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Friday, January 04, 2008

Women, Insurance, and the Automotive Industry

This is a Public Service Announcement(PSA) / Long Post Alert (LPA)/ and First In A Series (FIAS)

[Please also check out Uncle Jim's post on this topic.]

I grew up hearing it. We all did, and some of us have had horrible experiences with cars and shops, verifying what we grew up hearing; that women are taken advantage of in mechanical and body shops. Women are stupid when it comes to cars, and insurance, and repairs.

While I won't say that's NOT true, I'm also not going to throw out a blanket endorsement of this perspective. Why? Because for the last 5 years, I was inside this industry.

And if there's anyone "lower" than a woman when it comes to cars, it's a claims adjuster. And it's not about the individual adjuster; it's about the company that's paying the bills.

Here's the reality: there are so many myths about how insurance works, how mechanical shops work, and how body shops work, especially in relation to women, that it's impossible to keep it all straight.

In this post, I'm going to address the basic mythology and answer according to the reality I saw and lived. My experience encompasses my own personal examples, my contacts with the investigation of accidents, damages, thefts, and fires, my own experience in estimating damages, and finally, my likewise extensive experience in dealing with shops.

The basic mythology goes like this:

1. Women get "taken" every time they go to a shop because they don't know anything about cars, and the shops know this so they take advantage.

Shops don't take "advantage" of women who don't know better. No more so than men who don't know any better. And it's actually men who impede legitimate repairs more often than women, because, in my experience, men are more likely than women to hold onto the myths, (out of a distorted sense of "machismo") as opposed to women, who were willing to be educated and could verify the information provided via various independent sources. So out and don't be so cocky. Listen to reason. Women...just use your heads as you always do and don't look to your men to direct you.

I don't mean to bash men, because it is knowledgeable men who have taught me by word and example all of the above.

2. If a man handles a dispute with the insurance company or body shop, it will be resolved. To suggest such a thing is completely demeaning to both men and women. Do you realize that it is women who are especially gifted in negotiation? In certain native communities in Mexico, in the event of, say, a vehicle accident, the women take over. Why? Because the men tend to let their emotions get into the mix and that leads to a fight. Women can negotiate with other women, because we have the ability to connect at a very personal level, and dissociate ourselves from the extension of manhood that most people refer to as their respective transportation. So women make the arrangements and take care of getting things fixed.

In America, things are different, because men like to fix things. Unfortunately, they don't get to fix things because so many of them are accountants or executives, or manicurists, and so have no idea, exactly, what a wrench or a gearbox looks like. And mention "master cylinder" and they look at the engine block! And don't even get me STARTED on the location of the rear differential!

The reality is that most men are no more knowledgeable about cars than women. The great era of the "muscle car" has passed, and the era of the metro-sexual male has actually coincided with the entrance of the androgynous female thanks to rabid feminism. This had led to a general lack of knowledge among both sexes when confronted with the great mystery of the mechanical workings and functional design of the average car or truck.

So typically, when a "male" steps in to "resolve" problems with an insurance company or a shop, he does so from a perspective of such total ignorance he does nothing other than reveal himself to be a complete fool. And his arguments are not based on knowledge of the subject matter at hand, but rather the common mythology that can be disproved through a simple vehicle diagram, record of part prices, the visual of broken parts, and calm conversation.

In other words...male or female, don't be a bully. The people on the other end of the phone are trying to help you and quoting mythology doesn't further your position and certainly doesn't do anything other than damage your dignity.

3. Insurance companies are out to screw everybody.

If I had even a penny for every time I heard that quote, I would have quit my job after the first year. Insurance companies don't care about you. They are a business. Therefore, they are out to screw only themselves. In capitalism, it's the ONLY way to survive. Look out for your own interests, but in the process, be sure to benefit others. The entire foundation of insurance is to make money by paying it out to other people, much like the credit card business. And both industries take HUGE losses every year, along with great profits. That's why people don't purchase a lot of stock in either...a bad climate or economic year is literally financial destruction. But were it not for such destruction, they would not be able to exist.

