Thursday, February 12, 2009

Insurance nightmare

LATEST UPDATE 4/8/2009 (toward bottom)

On 1/11/2009, I got into an accident. Here's a chronicling of the event, and a lesson as to why you should always have any vehicle towed to a mechanic who can then outsource to a body shop, NOT the other way around, when doing insurance work:

  • 1/11/2009: Hydroplaned (yes, with a German AWD car) on bad snow and ice, driver's side to driver's side collision with another vehicle. Called insurance company, logged incident, filled out all police reports, etc.
  • 1/13/2009: Noticed steering and suspension seemed off. Had AAA tow the vehicle down to a body shop - owned by a family friend who had just done an excellent job on painting my sister's car.
  • 1/14/2009: I dropped by body shop to tell them every little thing about what needed to be fixed.
  • 1/16/2009: Finally spoke to my claims rep after hunting him down by logging into my insurance carrier's online interface. It took him 5 days to pick up the phone and talk to me. While understand they are busy this time of year, it wasn't accepted as an excuse from me.
  • 1/16/2009: Supposedly, this was the first date an appraisal was done. Per Mass. law they have five days to get an appraiser out to the vehicle from the date the incident is reported. $2,000 or so in damages.
  • 1/19/2009: Learned I needed to appeal surcharge as being on wrong side of road automatically carries surcharge on insurance. Today (2/12/2009), still waiting to hear back from appeals board.
  • 1/20/2009: Received two insurance checks; one for my tow ($30) and one for the damage. Gave big check and "direction to pay" form to body shop so they could handle everything directly with the appraiser.
  • 1/30/2009: Hadn't heard from body shop. Called, he told me vehicle would be ready "beginning of next week".
  • 2/6/2009: Called again a week later after not hearing, and hounding my insurance agent about my 30 day rental. I have 30 days of rental on my policy and I was fast approaching that deadline (2/11/09). Vehicle promised for Monday morning after alignment on Saturday. My big question at this point - why the hell did it take so long and why wasn't the car aligned yet?
  • 2/9/2009: Pick up the vehicle unaligned. Drive it right back to body shop and ask for a ride to work. ABS lights - from accident! - still flashing. Luckily, I have a spare brake light switch - common problem in these cars and cheap to fix - and tell him to put it in and try that out.
  • 2/10/2009: Pick up newly aligned vehicle, but steering isn't right. I tell myself I'll call tomorrow. But when I get home, I realize that I CAN'T CLOSE THE DOOR. The latch was not set properly. Also noticing that vehicle lock button from inside does not work, and remote does not allow car to lock fully (doesn't flash three times when locking per usual). Call body shop owner on cell phone, he walks me through how to close the door, apologizes, takes car back the next day. SRS airbag light is still on at this point, something only the dealer can re-set.
  • 2/11/2009: Dropped off car to body shop again. Told him about lock issue and insisted it's done correctly by dealership under claim. Also called my preferred alignment specialist who has never let me down, scheduled appt. to check steering very thoroughly, and told body shop owner to pay for it and bill it under the claim; he agreed. End of day, body shop owner calls me telling me car is being dropped off for work on 2/12 at DEALERSHIP to wrap up the locking and SRS airbag light issue. He also tells me that the service tech insists these cars do not flash three times when locked. A Mercedes-Benz service tech is telling me this, and I have to read from my owner's manual to tell him he's wrong. He agreed to note it on the work order. The lights flashing issue is likely a symptom of the larger central locking problem, but smelling amateur hour at a dealership doesn't give me faith that this is going to go well.
  • 2/12/2009: After returning rental on Monday evening, I'm working from home and waiting today to hear the latest status on my vehicle. It's been over a month since the accident and my wife has an appointment with her vehicle tomorrow, so I need to have it back today. I wish I could say I have faith everything will be fine - minus the appointment I have with my alignment specialist next week - but I don't realistically think the vehicle will ever be the same; I'll probably notice little things here and there.
  • 2/13/2009: Picked up car yesterday. Door rattles very slightly and window needs to be cleaned, but otherwise, everything seems to finally be fixed. Just need to head out and get the steering checked under the claim next Thursday.
  • 2/19/2009: Had the vehicle checked out under the claim at my preferred alignment specialist. Steering was not symmetrical, meaning it wasn't acting the same on both sides. That was a big key to the following diagnosis: The rack and pinion is BENT on the vehicle. That's a huge part to have to replace and, per a friend that knows of such matters, may render the vehicle different for the rest of its life if it's not done carefully and with newer parts. The impact wasn't at a high speed but was at a strange enough angle to bend the rack and pinion. I trust my alignment shop so I'm sure they will notice if a wheel is bent or other issues arise when doing the work - which is being done under the claim, of course. Just one more item on what is now a huge list - the damage has to have cost at least $4,000 at this point, if not more. They probably value the car around $10K, so one more major issue and it will have gotten enough work to warrant a total! Car is now with body shop so he can set up appraisal on rack and pinion issue as well as fixing washer hose, door latch, window issue with (hopefully) new parts.

