Troubleshooter: How to navigate the mess after an accident

Picture the scene: you’re on the side of the road, at night, in some type of inclement weather, dealing with police officers and tow-truck operators while your vehicle lies crumpled nearby. Your passengers, like you, are anxious to get on the way. It’s certainly not the best time to plan your next steps, but they are crucial to getting a satisfactory and fair resolution as quickly as possible in terms of getting you behind the wheel of your own vehicle again (or its replacement).

We’ve reviewed the policies and procedures with some of the top private insurance companies as well as the public systems in British Columbia and Manitoba as well as seeking opinion from a collision repair industry group: the Collision Industry Information Assistance organization.

Remember the overriding principle that governs most auto insurance agreements between the insurer and its client: to return the client and his/her property to a pre-collision condition within a reasonable period of time in accordance with the terms of the policy.

If you’ve never dealt with a collision shop before, trying to research locations, shop ratings, and customer satisfaction scores are not things to try to do on the side of the road at a collision. If your collision happens in the evening or on weekends, consider that few shops are able to receive vehicles after business hours. So having the vehicle removed to a safe and secure compound is most likely the best option (and often the only one offered by a tow-truck operator at the scene). This gives you a time window to make some inquiries and gather info for your next step: getting the vehicle to a repair shop. If your vehicle is obviously a total loss (seek informal opinions from the emergency response personnel at the scene if you’re not sure) most insurers will have an appraiser visit the storage compound to complete a vehicle inspection, so arranging to have it moved to a repair shop isn’t necessary.

Auto mechanics check out a car in this file photo.

Auto mechanics check out a car in this file photo.
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

You’ve probably heard this before, but you have the right to choose the repair shop that will perform your vehicle’s repairs. Most insurance companies have established relationships with specific shops and these centres may offer better warranty coverage than non-recommended shops as well as quicker repair turnaround times due to faster approval processes. Contacting your original selling dealership for their recommendation is a good idea because they have a vested interest in a satisfactory outcome for your repair. If you didn’t purchase your vehicle new from an OEM dealership, consider contacting one anyway. Ask for their recommendations as well as an opinion on your insurer’s choice. Don’t forget to check for any BBB (Better Business Bureau) or CAA ratings on the shops in question.

Either at a storage yard or at a collision repair centre, estimates can be completed and filed electronically with the insurance carrier. Under normal circumstances most insurance repairs can be estimated and approved in less than five days with some shops being able to “self-approve” a repair due to a preferred status with the insurance company. Keep in mind, no matter who is paying for the repair; it’s the vehicle owner who has to give final authorization as it’s their property that’s involved. If your vehicle was one of several hundred involved in collisions on a particularly bad weather day, you can expect the inspection and approval process to take longer.

If your vehicle is going to be repaired rather than scrapped, you need to look at the repair authorization from the insurance company carefully before things get started (for this you may need some assistance from the shop advisor to decode things). Public and private insurance companies alike will instruct repair centres to use non-original manufacturer parts whenever possible for vehicles as new as the past model year. No aftermarket or jobber supplier will have listings for every possible component, but for common collision items such as bumpers, hoods, fenders, mirrors, lamps, and suspension/steering and engine parts, there are alternatives to the OEM (original equipment manufacturer). While many jobber parts can be equal in quality and fit to OEM, many others are not. An often unforeseen problem with non-OEM parts is the warranty. If your vehicle is still under the terms of factory coverage, having a collision repair done with non-OEM parts means losing the manufacturer’s coverage for those parts. They may still be covered, but not by your carmaker’s plan.

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Insurance carriers demand specific warranty coverage from shops they pay to repair your vehicle. Most private companies will offer “as-long-as-you-own-it” coverage when you deal with their preferred shops. Manitoba Public Insurance requires new parts to be covered in excess of the OEM warranty, labour for at least one year and used parts for 90 days. All of this coverage will only pay off if you remember to keep records on what was replaced with which type of part and which company holds the warranty.

Almost every insurance company will allow a customer to request only OEM parts be used if they’re willing to pay the price difference. If you own a vehicle with an extended manufacturer’s warranty, or something less common than the run-of-the-mill compact or minivan, you may want to check with your dealership about the use of non-OEM parts. Collision shops, no matter where they’re located or who is paying for the job, prefer OEM for guaranteed fit and ease of installation.

In our next issue we’ll go into the details of what to do if your vehicle is considered a total loss.

If you have questions or comments on automotive topics you’d like to see here, please send an email to [email protected] Due to volume, direct responses aren’t always possible.

About Brian Turner