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What you need to know to make sure you get the repair you are entitled to.

By Peter duPre

Whether your vehicle has been involved in a major collision or merely a minor parking lot fender bender, before repairs can be made the damage must be assessed by a professional estimator or appraiser.

The appraiser’s job is to carefully inspect the damage to the vehicle, make an estimate at to what repairs are need, calculate the cost of the repairs and make a determination whether these repairs require OEM, used or aftermarket parts, and help you and the insurance company determine whether is it is worthwhile repairing the vehicle.

The appraiser who examines your vehicle may work for your insurance company, he may be an independent appraiser, or he may be the estimator at the local body shop. Which ever category your damage appraiser falls into, ask what kind of certifications he holds. Modern cars are sophisticated machines that often require complicated and expensive repairs after an accident. The appraiser must have the latest training to evaluate this damage. Ask what kind of training he has and where he got it. I-CAR (Inter-Industry ASE Conference on Auto Collision Repair), collision trade associations, automobile insurance companies and vehicle manufacturers all offer damage appraisal training. While some body shop estimators also work as insurance appraisers, not all are qualified to do so. It is one thing to estimate a repair job and quite another to calculate cost versus damage and vehicle value. If your shop is also doing the appraisal, make this is acceptable with your insurance company.

Most insurance companies require some kind of damage appraisal on any damage beyond an extremely minor fender bender. Your job as the vehicle owner is to make the vehicle accessible to the appraiser and to supply him with any information he may need to do the job. Following the tips listed below will assure that you get the best appraisal possible:

  • Make the Vehicle Accessible – If your vehicle has only minor damage, odds are that the appraiser will come to you. When the appraiser contact you to make an appointment, make sure the car will be available for inspection. Generally it is best to have the vehicle parked outside or in a well-lighted area. If possible, have the vehicle at the body shop. This is generally more convenient for the appraiser and in the case of major damage, having the vehicle at the shop will allow the appraiser and the shop estimator to compare notes.
  • Have Documentation Ready – Your appraiser may need to see your vehicle registration, insurance card, and repair estimate. Have these ready when the appraiser arrives.
  • Leave the Appraiser Alone – Damage appraisal on modern vehicles is complicated, detail-oriented work. Don’t bother the appraiser with a lot of questions. Let him complete his assessment without interruptions and ask your question when he is through inspecting the vehicle.
  • Honesty is the Best Policy – You may be asked to point out the damaged area to the appraiser. Be honest. Point out only the damage that is due to the accident. Trying to get old damage fixed as part of your current claim is dishonest and illegal. Besides, you won’t be fooling anyone. A competent damage appraiser can tell new damage from old, as well as the direction of the collision.
  • Get a Copy of the Appraisal – If your appraiser is working for the insurance company instead of for you, make sure you get a copy of the appraisal. Usually, you won’t be able to get the appraisal right away. The physical inspection of the damage is only part of the process, but most appraisers will mail you a copy of their assessment if you ask them to.
  • It’s Not the Appraiser’s Fault – If you are having problems dealing with the insurance company or body shop, don’t take it out on the appraiser. He is only doing the job he was hired to do. Be cooperative and polite. Remember the appraiser is trying to give you money (for the needed repairs). Treat them as nice as possible and you’ll find that many of them will go out of their way to make sure you get what you need. As with anything else, there is a certain latitude with damage appraisal. This can be an advantage if there is some hidden or questionable damage.
  • Ask About Differences – If the damage assessment doesn’t match up with the estimate from the body shop or with your idea of what should fixed and how it should be fixed, don’t be afraid to ask the appraiser to explain the assessment. You may need to argue with the insurance company about the repair, so a complete understanding of the damage and the appraisal is necessary.