Phone call on 2/19/2009 when finding out the rack and pinion was bent:

Me: Hi Dave! What's the diagnosis?

Dave: Well, just to settle up here...did you realize that the steering was tighter on one side than the other?

Me: Yes!

Dave: Did you feel like at higher speeds it was kind of fighting you?

Me: Yes, I did [more concerned now].

Dave: And you said that the steering never really returns to dead center?

Me: No, but now that you mention it...[blood pressure rising]

Dave: Ok. Well, what I found is that the rack and pinion is BENT.

Me: Um...the rack and pinion is BENT??

Dave: The rack and pinion is bent.

Me: [ten seconds of silence]

Dave: ...HELLO?!

Me: Oh, sorry. Well, uh, the body shop owner will pick it up and set up the appraisal...

And that's pretty much how I feel about it. Imagine ten seconds of contemplative silence when a nice all-wheel drive foreign luxury car needs to have most of the steering system replaced. If that doesn't deserve a moment or ten of silence, I don't know what does.

I love the body shop owner and all, but he obviously doesn't realize how sensitive the Mercedes equipment and electronics can be, and how they have to be put back together correctly the first time. I should have listened to the Benz experts at AlphaCars ( from whom I bought the car and brought it to them the first time for all work, body and mechanical. Next time I'll know better. The silver lining here is that he did a beautiful job on the paint, it's the electronics he can't deal with.

There are also miscellaneous phone calls to Hertz and the claims rep that just were unnecessary and shouldn't have been made by me. Having to educate the dealer on the central locking system is unacceptable.

Owning a luxury car is wonderful, as there are many deals to be had used. But one has to be a proactive owner, by looking at forums (my favorite for Mercedes vehicles is and involving yourself in the ownership of the vehicle. Keep up with maintenance schedules too as luxury cars love to be pampered. It's an investment in time, and if you're buying a luxury car just for the bling, you'll be disappointed fairly quickly.

Will post updates above as they occur.

UPDATE 3/3/2009:

Per above, the rack and pinion on my vehicle is bent. Last week, my alignment shop told me to be prepared that the insurance company won't cover it. I wondered why, and the owner told me that the appraiser was far too quick in making an assessment, wouldn't listen to the owner's explanation as to how this could have happened as a result of the accident, and complained that this was "the fourth time" he had to look at the vehicle.

I wrote a long email to my claims rep explaining the logic behind the accident causing the steering rack to bend, and also asking him to expedite the request to cover it via insurance. He initially denied any coverage on the rack and pinion, saying that the appraiser wasn't able to tie it to the accident. So I had to escalate to his manager and explain to her that the appraiser is not only a jerk (using different verbiage of course), but that his logic didn't make any sense and he was essentially making up his own laws of physics.

They are taking a second look at it - hopefully with a different appraiser - on Friday. We'll see what happens this time.

In one week we'll officially be two months removed from the accident.

UPDATE 3/19/2009:

More updates on this insurance work nightmare:

  • steering rack work is being done in two days and paid for by yours truly. Thanks to my friends on, I found great deals on a steering rack at
  • Insurance company had a second appraisal where the appraisal service still couldn't tie the steering rack damage to my accident, so they are now following up with an in-house appraiser at my request.
  • The body shop not only left dust from their wetsaw all over my interior, there's also black paint specks on the leather. That's being paid for by me for about $50 next week.
  • A follow up appraisal for the crap door the insurance company gave me is being done next week at a different mechanic
  • The plastic around the middle rear seatbelt buckle has broken off - and it can only be replaced by ordering the entire new part at $72 (cheapest I found new).

Long and short of it is, my body shop is AWFUL and the only reason I"ll ever set foot in their office again is to share my receipts for work being done on issues they caused. Fifty dollars for removing black paint overspray and a $72 part later, I'm still not happy with the overall job they did and the fact that I need to babysit every shop that ever touches the car again.

UPDATE 3/26/2009:

  • My car is at my normal mechanic today for what will hopefully be the last appraisal. After complaining to the insurance company, I had my mechanic fix the problems caused by my body shop and the door in general: window mounted badly, door mounting seems to be not quite right, washer hose is broken (could be wear & tear, but suddenly, after being at the body shop for a month?), and the speaker goes in and out intermittently and the sound is a bit milky. Also, I noticed some odd brown staining on the exterior mirror that is bad news - likely means the electrochromatic backing to the mirror glass is going bad.
  • I'm taking the car back to the mechanic that did the steering rack work (alignment specialist) as the counterclockwise end of the turn doesn't seem to be quite right (hearing some odd noises there)
  • I went to a Mercedes restoration specialist shop - (EAS) - and they were able to get most of the black specks left by the body shop off my leather. I'm following up with them on another appointment next week since they are Mercedes experts and I can talk to them about the smallest maintenance item & they'll understand. Finally! I wish I had found these guys earlier and used them to fix the problems caused by the accident.

