, who may not fully understand the consequences of a poor repair or no repair at all. For these reasons and more, consumers may be missing out when it comes to photo estimates.
In Massachusetts, the option for insurance companies to offer photo estimates was prohibited for fourteen months starting in 2015. This was out of concern that photo estimates may not always be accurate, and that they were primarily a way to avoid the state’s requirement that vehicles exceeding $1,500 in damages be appraised in person. Insurance companies have typically paid for the damage appraisals by having staff adjusters or hiring independent contractors to write the estimate. Photo estimates are saving the insurance companies millions in staffing and independent contractor fees.
Effects on Consumers
Most vehicles are the consumer’s second-most valuable asset, so claims to damage are serious matters. Taking a shortcut that is not in the consumer’s best interest is not very wise way to protect a valuable personal asset.
By opting for an online photo estimate rather than one that can be made in person, consumers may not actually receive the estimates they deserve. Because the insurer is making an estimate based only on what can be seen in a photo, certain damage may go unnoticed.
As a result, insurers may offer lower appraisals for damage, which the consumer may not discover until the repair process, when it may be too late to appeal to their insurance company; if the consumer takes their vehicle to a repair shop long after claim payment, getting an appropriate supplement from insurance company for additional damage not seen in photo may be difficult to get approved or maybe even rejected.
Additionally, if a consumer takes a photo from a strange angle, an insurer may unintentionally make a lower estimate for damage that cannot be properly seen. If the consumer then receives an in-person estimate from an auto repair shop that is higher, the repair process will be lengthened due to approval on supplement damage.
Getting Repair Shops Involved
A quality body shop not only cares about finding and fixing all the damage to appropriately get paid for the work that is required to return the vehicle to pre-damage condition, they also need to find and fix everything so that they are able to comfortably offer their warranty. Most consumers will mistakenly think that the insurance company’s claim is final and try to find a shop that will do it for that amount. Many inferior shops will take the lesser amount and provide a lower quality repair just to get the work.
Today, the operating systems of vehicles are extremely complex, with multiple sensors, cameras, crumple zones and other small pieces, requiring closer examination and a more professional approach. This actually increases the need for a professional inspection and leads to claims needing supplements on an even greater number of claims.
When a customer visits a trusted repair shop for an estimate on damage done to their vehicle, they are receiving an inspection that is far more in-depth from an experienced person who knows what sorts of damages to look for. Furthermore, consumers may end up only getting the surface repair done if the body shop is not familiar with the insurance company or their supplemental claim process.
What’s more: body shops typically have supplements for additional damage on 85 to 90 percent of the insurance repair jobs that they do. This is due to the complexity of modern vehicles, the fact that all damage cannot be seen until the vehicle has been disassembled, and the increased use of plastic parts nowadays.
The insurer, who only has access to photos of varying quality from customers, may have the same field experience and may not be able to anticipate what other damages may exist beyond the cosmetic ones. Despite this, the customer’s attention is diverted to the seemingly more convenient and less expensive photo estimate option, provided by the insurer who may not be able to appraise accurately.
Because it is difficult to appraise vehicle damage with only photos, technical issues existing beyond the cosmetic damages often go unnoticed, therefore remaining un-appraised. For the consumer, un-appraised damage means receiving a lower ultimate appraisal for repair costs. For insurance companies, this means they can write smaller checks to their customers.
If the customer then visits a repair shop with the appraisal from the insurance company in mind, and requests only the repairs the insurer could see, the technician(s) of inferior shops may not feel compelled to look for additional damage, and it may go unnoticed. As time goes on, if this damage becomes more severe, it may not be connected to the accident that caused it, meaning the insurance company never has to pay the customer to cover the repair and put the vehicle back to the manufacturer safety specs.
When it comes to photo estimates, insurance companies are often the largest benefactors. Yes, photo estimates may be beneficial to get the insurance company to acknowledge responsibility, but be sure to follow up with a professional, reputable body shop in a timely manner to schedule repairs and allow the professional to work with the insurance company to get everything that is appropriate covered.
Quality shops have been working with insurance company on supplements to original estimates for years using photo documentation to support the damage that was originally missed in the initial estimate.
In conclusion, taking photos of your vehicle after it is damaged is good in theory. It will help you recall and document the incident. However, know if you choose to file a claim with photos you won’t necessarily get the most accurate treatment or quality repairs that you deserve. By seeking out a physical inspection from a reputable auto body repair shop, the consumer will benefit from a more thorough (and more FAIR) appraisal. In most cases this will also result in a better repair done by true professionals… like Alexander Body and Fender.