Picture Estimates for Auto Damage: Worth the Time You Save?

Picture Estimates for Auto Damage: Is it Worth the Time You Save?

By: Bryan Meader

I have seen more and more car insurance commercials lately that go something like this: “If you’re in an accident, just snap some pictures of the damage to your vehicle and we can mail you a check for the property damage! It’s that simple!”

However, before you take advantage of this opportunity, there are some things you might want to know. Although many of us are familiar with how an insurance claim goes following a car accident, for those who have never gone through this experience (the lucky ones), it usually goes something like this:

  1. Your vehicle is involved in a collision.
  2. Your insurance company or the at-fault party’s insurance company inspects your vehicle to determine the monetary value of the property damage. This inspection and figure is known in the business as an “Estimate.”
  3. Once the insurance company figures out the value of the damage done (or in other words, determines how much it will cost to get it fixed), they will do one of the following things, or offer you both options:
    1. The insurance company will handle the repair for you, OR
    2. The insurance company will give you a check for the value of the estimate so that you may select a body shop to do the repairs.
  4. If you choose to take the check and get the repairs done, there is a chance that the insurance company did not give you enough money initially to complete the repair. Don’t worry though because the insurance company is still obligated to have your vehicle fixed back to the way it was before the accident. If this is the case, your insurance company will send a mobile estimator out to the shop and discuss with the technicians what damage was missed in the first estimate. (Note, it’s not always your insurance company’s fault if some damage is missed, because often times the shop must take the vehicle apart before finding everything). This is known in the business as a “Supplement,” mainly because the insurance company is supplementing the estimate to cover all of the repairs that were related to your initial auto accident.
  5. The shop takes the check from the estimate and the additional money from any supplement, fixes your car, and returns it to you.

Why Photo Estimates are a Rip Off:

Now that we’re all caught up, it is important to know that when the insurance company is figuring out how much money to give you or the shop for the property damage to your vehicle and writing the estimate, the estimator takes a TON of pictures of the damage. I mean, a ton. And they use special tools and techniques to ensure that the damage is documented in the photographs. The estimator’s job is to document and explain why they are giving you every cent from the insurance company, and thoroughly record each part that was damaged in the collision to the best of their ability. These estimators have been specifically trained by the insurance company to do just that.

So, here’s the deal with those new commercials which advertise that you can just send pictures of your damage in and the insurance company will mail you a check. Although this process is much quicker, because you don’t have to take your car into a shop or have it seen by an estimator in person, you could really be getting ripped off. The insurance company is only going to give you the value of the damage that appears in your pictures, and unless you have the extensive training and tools used by an insurance estimator to document auto damage in pictures, you’re going to get MUCH less money to get your car fixed. This makes sense because the insurance company is going to rely on your pictures and not a thorough inspection from a trained estimator in calculating your damages. While normally the estimator looks at the vehicle itself, if you go the picture estimate route, an estimator is just writing their estimate based on your pictures.

In the end, although your insurance company may give you the option to take pictures and send them in, you should seriously consider having a real estimate done by someone who can see the vehicle in person. Having it looked at in person can get you MUCH more money, so its no wonder why insurance companies are pushing the photo estimates in advertising. To answer the question posed in the title of this article, it is often not worth the time you save to take your own pictures of the damage on your vehicle for your property damage claim with your insurance company. (Of course, it is always helpful to take pictures of the accident and your vehicle, just don’t attempt to use them as the basis for the estimate).

Michael Schafer
The Personal Injury Attorney for Louisville and Kentucky
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