Consider options carefully when choosing collision repairs

Each year in Ontario, thousands of motorists find themselves involved in auto accidents, especially during winter, when driving conditions are less than ideal.

Each year in Ontario, thousands of motorists find themselves involved in auto accidents, especially during winter, when driving conditions are less than ideal.

If you get into an accident, the decisions you make at the scene will have a big impact on the cost and quality of your collision repairs. Wise decisions could save you thousands of dollars.

The best advice I can offer about collision repairs is to be prepared and know your options. Understand your insurance policy and don’t let strangers dictate where your vehicle will be repaired.

If you own a newer vehicle, you may be eligible for free towing coverage from a roadside assistance program. As a member of the Canadian Automobile Association, a towing service is available to you.

At the accident scene, you may be approached by a tow-truck driver offering to help. The driver may try to persuade you to bring your car to a collision repair shop that he recommends. Don’t agree to anything (much less sign anything) unless you are absolutely sure of what you’re getting into.

Last November, Hamilton police issued a warning about “collision chasers” who will try to persuade drivers to tow damaged vehicles to specific repair shops that pay them a commission. In some instances, parked vehicles were auctioned to shops with the highest bid.

Often collision chasers are individuals posing as good Samaritans, driving regular cars and claiming to want to help. They will urge you to have your cars towed to a repair shop of their choice, claiming it’s in your best interest. Soon your car is gone, and you’re at the mercy of the repair shop.

If a motorist later decides to move the vehicle to a different repair shop, it could end up costing thousands of dollars. That’s why it’s important to conduct due diligence about collision repairs before you have an accident.

Even insurance agents have been known to influence their clients’ decisions about collision repairs. Never let an insurance agent sway you from using a repair shop against your will. Remember, it’s your right to select a repair shop of your choosing.

Your decision will likely boil down to either an independent shop or a new-car dealership. In reviewing your options, consider service, knowledge and reputation of the shop; price should not be your only criterion. An independent shop may exclude one of the labour operations from its estimate. It may also use non-original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or replacement parts.

OEM parts are engineered to higher standards than non-OEM parts, and studies have proven them to be better in design, fit and performance. Check with your insurance company to see if OEM replacement parts are in your policy.

For collision repairs, I recommend new-car dealerships because they know your vehicle better than anyone else. There are inherent benefits in choosing a new-car dealership over an independent shop, particularly if you happen to be a customer of that dealership.

A dealership has access to your service records, which will speed up the process. It is equipped with the latest diagnostic tools and frame-straightening equipment to restore vehicles to pre-accident condition, and technicians are trained to repair your make and model.

Dealerships will also make any mechanical repairs to the manufacturer’s specifications on site, and they use OEM parts to ensure the structural integrity of your vehicle.

In addition to the work itself, dealerships provide warranty information and lifetime guarantees, and they offer shuttle services, car rental access, quick estimates and speedy turnaround times.

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