If you are in a car accident, your insurer is supposed to make sure the car is repaired, assuming you carry collision coverage.
The law in most states says you can go to any repair shop you choose.
But there is a catch many drivers don't know about until they find themselves in this situation: if the estimate is too high at the shop of your choice, your insurer can refuse to pay that higher bill.
Linda Lewis just learned about that catch firsthand. She was sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver, and her Toyota Corolla needs a lot of body work.
She brought it to a nearby shop because she heard they did excellent work.
But her insurer, Progressive, balked at the $7,000 estimate, Lewis says.
"They keep telling me there are other shops in the area that would fix the car much cheaper," she said.
She didn't realize that this shop was not one of the insurer's preferred shops, sometimes known as "in-network shops," that would do the job for $2,000 less.
It is similar to seeing a doctor who is out-of-network, with your health insurance.
Doesn't the law allow any shop?
Most states now have laws that say you can bring your car to any body shop for repairs after an accident.
But that insurance company can say your body shop is charging too much, and refuse to pay the full amount of the bill.
The manager of the shop, Tyler Damron, says he won't do a low-cost repair, as it could harm his reputation for excellence.
"I can't do it correctly, not even being close to a correct repair. Can it be fixed and patched? Of course," Damron said.
If this happens to you, the legal network Nolo.com suggests you:
- Appeal to your insurance company.
- Ask the body shop to try to negotiate the price.
- Contact the state insurance department.
- Finally, call a lawyer who may be able to assist.
If all else fails, you have two choices: pay the extra amount out of pocket, or take the car to a cheaper, in-network shop.
"They say you can take your car to any shop that you choose," a disappointed Lewis said.
We contacted Progressive, but they were reluctant to raise their top limit on what they felt the repair should cost.
A spokesman, however, said they would pay extra for Davis's rental car costs through the two-month delay she endured.
In the end, Davis moved her car to their preferred body shop, and she was finally getting the body work done, at the lower, agreed-upon price.
As always, don't waste your money.
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