Consumers Beware of Insurance Photo Estimates

Are Auto Body Photo Estimates Accurate?

The year of the pandemic altered many of our usual processes, including how insurance companies write estimates for collision repair. Prior to 2020 an auto insurance adjuster would assess your vehicle’s damage at your home, workplace or at your local Scottsdale auto body repair shop. Even though many things have returned to “normal”, insurance companies continue the push for photo estimates. When making a claim, the representative may ask you to download their app and submit photos of the vehicle’s damage. After accepting liability, the insurance company will respond with an estimate and payment for collision repair. It sounds easy, but is it an accurate repair plan, and is it enough money to return your car back to pre-collision status?

What is a photo estimate?

Photo estimates are still around partly due to the labor shortage and most likely make good financial sense to insurance companies. Similar to the self checkouts at the grocery store, it is marketed as a customer convenience. Once you submit the collision damage photos via the app or email, the adjuster writes the estimate from his/her desk. This allows the adjuster to write many estimates each day because they are not driving around and inspecting vehicles in person.

How is it working out for the vehicle owner?

After reviewing a photo estimate many vehicle owners get a bit nervous. They explain that the insurance company left off some damaged parts, and the amount appears less than the actual cost to repair. At this point, our office staff explains that this is just a starting point, and a quality-focused collision repair facility will evaluate the damage during disassembly and contact the insurance company for additional auto body repairs.

Are photo estimates accurate?

The problem:

The insurance company writes estimates based off what they can see in the photos and that is usually only part of the auto body repairs required.

What happens:

  1. The collision repair technician inspects and disassembles the damaged vehicle. Besides examining damage under exterior panels a diagnostic scan is often ran to assess damage to computerized and electrical components. The technician reports additional parts and labor needed to repair the car to pre-accident condition.
  2. The technician identified the additional damage, however, that does not mean he can proceed with the collision repair. At this point, the Scottsdale auto body shop estimator will write an additional estimate (supplement) for the insurance company’s review.
  3. Once a supplement is submitted, it usually takes the insurance company a few days to review/approve the additional parts and/or labor. Unfortunately, this causes a pause in work. Once the Scottsdale auto body shop has the green light, repairs will continue.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, photo estimates are often notably less compared to the final cost of repairs. Remember insurance adjusters are writing based off what they can see. They cannot crawl under the vehicle or run a diagnostic scan to assess all the damage. While there will most likely be a supplement, you can help with the accuracy of the original estimate by submitting quality photos. 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 prioritize returning your vehicle to pre-accident condition. They will work with the insurance company and spend the time needed to gain approval for necessary accident-related repairs.

Caution:

Before making a decision to cash the check and skip the auto body 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.

While your vehicle is in for collision repair, a reputable Scottsdale auto body shop 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.

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.

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. 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 workmanship 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. Choosing a reputable Scottsdale auto body repair facility is the key to a quality repair, Airpark Collision Center opened in 2006 and has a history of quality repairs and a lifetime workmanship warranty for as long as you own the vehicle. Please stop in for a free estimate or click here for an online estimate!

 


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.

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