A Shop's Solution For Insurance Haggling

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Every independent collision repair shop has had its disputes with insurance companies. 

It’s frustrating for the shop and the customer alike and often drags out the repair process longer than anyone would like it to be. 

With 15 factory certifications, Amato’s Auto Body, located in San Diego, Calif., is quite familiar with running into repairs that insurance companies refuse to fully cover. But as a certified shop, it needs to complete the repair the correct way regardless. 

As a result, for nearly 15 years, the shop’s owner, Paul Amato, has implemented a policy most resembling a copay system that might be more familiar in a health care setting. Customers pay upfront for a service and Amato will provide all the paperwork and documentation needed for the customer to go back to their insurance company to get it covered. 

Amato says he knows insurance companies will play hardball with him, but when the customer is doing it directly, the likelihood a complete repair gets covered increases. 

“It all has to stem from what the insurance companies won’t pay for and it’s a service that’s required to put their car back to pre-accident condition,” Amato says. 

In most cases, what Amato says he struggles to get insurance companies to cover most often are jig or car bench rentals. Amato can’t afford a jig for all types of cars, so he rents them out on a per-job basis for any vehicle repair that requires it. The problem is, he knows State Farm, Farmers, and Allstate won’t cover the rental, at least when he asks upfront. 

So, whether the cost is $600 or $1200, he says he'll charge it upfront as a co-pay to the customer, who then will have more success working to get it covered afterwards. And it’s a completely separate bill from a deductible. It saves the hassle of haggling back and forth with insurers and gets the money into the shop's pockets quickly. 

That seems great from the shop's perspective, but how do customers respond to the unknown of what possibly won’t be covered?

“Most of them are fine with it,” Amato says. “We have all the documentation to give to the customer for them to give to the insurance company. It should be covered because it’s required.”

For Amato, that’s the key. With having so many factory certifications, he says he has to follow the rules. For shops that don’t have certifications, they might not run into as much pushback.

Amato says he uses the copay tactic mainly for those equipment rentals that insurance companies don’t like to approve. But he sees it come up in paint jobs relatively frequently as well, something that would apply to both certified and uncertified shops. 

Amato brings up a hypothetical in which he’s replacing a rear door. The insurance company may cover the materials for that one door, but maybe they wouldn’t for the other three doors, or they’d cover those doors but not the fender. The copay system again allows him to get that money upfront and let the customer handle the insurance claim. In many cases, Amato says he will just paint the whole thing regardless, and eat the loss, but there are other cases where he pushes back. 

“A lot of time with something like that, I don’t fight it," he says," I just do it. I’d rather just paint the fender and take a little less in profit and make it a great experience for the customer.”

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