Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Photo Estimates After a Car Crash

These days, you can do almost anything right from your cellphone: order dinner, check in for a flight, and even see a doctor. As consumers embrace the convenience of these transactions, some auto insurance companies have joined the club, allowing drivers to submit photographs of damage after a car accident in order to receive damage estimates – and compensation – more quickly than ever.

But in practice, photo estimates may be too good to be true. While snapping and sending a few photos is faster and easier than physically visiting an auto shop, drivers and body shops have reported receiving offers from insurance companies far below the actual damage assessed by body shops who physically examine the car. Not only do drivers lose out on compensation, but they also return to roads in potentially unsafe cars.

Read on to learn more about how relying on photo estimates from auto insurance companies can cost you money and put you and other drivers in danger.

How Do Photo Estimates Work?

When you have a car accident, your insurance company is responsible for making you whole after you’ve paid an auto shop for repairs related to the damage from the accident. In other words, while you pay the body shop, the insurance company pays you.

Traditionally, the insurance company would require an estimate of the damage from an accredited auto shop before repairs can be made. As the driver, you would take your car to the shop and get a physical inspection, then take the shop’s estimate back to the insurance company. The insurance adjuster would use this estimate to set aside compensation for your claim.

Relying on a professional third party’s estimate is beneficial for both the insurer and the insured: while it protects the insurance company from fraud, it also ensures full compensation and safety for drivers.

Insurance companies that offer photo estimates, on the other hand, argue that it’s a faster and more convenient way to be compensated after an accident. It’s true that visiting an auto repair shop can be time-consuming and difficult, while one can take and send photos by email or through an app in a matter of minutes. Once the photos are sent, an insurance adjuster or specialist otherwise employed by the insurance company assesses the damage in the photo, then issues an estimate.

This process certainly cuts down on time and coordination between entities. Some drivers have reported being sent checks mere minutes after sending the photos. So what’s the problem with photo estimates?

Why Photo Estimates Come Up Short

We recently spoke with a client who had received a photo estimate of $1,800 after an accident damaged his car. He then got the car inspected at one of his insurance company’s approved body shops and was told the actual damage valued $5,700 – more than three times the photo estimate. Yet the insurance company refused to budge from the $1,800 estimate.

This client isn’t alone. News reports reveal that photo estimates routinely come up short, often two to three times smaller than repair shop estimates. And while many insurance companies insist they work with body shops to arrive at more accurate estimates, the process can be more arduous and time-consuming than simply using the repair shop estimate in the first place.

Lowball photo estimates don’t just hurt drivers financially, either – they also put drivers at risk by returning potentially unsafe cars to the road.

Let’s say a driver receives a $1,000 check from the insurance company after submitting photos of damage, but when they go to make repairs, they’re told the damage actually comes out to $3,000. The repair shop doesn’t want to do work it won’t be paid for, and the driver doesn’t want to pay out of pocket for the $2,000 difference. After all, it is the insurance company’s responsibility to make the driver whole for repairs.

When insurance companies refuse to budge from photo estimates, they increase the likelihood that drivers will opt for cheaper or insufficient repairs, then return to the road in unsafe cars that put them and other drivers at risk of injury or death.

Photo Estimates Shift Power – and Risk

Letting your insurance company handle the damage estimate for your vehicle presents a conflict of interest: while the insurance company ostensibly wants to return only safe vehicles to the road, it is also a business, which means it needs to protect its bottom line by making conservative financial offers.

Insurance adjusters are also trained in insurance matters – not the finer points of car safety. They simply aren’t as equipped to assess automobile damage, especially from a photograph, which can often obscure dangerous damage underneath hoods or bumpers.

And since the repair shop incurs the risk, the insurance company is off the hook in the event that insufficient repairs cause the car to later injure the insured or other drivers.

At NMR, we strongly advise against using photo estimates after a car accident. While you may get a check faster, the compensation may not be enough to properly repair the car. An auto repair shop, on the other hand, is legally incentivized to give accurate estimates that ensure full compensation and maximum safety for the driver.

What to Do If You’ve Received a Photo Estimate

Even if you’ve already cashed a check, we recommend taking your car to an auto shop for a second opinion. If your insurance company provides a list of approved shops, make sure you visit one of them. While laws regarding photo estimates vary by state, insurance companies are supposed to work with body shops even after giving photo estimates.

If the insurance company won’t pay out more than their initial photo estimate, you may need to seek legal counsel.

If you have questions about dealing with insurance adjusters or how to proceed after a car accident, don’t hesitate to call the experienced attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield. We’re happy to help empower claimants to hold responsible parties accountable.


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