So your car got hit by hail now what do you do? If you’ve ever had your vehicle damaged by a hail you know it can be a very frustrating and expensive experience. Well if you have full coverage insurance on your car it doesn’t have to be frustrating or expensive. Often people don’t understand how to properly utilize there insurance coverage and are even afraid to claim the damage for fear that their rates will go up. This is a common fear but let me assure you a comprehensive claim such as hail damage doesn’t not raise your rates. In fact, if you don’t claim the damage and have it repaired you risk having any future claims being denied because of unrelated pre-existing damage.
The first thing you should do is call your insurance company and file a claim. Make sure you write your claim number down and it is always a good idea to ask the name of everyone you talk to and adjuster being assigned to your claim. The next step is the initial inspection or the “estimate.” Some insurance companies will ask you to go out get three estimates and hen fax them in. If your insurance company asks you to jump through these hoops just politely say NO. Ask where you need to go to have “them,” write “their,” estimate. Thats it, do not waste your time driving around getting multiple estimates because in the end your insurance company is just going to use those estimates as a starting point and write their own anyway.
An estimate means just that. It is an estimate of how much money and what the insurance company thinks it will take to repair your car. It is very important that you clean your car before having it inspected because you wont get paid for dents the appraiser can’t see. Secondly it is extremely important that you are as nice and as accommodating to the appraiser as you can be. It will do you no good to argue with or be rude to the person deciding how much money your going to get to have your car repaired.
Often times when there’s a large storm event the insurance companies are overloaded with claims and the have to outsource to independent appraisal services to help write all the claims that are pouring in. This is commonly referred to as a catastrophe team or “cat team.” Now I don’t think I have to tell you that these very busy appraiser’s are going to fly through your estimate as fast as they can and will probably miss a bunch of things. You may think your estimate looks a little low. In my line of work 90% of the estimates are written low. I’ve seen estimates for $1500 on a car that had over $6000 in damage. Don’t worry that estimate is not the final word it is merely a starting point. Unfortunately many people choose to keep they’re insurance money and never get their car fix. Some people even wait around til it hails again nearby and try to claim the un-repaired damage again. The insurance companies lose millions of dollars every year to fraudulent claims. It is impossible for them to keep track of every claim and they can’t force you to get your car fixed. The only way the insurance companies can combat this is by writing their initial estimates a little on the lighter side. I’ve had many appraisers tell me that their company actually trains them to feel the customer out and if they think they probably wont have their car repaired to write the estimate for as little as possible. Obviously if you have a brand new BMW your going to get it fixed but if you a 1984 Toyota Corolla with 350,000 miles on it you are probably going to keep the money, right?
The next step is to find a company to repair your dents. If you have large dents with paint damage and broken windows you will probably need to find a full service body shop. If you have mostly quarter sized dents and the damage is just superficial then PDR is the best option. PDR, or paintless dent repair is a repair method in which the dents can be gently massaged out and the original factory finish is left undisturbed. A good PDR shop can make your car look exactly like it did before the hail damage. Most dent’s half dollar sized or smaller can be removed fairly easily and quickly. In a perfect scenario your car could be repaired in as little as a few hours. Well, the world is not perfect and depending on your insurance company’s original estimate it may take several days to get an appraiser to come back out and re-write their estimate. This process is known as a Supplement. Usually on the back page of your estimate there are instruction for filling a supplement. The insurance company knows that if a professional repair facility is doing the repair then they are going to catch all the dents that were missed and ask to be paid for every last little bolt or clip that has to be removed. This is standard procedure and most insurers actually have a supplement hot line that body shops can call to have an appraiser sent out to the shop.
Some insurance companies send an appraiser out right away while other companies can take 7-10 days. I won’t get into which companies are the worst but I will say that Progressive and Farmers are top notch! This is not a paid endorsement it’s just the painfully obvious truth. If I call farmers they are at my shop the next morning every time even though their policy is within 48 hours. Progressive is almost as fast within 48 hours usually. Some of the other companies won’t tell you when there coming and your at their mercy. This is usually the longest delay in the repair process but it is the most important. Often times we get twice as much money as the original estimate. This is very important because without this additional money you may get a shop to do a complete repair or worse you may have to pay money out of pocket.
The next issue is “deductibles.” You have a contract with your insurance company that you will pay the first $500, $1000, or whatever your deductible is, towards the repair of your vehicle. This money is always deducted out of the check your insurance company gives you and they leave it up to you to pay it or find a company that will fix it for less. Essentially any company that repairs your vehicle without requiring you to pay a deductible is giving you a “discount.” This is completely legal and in fact most PDR companies will not require you to pay your deductible. Make sure you get any promises made to you in writing. I also suggest you get an estimated length of repair time. At my shop we always provide a customer with a written quote of the exact amount due for the repair or we give the customer a guarantee in writing that we will complete the repair for the negotiated amount the insurance company issues payment for. If we file a supplement it is expressed that we earned that money in addition to the original estimate. It is very important that you have written proof that you as the customer will not have to pay more than “x” amount of dollars when your car repair is completed. If a shop is unwilling to put their promises in writing then you need to find a new shop.
Once you find your repair shop or PDR company it is important that you know where the shop is and meet the owner or manager. I know this sound’s weird but a large majority of our customers never come to my shop and meet me. Often they are approached by one of my sales personnel and they let them pick the car up and then deliver back to them when it is finished without ever coming to my shop. This is great for me but it is extremely scary to think how easily people just hand over their keys and insurance checks. I always recommend to my salesmen that they suggest to their customer that they at least come out to our shop so they know where their car will be. It is also a good idea to ask for references. Often times we have repaired other cars in the neighborhood and have satisfied customers just down the street. Also you should check out a companies website if they don’t have one or it is poorly put together that may be an indicator that the company doesn’t pay much attention to detail. For a company to not have a website today is almost inexcusable! You may also call the local better business bureau. Even if a company is not a member the BBB will still field complaints and keep files on companies that receive complaints. Also check with your insurer. The will have files on companies that have had complaints or are suspected of fraudulent activities.
In conclusion PDR is definitely a great alternative to traditional body repair, and with a little research and due diligence the average person can navigate the claims process and find a great shop to repair their car for little or no money out of pocket!