Crashed car? Don't wreck your finances

Wreckage from a car accident

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: Earlier in the show we talked -- as we often do these days -- about how more of us are tightening our belts. We're speaking financially, of course. But hopefully we're all in the habit of tightening another belt, the ones in our cars!

Aside from the obvious danger issues, accidents can be a source of great financial frustration.

Cash Peters learned that lesson recently and decided to share his experience.


Cash Peters: So here's the story: I was doing a report, for this show actually, about the benefits of leasing my car, when the whole story changed. Because, somewhat ironically, I crashed it.

Observant Man: Wow, that's significant.

No kidding. Some freak rammed into me on the freeway. $18,000 worth of damage and 10 weeks in the shop. Nobody was hurt luckily and by nobody, I mean me, but I have no clue about the other guy. But it's my first accident and quite honestly, I didn't know what to do next.

Avo Donoyan is my agent at All State Insurance.

Avo Donoyan: You get all the facts. You write them down, exchange information, take photos, then call our claims department, professionally trained to answer all the questions.

OK, so that's what I did. However, and here's the thing, without even meaning to, I did three very smart things after the accident that really made a difference.

First, I had a video camera with me, so I filmed everything, including the guy admitting it was his fault. Now, apparently Avo doesn't approve of that, because who knows, the guy might get violent.

Donoyan: You did what you did at the spirit of the moment. I wouldn't do it, I wouldn't recommend to do it. The more information the better, but I don't want to have a camera, direct the camera in somebody's face and record his statement. I wouldn't do that.

Alright, so let me qualify this. It's not advisable, maybe, but it was smart in my particular situation, because later on, when the other guy's insurance company got fresh and tried to pin the blame on me, guess what? I produced his video confession. Proof! "Damn!" they said and paid up.

Next though, I had to get the car fixed. So naturally, I called my insurance company.

Donoyan: When you called that 1-800 number, they would recommend a preferred body shop. The workmanship is guaranteed for as long as you have the car. So you have no worries.

Steady on there, cowboy. I decided to worry a whole lot as a matter of fact. The second smart thing I did was ask a ton of difficult questions, such as: What if I don't like the body shop that they recommend? What then? Can I pick one of my own? The answer is yes you can, you choose which shop to use. Go to the wrong place and you can end up with anything under your hood: lawn mower parts, garden hose, bits of someone else's car.

Steve Vlassof runs a repair shop, D.C. Autocraft.

Steve Vlassof: Absolutely. They are constantly looking at ways to cut cost. Crash parts and after-markets parts and used parts, which they dress up using "light-kind in quality." They come up with these different terms and they're basically junkyard parts.

Peters: Am I not protected. I mean, isn't someone looking over these guys' shoulders and saying, "You're putting gardening hose in there?"

Vlassof: Not really, we're not regulated.

Oh yikes. Is that right? Someone might want to look into that. Because the quality of the work is really important.

Mike Bradford is an Audi dealer in Pasadena.

Mike Bradford: I've been in this business a long time and I've seen crash test footage of cars that have been repaired with parts that weren't original equipment parts. And it's a nightmare. I've seen hoods rip off of their hinges and come projecting into the driver's area, right through the windshield. Obviously, they're not designed to do that.

No, you think? The whole thing's a minefield. Anyway, the body shop I was sent to was "certified," so they were good, but you know what? I got a bad vibe from the, call me psychic. So, and here finally, is the third smart thing I did: I stood my ground. Resisted all the pressure and chose instead to go to to D.C. Autocraft. They're like the Boeing of vehicle repair. Expensive, so it's not good news for the guy who hit me or his insurance company, but at least I know my car will be OK.

Steve Vlassof again.

Vlassof: It's buyer beware and the first most important thing for a laymen is go look at the shop. Just look at some of the work that they've done. They have to be able to show you that they're qualified to do these repairs, a little bit more than just a sign that's posted on their window saying "Factory trained."

Bradford: One of the things you noted was, "Hey, I had this tremendous accident and I was safe. If you repair that car with substandard parts or improper procedures, the car might not be in the condition to do that for you next time. That's very important.

Peters: Yeah, but who do I trust? Because all these people were lovely.

Bradford: I would submit that by going to the dealer and the factory authorized and certified body shop, you know that the manufacturer has signed off on those procedures, parts, training, etc. And that's about the best you can ask for.

Peters: I'm good aren't I, is what you're saying?

Bradford: I think in this instance, you did a great job.

So what can I say? Hooray for me really.

In Pasadena, Calif., I'm Cash Peters for Marketplace.

Vigeland: Cash Peters is a humorist whose latest book is "Naked in Dangerous Places."

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