Car Scams To Look Out For When You Need Collision RepairFeb 10, 2011
By Jenny Li, Editor in Chief, State Farm™ Employee
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that unsuspecting consumers lose tens of billions of dollars each year due to car scams. The best way to protect yourself from car accident and collision repair scams is to arm yourself with knowledge. Here are a few things to be aware of after a car accident, should your vehicle need repair.
Think Before You Tow
After an accident, or if your car breaks down, I know you'll want to get your car towed and checked as soon as possible. But in your hurry to resolve this stressful situation, you may unknowingly give permission to a towing company whose fees are much higher than what your policy will cover. By "giving permission," you have agreed to the fees and may be personally responsible for paying them, and it could cost you hundreds of dollars.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) offers these suggestions to prevent a costly towing experience:
- Never give permission to a tow truck operator who shows up at the scene unsolicited.
- If there is a law enforcement officer at the scene, follow their towing guidance.
- Do not provide the tow truck operator with your insurance information.
- Check to make sure the truck signage matches any documentation the tow truck operator provides.
- If the truck has no signage, ask for company identification.
- If you doubt a tow operator's legitimacy, call the police.
Today's Airbag Is Yesterday's Radio
Driver's side airbags have become more popular than car radios to steal. An airbag is worth anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, but costs between $50 to $200 on the black market. Dishonest collision repair shops may replace an airbag with a "hot" one then charge vehicle owners or their insurance companies the full price for the "replacement." Or a body shop may remove your undeployed airbag, replace it with a deployed airbag, then after the insurance company has an estimate on your car for the inflated price of the airbag deployment, the mechanic will put your airbag back in or, worse yet, replace it with junk and sell your good airbag.
The NICB reports about 50,000 airbags are stolen each year, resulting in an annual loss of more than $50 million to vehicle owners.
Here are some guidelines to prevent airbag fraud and theft:
- Inspect the invoice to ensure the repair shop purchased the airbag from a manufacturer or dealer.
- If possible, inspect the airbag prior to installation. If new, it should be packaged in a sealed container from the manufacturer.
- The trim cover over the steering column should be the same color as the remaining trim interior. If not, it's an indication the original airbag has been replaced.
Here's another clue: When you turn on your vehicle's ignition, a red SRS (Supplemental Restraint System) indicator or airbag light should light up and/or flash in the instrument panel display, indicating the airbag system is activated. Or as you cycle your ignition, stop on the first "click," and look for the SRS or airbag light.
If the light comes on, it should turn off after three to five seconds. If the light stays lit, that mean there's an issue with the airbag and you should ask about it immediately.
New To You Is NOT Necessarily New
Used parts are an option for many repairs; however, dishonest mechanics have been known to charge customers for new parts after installing used car parts. Or worse yet, people have been charged for parts that weren't used, and labor for the non-existent part. If you think you're being scammed in this way, ask for your old damaged part back after it's been replaced.
It helps to get a written repair estimate before any work is done on your vehicle.
Finding A Repair Shop
Many insurance companies have direct repair programs, so it doesn't hurt to ask your agent or insurance provider for recommendations you can choose from. State Farm, for instance, has a Select Service Program. You can also check with your local Better Business Bureau to find a BBB Accredited Business collision repair shop in your area.
If you suspect fraud or theft of any kind, call the NICB toll-free hotline at 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422). Your call is free, you can remain anonymous, and you could be eligible for a reward.
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