Consumers Beware of Insurance Photo Estimates

If your vehicle has collision damage the car insurance company probably encouraged you to download their app and send photos. The representative probably explained this is the easiest and fastest way to get your vehicle’s collision damage repaired. They will write an estimate and send you the check! It sounds great, right?

What is a photo estimate?

Photo collision damage estimates have been around for a while but really took off during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Photo estimates are still around partly due to the labor shortage. Policyholders and claimants are now doing part of the car insurance adjuster’s job. In the past, insurance adjusters would travel to the vehicle owner’s home, workplace, or Scottsdale auto body shop to view the vehicle damage. Now, with photo estimates, the adjuster views collision damage photos from their desk and writes the estimate. This allows the adjuster to write many estimates each day because they are not driving around and inspecting vehicles in person. Of course, this is also saving the insurance company a lot of money, but how is it working out for the vehicle owner?

Are photo estimates accurate?

The problem:

The insurance company writes estimates based off what they can see and that almost always results in a supplement. A supplement is a second estimate listing additional damage not found on the first estimate.

What happens:

  1. A supplement leads to waiting. Understand the process, you drop off your car, truck, SUV at your Scottsdale auto body repair facility and forward them the insurance estimate.
  2. The collision repair technician inspects and disassembles the damaged vehicle. The technician reports additional parts and labor needed to repair the car to pre-accident condition. (Sometimes very visible parts are missing from the insurance estimate-like a broken headlight. Other times, its damage that is under exterior panels.)
  3. The technician identified the additional damage, however, that does not mean he can proceed with the repair. An additional estimate (supplement) has to be written and approved before your Scottsdale auto body shop can order additional parts or begin additional labor.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, photo estimates are often significantly less compared to the final cost of repairs. Thus requiring a supplement. Remember the insurance company is writing based off what they can see, therefore quality photos are a must. Here are some hints before you submit photos:

  • Take close-ups of broken parts.
  • Take clear pictures with no reflection of yourself or other objects.
  • If the car is in the sun, move it.
  • Examine surrounding panels. Sometimes people are focused only on the big dent, look at adjacent panels, are they scratched, or compromised too? If so, capture these images.
  • Take a photo about 3 feet back so the adjuster can see overall damage.
  • If possible, photo underneath the vehicle or under the hood. Maybe you don’t see something broken, but an adjuster might identify damage.
  • Providing the adjuster with clear photos can assist in writing a better estimate and may save you time in the long run.

What happens if the insurance estimate is too low?

Insurance estimates are notorious for being less than the actual cost of repairs. This is why choosing an auto body shop of your choice is so important. A Scottsdale collision repair facility with a good reputation will inspect the vehicle and be concerned with returning your vehicle back to pre-accident condition. They will work with the insurance company and spend the time needed to gain approval for necessary accident-related repairs.

A reputable Scottsdale auto body repair facility will:

  • Assess mechanical damage.
  • Pre and post-diagnostic scan newer vehicles to confirm all sensors and onboard computers are working properly after the impact of a collision.
  • Check condition of wheels, alignment, etc.
  • Inspect headlights and tail lights for illumination and aim.
  • Examine doors and windows for proper operation.
  • Communicate with insurance company to ensure the vehicle is repaired properly.

While uploading photos of a damaged vehicle saves you time, it may not be in your best interest. Here are a few things to consider:

Did You Know?

  • Some insurance companies require their adjusters to write a great volume of estimates each day. This very well may affect the accuracy of the collision repair estimate.
  • The person reviewing the photos may be new, or even out of the country. Not all are qualified to assess vehicle damage on today’s advanced vehicles. In addition, photo estimates do not allow for under the hood or under-vehicle inspection.
  • You may risk riding around in an unsafe vehicle.
  • Incomplete vehicle repairs will impact you at lease return or trade-in.
  • The insurance company may recommend their “preferred” collision repair shops. These shops work for the insurance company in exchange for a volume of work. Always do your homework on the auto body shop before you agree.
  • Choosing a reputable Scottsdale auto body repair facility is a great way to double-check the insurance estimate. A quality collision repair facility will have a lifetime labor warranty and repair according to industry and/or manufacturer standards.

A Recent Customer Experience:

A few weeks ago, a customer walked in with an insurance company check for $1500.00. The insurance company’s estimate included repair to the quarter panel and to replace the rear bumper cover. The customer warned us that the insurance company missed a lot of damage. Once the vehicle was inspected and disassembled we found repairs and/or replacement required to the exhaust system, rear body panel, trunk lid, tail light and impact bar. Not only was all the damage not acknowledged on the original estimate, but the check would certainly not cover all the required repairs.

Fortunately, this was no problem for Airpark Collision Center, we simply contacted the insurance carrier and showed them the additional damage. The supplement was approved and the customer’s vehicle was returned to pre-accident condition.

In conclusion, insurance photo estimates are definitely convenient but should be used as a starting point. Before making a decision to cash the check and skip the repair, bring your vehicle to a skilled Scottsdale collision repair professional that can inspect your vehicle properly. After speaking with an estimator or repair planner, customers can make an educated decision. Estimates are free at Airpark Collision Center and no appointment is needed. We are happy to answer questions and assess your vehicle’s damage.


Airpark Collision Center

Tina Small has been part of the Airpark Collision Center team since 2006. Working directly with customers, her goal is to share frequent customer questions, and proper methods of collision repair.