Let me give you the real scoop, from the inside: Insurance companies hire REAL PEOPLE. They are people like you and me, and those people are assigned to a particular job. If that person happens to be an agent, that agent's job is to sell you a policy in accordance with what you need. It is NOT that agent's job to explain the letter of the policy. It is YOUR job to READ your policy. Claims Adjusters are hired to fulfill various expectations, which often differ from company to company, or from various specialties. In my case, I was a "generalist" before I specialized. And the generalists in my company spoke with all parties of an accident, all witnesses, obtained police reports, inspected cars (as in writing estimates), determined liability, coordinated with shops and other insurance companies, wrote contentions if the claim went to arbitration, and put out "fires" that arose from day to day. Investigators do the same thing, but at their specialized level. There were also specialized adjusters who handed specifically mechanical issues at shops but had no part in liability determination.

Those people work REALLY HARD, they do their BEST in an industry that idolizes agents and ignores adjusters in their commercials, and in spite of being snubbed, they work hard to be sure their customers get what they need in as timely a manner as possible. And sometimes it isn't possible to get to everyone in a day, no matter WHAT the company advertises.

It's always the claims adjusters who are thrown under the bus when something goes wrong. And often, the problem is the fault of the agent or the shop. The adjuster, the average person's contact with an insurance company, in addition to everything else, is also a mediator, because the adjuster knows better than to throw the agent or the shop under the bus. Pitting people against each other actually makes everything more difficult for EVERYONE.

Besides...the adjuster is a person JUST LIKE YOU. He or she knows what it's like to have an accident, and they know that in our over indulgent society, timeliness and "need" are prized. Time is money.

That adjuster also knows that if they provide bad service to you, said adjuster is rated in numbers and "productivity" according to crazy standards. So to fail to meet YOUR expectations as a customer means that the adjuster is going to take a serious hit both in workload and in potentially losing his or her job. Ironically, the people who are the most helpful often are the first to burn out and lose their jobs...because they'd prefer to make their customer happy and serve all their needs rather than meet numbers established by financial analysts who have never done the job.

So...the next time you have a claim, imagine that your son or daughter is the person on the other end of the line. Yes, they have to follow the policy, no they are not out to "get" you, and if you work with them, they will bend over backwards to help you even if it takes extra time and lands their butt in sling with their boss.

4. Shops are out to screw everybody. Shops are out to make money, and screwing everybody is detrimental to ongoing income. They are out to build customer loyalty, and in my experience, they were more than happy to help me, as an adjuster, know what I was looking at. It was a mutual agreement...if I know what you're talking about, I can agree or disagree intelligently and we can have a discussion about what would be proper. Sometimes there's more than one way to go about things. Other times the right thing to do is concrete.

Oh, and if the manufacturer recommends something, it has to be done. That's a reality, especially when a warranty is on the line.

Seriously, there are only a few times when shops didn't listen to me, as a customer, and it was ALWAYS when I was throwing money at them. That's for a different post.

5. Men have no respect for the capacity of women to understand mechanical things.

Complete idiocy. I have to say that when I went to a shop and was honest in that I needed assistance in identifying mechanical parts, they were ALWAYS willing to help. Certainly, they got paid for their time, because my own management recognized that both for negotiation and part identification purposes, the shop deserves to be paid for their time. And no, I'm not a blonde. I'm not even attractive. But the shops were willing to help out professionally because they saw that I was sincere in trying to learn, and had enough knowledge so as to be able to speak somewhat intelligently, as well as recognize their own challenges in their business. It was also my job to work with the customer, without throwing the shop under the bus. They always appreciated that.

Perhaps in the past and maybe in some areas, it is customary to pass blame when something is going wrong, but it's much better, professionally, to own up to any errors and rather than focus on them, to discuss what all parties are doing to WORK TOGETHER to resolve the problem.

The automotive industry is male-dominated, no doubt. But I found most of the men I met on the job to be courteous, friendly, most were knowledgeable, most appreciated that a woman was present and was professional (they have no time for airheads).

Of the times that I was "screwed over" on the job, it had more to do with the company and the interests of the shop than it did with my female identity. That's another story, too, one that involves a family member voiding the warranty on a brand new car belonging to his neice so that he could get a chance to mess with the insurance company. (long story, but one that I need to write for you all.)

Seriously...don't follow this myth. Of course, if you choose to be ignorant, you will be taken advantage of. If you have some basic knowledge, even of your car's manual and recommended service provided by the manufacturer, you will overcome a great deal.

