Winter is finally here, although it has yet to truly feel like it in some states. Not one snowflake has been predicted or fallen in many places. Although the first snowfall may be exciting, its allure will quickly wear off — especially when you have to drive in it. Having an auto accident is heightened in the winter (depending on where you live) since more risks are present, such as ice, snow, and sleet. Even those risks are heightened without proper car maintenance like keeping tires with good tread on your car, so what may have sufficed in warmer months won’t in the winter. Bald tires may make it in the summer on dry land, but put a bald tire on ice and watch it go.
I, for one, will never drive in snow or ice again. I learned a lesson and learned it the hard way. Many people are going to find themselves in this situation within the next few months, and if they understand their policies and the claims process, I know they likely won’t suffer what I did.
In 2002, I had a car accident in the snow, which was luckily minor despite the fact that my car basically needed an entire new backend put on.
I assumed it would be a comprehensive claim, which won’t increase rates since comprehensive pays for damage that occurred from something completely out of your control. I was sure that since it happened during inclement weather and because no other vehicles were involved that it wouldn’t count against me as an at-fault accident.
As it turned out, that wasn’t the case at all.
This was my first insurance lesson that was learned the hard way. It was before I became an insurance agent, and it was a rude awakening. As it turned out, that accident in the snow was considered an at-fault accident and was causing my premiums to rise since it was paid out under my collision coverage. Collision claims are always considered at-fault, and are what makes rates rise. A collision claim paid out due to inclement weather is treated by insurers the same way they would as if you swerved and hit a tree or caused an accident with another driver. There’s no “tier” to collision claims, and insurers don’t really care why you have one — they just take note of the fact that a collision claim is there at all.
It still didn’t make sense as to why it would be considered a collision claim. Why was it considered at-fault since there really wasn’t anything “at fault” about it since the circumstances were out of my control?
The reason is that although you can’t make or melt snow, you have the option to drive your car in such weather. That in itself is something you can control, and insurers expect you to be a good judge of when it is and isn’t appropriate to drive.
I’m not the only one who has made this mistake. People assume this about winter weather auto accidents all the time, assuming what I did — that weather is out of your control, so it must be a comprehensive claim.
Three Strikes — I’m Out
That also wasn’t the only mistake I made. For some reason, I declined my insurer’s offer to take the car to one of their “certified” shops for repair. Instead, I decided to leave it at the body shop it had been towed to and let them do the work. Big mistake.
The body shop ended up going over the estimate the insurance adjuster had calculated and ended up being an initial two weeks behind on repairing my car. When the body shop completed my work, I wasn’t able to pick up my car until my insurer paid the difference, which obviously wasn’t a quick process since there had to be discussion, approvals, calculations, etc. The body shop was literally holding my car as “ransom,” and I was at the mercy of my insurer. Not only that, I had maxed out my daily rental coverage of $900. This is very likely because the body shop had taken so much longer. Even if they had still gone over the estimate and held my car until receiving the check, that would have at least been two weeks ahead of the timeframe that I was at that point more than six weeks into.
Eventually the adjuster got a new check out to the body shop, and I got my car back. However, because of my mistakes, I ended up extremely confused by my misunderstanding of my insurance policy, worried about my future premiums because of my misunderstandings, and found myself without even a rental vehicle for an extra three weeks that I wasn’t counting on. Additionally, I had failed to take control of the situation. I should have been communicating with the body shop and claims adjuster during the repair process. Had I done that, I probably wouldn’t have shown up to the body shop ready to take my car home only to discover that the body shop was trying to do a good job of milking this claim. I would have known how much money the body shop had spent on the car, compared it to my adjuster’s estimate, and alerted my adjuster when I saw the red flag.
Not to mention that I had apparently chosen a less than trustworthy body shop, and had done absolutely no checking around on them. I had literally recalled a sign of a body shop when they asked where to tow it to after the accident and that’s where it went. I later found out the body shop had a less-than-stellar reputation. Last of all, I didn’t stand up for myself enough when the body shop wouldn’t let me get my car. I was way too hands off and didn’t know enough. If I had pressured the shop a little more, I probably would have learned about a standard form body shops and claims adjusters use regularly to clear up those kind of estimate issues which let the vehicle owner take the car before the claims check has even reached the body shop.
So in total, my mistakes were:
- Not understanding my policy
- Failing to check out the body shop
- Failing to stand up for myself
- Failing to keep an eye on the progression of repairs
Once you know what collision coverage pays for, you’ll likely be more cautious as this winter approaches and also know exactly what you’re in for when making a claim. Not only that, but if you understand your policy, you’ll have a much more satisfactory collision claims experience and also know what you’re covered for.
Having a Satisfactory Claims Experience
When a car accident occurs, the parties have to spend a lot of time and energy getting their car fixed after an accident. Insurance procedures, collision repair shops, and claims adjuster availability all affect how quickly and how well your collision claim is handled. However, navigating the claims process and the process of repairing your car can be difficult. It’s actually much more simple than some think, as long as you know what you’re in for.
1. Know your policy.
- Understand what your policy covers, what deductibles apply, and what your responsibilities are when involved in an accident. Have the deductible set aside in your savings account at all times.
- This will lessen the amount of time spent on making phone calls and gathering deductible money in addition to all your other issues due to the accident.
- Verify that you have roadside and rental car coverage now before you need it. You could save yourself hundreds in car rental by ensuring it is covered under your car policy. Always check on your daily max, max dollar amount, and find out if there’s a limit to the days you can rent a car.
2. Select the right shop for repairs.
- You will want to be sure that the repair shop that you select has a good standing with the BBB and has all the proper licensing needed for expert repair.
- Many of the top insurance companies will now provide a list of “certified” auto repair shops. Often they will guarantee the repairs for the life of your car if you select one of these shops.
3. Keep in touch with your claims adjuster.
- Make sure you place your report with your insurance company immediately so that your claim can be assigned quickly.
- Claims adjusters are just as overworked and busy as anyone else in the workforce today. Keep in touch so that your claim doesn’t get shuffled to the bottom of the pile. This will result in better communication and quicker claim payments.
Don’t let an accident be the first time you think about your car insurance policy. Take charge of your policy by having a copy readily available in your files and know your deductibles ahead of time so you can get yourself back on the road quicker and more efficiently. Most of all, exercise your voice. It’s your insurance policy, and you bought it to protect you, not to line the pockets of shady body shops.
Follow Desiree on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.