After a car accident, you'll most often be dealing with car insurance claims, claims adjusters, and auto repair shops. If you’re in a small fender bender, you might not even bother filing a claim with insurance. But after a car accident with damage, either your insurer or the other driver's insurance provider is responsible for paying for the repair. It depends on who is at fault.
The insurance company will produce an estimate and suggest a local shop to do the repairs. They might pay the repair shop directly. Or, they might cut you a check so you can pay them yourself. But what if you want to do the work on your own to save a little money? Before you go this route, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Is There a Lien on Your Car?
Who can work on your car may depend on who holds the title.
If there is a lien on your car, then you most likely will not be allowed to repair the car yourself. The lender, whose money is on the line, won’t want to risk leaving the repairs up to someone who may or may not know what they are doing. If you're not a certified repair shop, how do they know you're capable?
Your insurance company may offer a direct repair program, which is a network of approved repair shops. But you aren't obligated to use it. You have the right to bring your car to the shop of your choice.
While your insurer can't force you to use a certain repair shop, your lender might. Check your loan agreement for the conditions that apply to you. You're likely to find language that will state that you must have your vehicle repaired by a certified shop that guarantees its work. It may even require that repairs be made at a shop that is approved by the lender.
If you can’t find the language in your contract, call your auto loan provider to find out for sure.
What if You Own Your Car Outright?
If there's no lien on your car and you own the title, you have a lot more flexibility. In most cases, you should be able to do what you want with the insurance payout. That includes having your car fixed at a shop, fixing it yourself, or not fixing it at all.
This may not be true all the time, though. You need to read your policy carefully. You can also ask your agent for advice on the matter.
How Will Your Coverage Be Affected?
Even if you own your car and don't have to use a certain shop to fix your car, your insurer may still be wary of repairs you do yourself.
As a result, you may find your insurer unwilling to continue to provide you with comprehensive or collision coverage if you choose to do your own repairs. Also, if more damage is found later, your insurer will likely not pay for its repair.
What happens if you get into another accident in the future? Your insurer may refuse to pay for any damage done to the part of your car that you fixed yourself in the past.
In these cases, it may not be worth the small amount of money you’ll save doing the repairs yourself. It may even cost you much more in the long run.
If you decide to repair your car yourself, it's a very good idea to have an adjuster look at the damage and provide an estimate before you do any of the work. In fact, your insurance provider will likely insist on it.
This is an important step. It provides both you and your insurer with a solid idea of what a reasonable settlement of the damages will be. It can help avoid any future misunderstandings.
If you mess up the repair, the costs of any repairs will come out of your pocket, not your insurer’s or a repair shop's. If you are not sure about your skills and ability to do the job right, have the work done by a mechanic or body shop the first time.
In some cases, saving a few bucks in the short term is not worth the hassle and/or costs in the long term.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What do I do if I can't afford car repairs?
Regularly needing your car, but being unable to afford to pay for repairs, can create genuine financial hardship. Be sure to compare quotes from a few different mechanics to get the most affordable repair quote possible. You can also see whether your mechanic will negotiate the repair costs or offer you a payment plan. If you still need assistance, consider options like borrowing from friends or family, a personal loan, or paying with a credit card. Beware of any high-interest credit options you can't pay back quickly, though, as they could cause worse debt problems for you.
Can my car insurance company tell me where to get repairs made?
Your insurance provider can offer a network of approved mechanics, but it cannot require you to use anyone in particular. You may have to get a few estimates, though, in order to get your repair and chosen mechanic approved.