6. If my car has a warranty, I have to get it fixed at the dealership.

Completely, patently untrue. You very rarely HAVE to go to the Dealer for anything. If a given shop is equipped for the damage or repair in question, they can order the parts and do the work. There is a huge myth out there bullying people into thinking that they have to go the dealer in order to have access to manufacturer parts. ANY shop can order ANY part. In fact, YOU can order manufacturer parts from home and fix your car yourself.

The warranty issues come in only via certification; a shop doing the work has to be certifiable via the warranty company. So if you know a great mechanical shop that is not a dealer, they can often check to see if the mechanical repair is via warranty, and file a warranty claim on your behalf. They certify the work as if the dealer did it.

Read my lips: the Dealership DOES NOT have the corner on the market in repairs.

In fact, the dealer usually costs you MORE to do the work.

This leads to another topic...

7. What about Aftermarket parts? Used Parts? Remanufactured Parts?

There are a few kinds of parts that can be used on your car, and it is regulated by state law.

In Minnesota, if it involves an insurance claim, if your car is less than 3 years old OR has 16,000 miles or less, then new OEM (Manufacturer) parts are the only things that can be used. You, as an owner, can request the use of other parts, but in the event of a claim, the insurance company can ONLY use those specific parts.

If the car has MORE than 16,000 miles and is older than 3 years, then used (the term LKQ) parts can also be utilized. These are parts from the same year vehicle or newer, and they can be used in an insurance claim without your permission, although they have to provide this information to you in the estimate.

Or, you can choose Aftermarket parts. Here's a dirty little industry secret that the Manufacturer doesn't want you to know:

Many of the parts sold as New/OEM with the manufacturer stamp on it are actually made to spec by other companies. So the manufacturer gets to mark it up with their brand name, even though Company X actually made them. That same company, Company X can sell that very same part, the very same specs, for the very same vehicle, at a greatly reduced cost because, say "FORD" or "CHEVY" or "BMW" isn't stamped on it. We call this an "Aftermarket" part even though it's the EXACT same part the dealer sells you with a marked up label!

Now, there are also aftermarket parts that involve cosmetics, air intakes, ground effects, rims, stereo systems, etc. that are NOT related to the dealer. So when discussing aftermarket parts, just be aware that this encompasses a lot, and is not necessarily the myth-driven idea of a "defective low-quality part".

In fact, if given the choice between used and aftermarket, I would choose aftermarket. Because, say, an aftermarket headlight is going to cover both the shop warranty and the warranty from whoever made the part. A used part carries only the shop warranty and, as's used.

People...don't be so afraid of "aftermarket." Even if you have a factory warranty on your car. It won't void it unless the aftermarket part involves weird wiring or other issues. READ YOUR POLICIES!

This is getting long and I have SO MUCH more to let's just say that there is more coming with regard to these topics.


Adrienne said...

I have never had a bad experience with a claims adjustor. They have always been more than fair and usually gave me more money than I thought I had coming.

The last accident (not my fault) he even refused to settle the medical until at least 6 months had passed to make sure nothing else regarding my serious whiplash would pop up

I think we tend to get exactly what we expect and I usually expect the best.

Adoro te Devote said...

Adrienne ~ Thanks for your comment, and for reading that windbag of a post! LOL! You are LOYAL!

Ok seriously, glad you had good experiences. With what you describe, if the injury is serious, it's common to delay settlement because in order to have a proper evaluation of the value of your claim, long-term effects have to be recognized and evaluated on their own. Did you have an attorney or did you handle this yourself?

This is a point I plan to address also in a subsequent post. Seriously...injury attorneys are often quite useless and a hindrance to the process. And take your money to boot. Sometimes they are a necessary evil. Sometimes I prayed that customers would get an attorney because then I could deal with reason.

Some attorneys were just idiots and were extremely unprofessional. I will reveal this. :-)

Like you, I often expect the best, and I often have great service. But being from the industry, I also know the reality. I spoke with an adjuster today and let him know that I know the industry; that way he'd only have to explain to me what his manager would be evaluating. And not feel stupid about it because I lived by similar processes. I also was the one to bring up comparative negligence, always a dirty topic.

