Having reliable and sufficient car insurance coverage is so important. But how do you know if you have enough? Car accidents are incredibly expensive today! Here's how I found that out the hard way.
Several years ago, I did something stupid. Instead of backing straight out of my parking stall, I turned too soon. As a result, I crunched the side of my car Rhino into a pillar. I wasn't inebriated, tired, or high. I was just in a rush to meet a friend.
The last time I had an accident was in 1998. Instead of backing up into a pillar, I backed into the passenger side door of another car which was also backing out at the same time. It looks like there's a pattern to my accidents. But who told that Mustang to run into my bumper?!
I remember trading insurance information, paying a $200 deductible, and sending in a sketch of what happened. My insurance company probably paid, but I don't remember for sure. My premium stayed the same and the cost didn't stand out.
Car Accidents Are Crazy Expensive Nowadays
After hitting the pillar, I called my insurance company and confessed my stupidity. Then, they sent me to their “preferred” auto body shop to get a quote.
Always skeptical about insurance companies, I decided to first check out another body shop in a cheaper part of town. After doing so, I realized I was in the wrong business!
The first place I went to was in an area called Parkside. That's the southwestern part of San Francisco where homes are cheaper than the median.
Food and services are also cheaper there compared to an area like Pacific Heights, where similar quality homes are easily 100% over the median. If I wanted a deal, I had to go to a cheaper part of town!
My craptastic house contractor gave me the skinny that his fellow contractors purposefully charge more for people who live in more expensive homes, even if the cost is the same, because they know the homeowners can afford it, and tend not to push back as much.
Auto Body Repair Costs Soar
Before telling you how much the quote was to fix the two damaged panels on Rhino, take a look at the image above and guess the estimate. We're talking a 3 mph accident with no other vehicle involved. I've seen people simply take off a panel, pound it out from the inside, repaint and be done.
Did you guess $500? $1,000? Maybe $1,000 for each panel? Or how about an aggressive $3,000?
Personally, I guessed $1,000. I was willing to pay $1,000 out of pocket to avoid potential insurance premium hikes since my deductible was $1,000.
Now, take a look at the Parkside auto body shop estimate below.
To fix two dented panels requires 41.1 hours of labor at $94/hour for a total of $3,881! What?! Parts are relatively cheap at only $967.66.
The combined total cost was a whopping $5,397.41! The funny thing is, the auto body owner gave me the three page print out with a STRAIGHT FACE!
If I had to play poker with this guy, I'm sure I'd lose. How in the world you can give a $5,397.41 estimate for such a minor accident is beyond me.
Crucial Car Insurance Coverage
The first thing he asked me was who was my insurance carrier. The last thing he asked me was to verify my insurance carrier. In other words, the cost he estimated depended on which insurance carrier he thought he could screw over the most!
He proceeded to tell me that if we skipped the insurance company, he would knock off $1,000 from the estimate. I told him thanks, but no thanks. I was curious to see what my auto insurance company's preferred dealer would quote.
Side tip: If you are going to remodel your house, you might as well get the finest materials possible. As with the auto repair quote above, it's really the cost of labor that will account for the lion's share of your construction project.
New Car Repair Quote
My car was pretty new at the time I had my accident, which made me feel so dumb for denting it. But at least parts were easy to come by and nobody got hurt.
To my surprise, the preferred auto body shop came in 39% cheaper at $3,293! If I didn't first get a quote at the Parkside auto body shop, I would have been sick to my stomach. But with the new estimate at $3,293, I was kind of happy. Damn that shady guy!
Unfortunately, $3,293 was still way over my $1,000 deductible, and way over what I thought such a minor accident would cost.
Thus, I paid my deductible and received Rhino back three weeks later. What a long time to be without my car. I guess it really does take close to 40 hours of work to fix!
Lower Quality Steel, Higher Repair Costs
I spoke to the 65-year-old owner and asked why cars cost so much to fix nowadays. He said that because cars today are made from such low tensile steel, it's impossible to just pound out the dents like the old days.
The steel is much too malleable and will flex right back. Car manufacturers want to make the lightest, fuel efficient cars possible. While that's great for gas mileage, it sucks for repair costs.
I proceeded to ask him why it took 40 hours of labor to fix my car. Taking off the dented panels and installing new ones seemed so straight forward. He said that one of the two damaged panels is actually two separate pieces. Then he went on rambling about other things I didn't quite understand.
Sufficient Car Insurance Coverage
Having sufficient car insurance coverage is more important than ever. Cars today are just way more expensive to fix than cars of the past!
Rhino was a 2015 Honda Fit that cost $19,200 pre-tax, and roughly $20,835 out the door. Thus, $3,293 to fix the two panels accounted for 16% of the entire cost of the car!
I shudder to think what the cost of fixing my car would be if I got into a head on or side collision. I'm sure $8,000 – $10,000 in cost wouldn't be out of the question because the motor and other mechanical parts might get damaged as well.
Get The Best Value For Your Auto Insurance
Given the ridiculous cost of fixing cars, the irony is that if you are going to drive, you might as well drive the nicest car that you can afford. You get much more “value” for your insurance given your chosen deductible is fixed.
Parts only accounted for 23% of my final $3,293 cost. The other option is to drive the cheapest car you feel safe in, where you don't care if it gets bashed up. That's what I did for 10 years driving a 2000 Land Rover Discovery II before Rhino.
Finally, getting a couple estimates from auto body shops and shopping around for car insurance is a no brainer. It's very clear to me there's some nefarious multi-tier pricing strategy going on with what auto body shops charge based on who your insurer is and your method of payment.
The Bottom Line
My silly accident is a good reminder for everybody to call their auto insurance company to learn about your exact coverage. Here's a helpful car insurance basics primer to help you further understand all the options available.
Find out your liability amount, who is covered, monthly premiums, roadside assistance, loaner car benefits, etc.
I didn't want to pay $2 a month extra to get the loaner car benefit. As a result, I ended up carless for a couple weeks (traveled one week) because I was unwilling to pay $50 a day for a car rental.
After going through your car insurance policy, if you don't like what you're getting for the price, get a quote online.
One of the largest online insurance companies is AllState, which I've used to keep my existing insurer honest. The most important thing is to know what type of insurance you need to keep yourself protected.
My Insurance Specs On A Honda Fit:
Here's a look at what my car insurance coverage specs were at the time in 2016. My 2015 Honda Fit was leased new and only about a year old.
- Six Month Premium: $546
- Liability – $300,000 / per person $500,000 for total accident
- Property Damage – $100,000
- Uninsured – $300,000 / $500,000
- Uninsured property damage – $1,000 deductible, if someone doesn’t have their own insurance
- Medical Payments – $100,000 / person for people only in my car
- Wage or benefits – $2,000/family member .. total
- Extended benefits – $45/week for services such as house cleaning, mowing the lawn, etc.
- $5,000 funeral and death benefits* Roadside service – $1.5/month
Get Cheaper Car Insurance Coverage
Auto insurance is the second biggest expense to owning your car. AllState is the leading online market place to help you find the most affordable and reliable auto insurance.
They get you comparison quotes to make sure you’re getting the best deal. You can easily purchase auto insurance straight from their website if you like what you see.
It is very important that everyone gets at least basic liability car insurance. You can total your car and be fine. But if you total someone else’s car and injure them, they can go after you for ALL your assets and wipe you out. Check for a better auto insurance quote today.