We're in the home stretch; after today & tomorrow, there should be nothing else related to the accident that needs to be fixed. I can only hope that the insurance company agrees to reimburse me for the steering rack expense.

UPDATE 4/8/2009:

Well, EAS has been excellent to deal with. They have officially won me over as a new customer. I hate to abandon my old shop, and I'll still use them for my wife's car (EAS works on Benzes exclusively so I couldn't even take my wife's car there if I wanted to).

Without further ado...

  • I was reimbursed by the insurance company to the tune of over $800 for the steering rack. Other insured drivers take note: complain, appeal, rinse, repeat if you want to get reimbursed by the insurance company for something you know is due to the accident but that the appraisal service refuses to tie in to the claim. This was a huge relief.
  • My hearing was today (not something I needed to attend) to determine if my surcharge would be waived and my deductible refunded. This is only the second time I've had to use this service and I'm glad Massachusetts opted to keep it around. Sure, it's a $50 non-refundable fee to even try fighting the insurance company, but it's worth it in the end as it worked for me in the past and the board overturns something like 50% of the cases it hears. This either means that people only try appealing when they know they have a chance, or that the insurance companies rarely split a claim 50/50 to avoid a surcharge, even when such a result is warranted.
  • EAS in Waltham fixed my door issues; the lights weren't blinking correctly when I shut the door and locked it, and the dome light would stay on when I shut the door. So they looked into it and said it was a $10 part - door contact switch - and would charge me mimimal labor since they "shouldn't have given me back the car like that". I tell ya, these guys are great, and for any Benz owner, they make you feel like royalty - not your ego, but you as a car owner. It's been a joy to visit their shop four times (paint on leather issue, first door issue, subsequent work on door to fix problems caused by body shop, then yesterday for the door follow up).
  • The body shop who did the work to my car was caught red-handed after it was found he used a door that was not the one the insurance company paid for. I'm sure that doesn't make him look good to the insurance company, but what do I care? He circumvented the rules, made money off the insurance company's reimbursement, but at least he was good enough to reimburse me after he was caught red-handed and after I insisted to take my business elsewhere as long as he reimbursed me. I'm honestly surprised he came through and didn't tell me to get lost after all was said & done.
  • Speaking of those problems with the door, what EAS fixed on my third visit to their shop was: door panel mounted incorrectly, oxidation (read: RUST) on the inside of the door that was cleaned up by EAS nicely (they said it looked like it had been sitting in the junkyard for a while), window regulator was not connected properly, there was even a used PAINT STICK inside the door, still. Talk about zero class and zero pride. The body shop owner I know didn't do this himself, and his help...well...let's just say they don't seem like the kinda guys you want to run into late at night. This cost $220 total to fix when you throw in the fact that my middle seatbelt was broken and I found a good deal on a new one.
  • I asked EAS to test my ride out and see if the alignment seemed off. It did, and this is a surprise as my alignment shop only did a 2-wheel alignment when installing the steering rack. First I was worried the rack itself was bad, which would have meant taking advantage of my lifetime warranty on the rack, but I'm more concerned that the alignment shop - which has never, ever let me down in any way - was careless enough to do a 2-wheel alignment on an all-wheel drive car. Those cars need to be aligned with all wheels, not 2, as each axle has its own drive train. AWD car owners, take note of this, and also note that a flatbed must be called to tow your car if ever you need a tow for the same reason. EAS will be doing the alignment next week, as well as some suspension maintenance.
Overall, I'm happy I found a new shop, and knowing that I got most of the money back I spent on this claim out of my own pocket, would I go through this all again? Actually, no. It was stressful, the insurance company fought me on everything, and I had to complain every single day to the point of getting the appraiser re-assigned as he was a jerk. But what did I learn from all this?
  1. Never have your car towed to a body shop after an accident. Always use a mechanic and ask them what they think of local body shops if they don't do the work themselves. Make sure this mechanic is reputable and is given high praise online in forums, etc. Any shop they choose to use as an outsource for your car will reflect poorly on them if the shop they're using does poor work - and plus, they will be liable for any issues when they hand the car back to you, so they will be more likely to work with you on those issues.
  2. Make sure whatever mechanic or body shop being used to fix damage on your car is familiar with your make and model. If you own a luxury car this is especially important as doors, electronics, etc. are more complex on luxury cars than in econoboxes, and some shops don't know how to handle that but they won't turn down the work, so they'll wing it.
  3. As I stated above - complain, appeal, rinse, repeat. Never give up, keep fighting an insurance company or bad appraiser/appraisal service and they may eventually come around.
  4. GET SNOW TIRES!!!!!!!!!!! I'm getting snow tires next winter due to this mess I've had to deal with. All wheel drive, rear wheel drive, front wheel drive - it doesn't matter. If you live in a cooler climate, do yourself a favor and get snows for your vehicle.
Next - and hopefully last - update will be regarding the results of my appeal, which I will hear about by mail.

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