So far, things are looking good for me, but I'm also finding that I want to be more involved than the average person. I almost want to just step in and write my own sheet on my car, conduct my own negotiations with the shop, and just do what I've been trained to do.

It's hard to step back and let others call the shots. It's an opp for humility. comment went off track....LOL!

Hidden One said...

This post is definitely a very positive one for someone used to doom&gloom for anything vehicular.

Fr. V said...


I don't know if you intended to be funny but I was chuckling all the way through! Loved this post!

But don't hold back - how do ou really feel? - LOL!

Hope Uncle Jim sees this one!

Adoro said...

LOL! There was a certain amount of intended humor. :-)

Uncle Jim has the link, and will likely have his OWN opinions to share.

So...are you suggesting that I'm slightly opinionated? :-)

Adrienne said...

Handled all my accidents myself. On the last one the adjustor insisted I take a few extra thousand for my "pain and suffering."

Now, I understand that was cheap compared to what I could have gone after. Dipsh_t 16 year old with brand new license pulled in front of us. If we had hit her drivers side she would have died.

Melody said...

Thanks for a very informative post about how the system actually works. Sometimes the collective wisdom isn't so wise!
You could seriously morph this post into a magazine article about how to work with your insurance company and the repair shops to get better service. Think about it!

Anonymous said...

I've generally had very good experiences with claims adjustors, body shops, mechanics, etc.

So far, I've really only had one bad experience with a car repair place -- I had to use one I wasn't familiar with, because I'd just moved. I went in to get my tires rotated, and the guy tried to sell me on the idea that my suspension was 'totally messed up' (it wasn't) and that for $1,500 (!!!) he could replace my tie rod ends, which would solve the problem.

I looked him dead in the eye and told him tie rod ends for that make and model were about $18 apiece and I could put them in myself with a pickle fork, thank you VERY much, now hand me the keys, because you ARE NOT TOUCHING my car.

But that was 20-some-odd years ago, and that's the only problem I've had. I always talk to guy friends or relatives who are car-knowledgeable, and get them to refer me to mechanics. Then I get taken very good care of.

uncle jim said...

Adoro and friends,
I do have some comments. Rather than fill pages in a comment box, I'm going to put them as a post in my blog tomorrow [I hope].

I'll try not to repeat a lot of what Adoro has shared. She is pretty right on. To everything, there will be exceptions to the norm.

My pet peeve is, and while I've never actually tallied the percentage, that often times a woman calls repeating what some neutered guy is saying in the background ... she gets frustrated with us and with him and communication just doesn't go well. Ladies, if you husband / boyfriend / fiance doesn't have the xxxxx to make the call for himself, don't you do it for him. I assure you most repair facilities really want to help educate you and do a good job ... it is hard to do third hand.

More tomorrow.

Adoro te Devote said...

Uncle Jim ~ OHHH, I used to get those calls, too! And a husband/wife both calling independently because they didn't udnerstand what the other was saying so I had to repeat myself constantly! ONE point of contact is easiest, and I don't care if that contact is male or female...they got the same respect and the same information.

Thanks for bringing that up. I have to do a post about how insurance works.

Sara said...

Amen, Sister Adoro! :-) I'm not an adjuster but I did my time taking first notice of loss calls and I really think that sometimes the insured doesn't realize there's a person on the other end of the line.

We're not bad people - I've cried with the person calling in to report they'd lost everything in a hurricane or tornado. I'll never forget the call that came in after an ex-husband had broken into a home and murdered his ex-wife and child (the policy holder).

Of course I also lost it after three days on catastrophe duty after a major storm when a caller threw a temper tantrum because her adjuster had been reassigned to the storm area - she had a small claim that could easily wait a few more days, but she wanted everything NOW!

Courageous Grace said...

Every time I've taken my (or my husband's) car in to have it worked on (usually just for an oil change and scheduled maintenance), the guys at the shop seem very happy to see me. I think it's because I'm actually very interested to know what they recommend, and I take very good care of my car.

I can definitely appreciate the difference between a claims adjuster and an agent. After my accident my adjuster did everything she could to help me out, even calling every couple of weeks to make sure I didn't have any more medical problems from the accident. I know that's her job, but she did a great job.

