- How do I file a claim?
- Does my policy cover this type of damage?
- Will this claim raise my rates?
- Where can I get my vehicle repaired?
- Do I have a choice as to who will repair my vehicle?
- What repair options are available to me?
If your vehicle has been damaged by a hailstorm, there are several questions that probably come to mind.
These questions are legitimate, and we will walk you through what you can expect from this process. It is important to know what your rights are as the insured, and to know what to expect when you file your claim.
Hail damage is classified as a comprehensive claim, not a collision claim. If you have comprehensive coverage, you are covered. Whatever deductible level you have chosen on your policy for comprehensive coverage is the amount of the claim you will have to pay out of pocket. Your insurer pays the rest of the claim amount.
Generally speaking, hail damage is considered an act of God by most insurance companies, and does not affect your future rates. However, if your vehicle gets hail-damaged repeatedly, these claims may affect your premiums later. Ask your insurance company for their policies regarding this.
The Hail Claims Process
After the damage has occurred to your vehicle, you will need to contact your insurance company in a timely manner.
After you have filed your claim, the insurance company will arrange to look at your car. It is important to have your vehicle looked at inside, or in a shaded area, if possible. Estimating a vehicle outside is a very inaccurate way to assess hail damage, as many of the dents will not be seen due to the glare of the sun.
Your adjustor may ask you where you are taking your vehicle to get repaired, or if your vehicle has a lien against it from a financial institution. If you own your vehicle free and clear, you have the right to keep your claim settlement, or to have your damage repaired. This is your choice.
Do not tell the adjustor you intend to cash out on the claim and keep the money. Some adjustors are trained to deliberately write a light estimate if you are cashing out. This is illegal. You will have no way of knowing if this has happened to you since you are not getting your vehicle repaired.
It is estimated that between 50 to 70% of hail damage claims are not repaired. The insurance companies take advantage of this knowledge. This saves them from having to pay the actual damage cost to the vehicle, and can save them hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. If it is economically feasible to your situation and vehicle’s worth, it is best to have the repairs done. This will help ensure a fair settlement.
When your adjustor looks at the severity of your hail damage, they will write the estimate to be repaired one of two ways, or a combination on the two. The Paintless Dent Removal method [PDR] involves a skilled technician gently massaging your dents out from the underside of the body panel. The traditional body shop method requires that the dents are straightened, filled, and the body panels repainted. Sometimes the damage is so severe that the panels will need to be replaced.
If possible, the paintless method is recommended so that your original factory finish can be preserved. PDR repairs generally take 1-2 days to complete. Traditional repairs usually take 1-2 weeks.
If you choose to have your vehicle repaired, notify the insurance company as to the shop you are going to use for the repairs. Some shops will want to see your vehicle before they schedule in your repair; they want to ensure the insurance estimate was written accurately. Other shops will deal with this issue after you have left your vehicle with them to begin the repair. The shop will notify the insurance company if they feel the estimate is written for the wrong type of repair or written light. You do not have to get involved with this process in most cases. The shop will re-write the estimate or create a supplement for the insurance company to approve.
Most body shops are now familiar with PDR. Some will have their own technicians on staff, but most will rely on subcontractors to complete the repairs. You can ask to see references from these subcontractors if you wish. Or go directly to a local established Paintless Dent Repair shop.
Can I take my vehicle to any shop I choose?
(Short answer is yes)
When talking to your claims representative, it is a very common practice for them to attempt to steer you to their preferred body shop to have the repairs done. Steering is illegal in most states; however, it is still a common practice. Do not be intimidated or coerced into taking your vehicle somewhere just because the insurance company wants you to use a particular shop. By law, you have the right to have your vehicle repaired by the repairer of your choice.
Insurance companies have agreements with body shops known as DRP’s (Direct Repair Providers). A DRP is an agreement between the body shop and an insurance company that usually means that the body shop agrees to price concessions for the insurance company. In exchange, the body shop is led to believe that more claims will be sent their way because they agreed to lower their prices for the insurance company.
As a consumer you need to think clearly as to what this issue means for you. Do you really want your vehicle repaired by a body shop that agrees to fix it cheaper to get more work for them? Is a cheaper repair a quality repair? Not usually. Don’t fall victim to this game. If you don’t know a quality body shop, ask around and get recommendations from other consumers.
Some insurance companies will take this steering practice up a notch by intimidating you into thinking that they will not guarantee the repair if you have the car repaired by someone other than their list of preferred shops. This is not true. Each body shop guarantees their own repairs, not the insurance company.
Some insurers might tell you that if you take your car to the body shop of your choice, you might have to pay the difference if that body shop has higher labor rates than the ones that have DRP agreements with them. Again, this is not true. Your insurer has to pay reasonable and customary repair charges from the body shop of your choice.
In light of all these common [and illegal] steering practices, it doesn’t make good sense to take your vehicle somewhere because the insurance company says so. Look at it like this: Does the third party (your insurance company) that pays for your claim really have your best interest in mind? Or, are they referring you to this shop so they can save money? As the old adage goes, “You usually get what you pay for.”
The intention of this article is not to paint all insurance companies as villains. We are trying to educate you to make informed choices about your vehicle repairs. Don’t be unknowingly steered.