However, the agent was a completely different story. When my insurance was close to being due again, I called to see what the difference would be for my husband and I to have our own policy and not be on his dad's policy (we don't really get along with his dad and they addressed OUR refund checks to him because he was the policyholder even though it was OUR money). She tried to convince us that it would be soooo much more expensive to get our own policy and we should stay on his. I kept asking for an estimate and it took 3 calls for her to send one to us. By that time I was fed up completely and went insurance shopping and switched after discovering most every other car insurer charged less than HALF the amount we were paying for the same coverage. While our former ins. company had absolutely amazing claims service, they were really ripping us off with the premium. I hope our current company has as good claim service, they certainly had better customer service when we were buying insurance. I won't mention the names of the companies we switched from and to unless asked.

As for women vs. men...I find it amusing that although my husband has a job and brings home the paycheck, I'm the one who pays the bills, maintains the cars, deals with home maintenance, and numerous other things that are stereotypical "man" dealings.

Tony said...

You know, it's kind of refreshing to see that a woman can be just as sexist as a man.

But on to the insurance topic. Three generations of my family worked with a single insurance agent. One of the reasons we didn't save 15% with Geico was that the man was excellent, and made sure that if we had a claim, we were taken care of.

He recently sold his agency to a woman (incidentally), who was happy to inherit our business.

I had an accident a few months after I bought a new (to me) car.

When I was going to work, a guy ran a red light and I T-boned him. He claimed fault when the police came, we all filled out our information, and I presented the accident report to the claims adjuster.

After a couple of weeks of not hearing from this woman (incidentally), I called her up. She claimed that the guy didn't own the car (it was a company car), and she was having a difficult time finding out which company (or subsidiary) owned the car.

This ignorant male had to tell her that the other guy was not ticketed for failure to have insurance, and that leads me to believe that he had a valid and current insurance card in the car. That insurance card identifies the insurance policy which is associated with the car in question. This means that you call the company who is on the insurance card, give them the policy number, have them look it up, and start negotiations as to how much they are going to pay.


The insurance agent called us up to try and sell us more insurance, and we met with her. We explained we were not satisfied with the level of service we received on the last claim. She rightly asked if we had contacted her (which we didn't) so we could not ding her for the actions of the adjuster which she had already terminated.

So we're sticking with her (for now) and we'll see how she does on the next claim (if there is one).

Adoro te Devote said...

Tony ~ How, exactly, can you accuse me of being "sexist"?

Moving on...while I did not want this post to be about people's stories and complaints about insurance (as I'm going to to an entire post dedicated to insurance), I'll respond to some of what you said. I would also like you to refrain from naming any companies as I also don't want this to turn into a company-bashing or extolling extravaganza.

I'd really like to know how an agent could terminate a claims adjuster? They don't work in teh same departments, anywhere that I'm aware of. Further, that kind of information is actually private. A company cannot tell you if or why an employee left or was fired.

As far as the insurance card of the other guy goes - it's often not that simple. It's entirely possible that the insurance card was NOT in the car, and because the police would have been able to verify that the man was NOT the owner of the car, the police would not have ticketed him, so that omission on the report has nothing to do with whether he had insurance or not.

Secondly, it's often not so easy to just go by what's on a card; companies and individuals alike often switch companies even mid-policy term, because they have brokers, are displeased with their rates, etc. So at times, the info on the card is not accurate.

Also, as an adjuster, I OFTEN struggled with getting appropriate contact information on company-owned vehicles, because there are subsidiaries, subsets of subsidiaries, etc. And ESPECIALLY when the company was at fault, we had difficulty in finding the correct contact at the company because they just LOVED to pass the buck.

Until I finally sent the claim to subro and subrogated the company directly. Then I heard from their legal counsel who provided me what I wanted all along....the name, policy number, claim number, etc for the proper insurance company.

You display EXACTLY the lack of knowledge that adjusters and body shops deal with every day. And you happen to be male (based on your name and link to "Manly Men") The public in general has NO IDEA how complex this stuff is.

Therefore, my point remains, MALE OR FEMALE, don't be a bully, and don't make assumptions that you know what's going on behind the scenes. However, you'll find many people willing to explain this stuff to you if you ask or comment.