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A Virtual Car (Insurance) Inspection May Cost You More

Posted by Justin Duthie on

Here’s how and what you should consider before submitting photos using your insurance company's online claim process.

Here’s what happened at my repair shop a few weeks ago...

One of my customers got into a minor accident recently on left-hand front corner of her vehicle. Her insurance company, USAA, has switched to completely virtual inspection process for assessing the damage starting in mid 2020 due to COVID. They are now requesting the policyholder to take and submit photos of the damage for assessment and vehicle valuations.

The photos for the online claim told a different story

My customer took pictures of the damage and submitted the photos to the insurance company. In the meanwhile, the car was towed over to my shop, and I estimated the repairs to be around $3k- $4k. The car was damaged but easily repairable. However, the pictures she submitted to the company portrayed a much worse situation in their perspective. USAA came back to her with an estimated damage assessment of over double my assessment and totaled the vehicle. Unfortunately, this was not the outcome she hoped for.

I worked with my customer, USAA, and the appraisal company for over a month but was was not able to get them to reverse their decision of totalling the vehicle. I even asked the insurance company to offer our mutual customer a buy-back option, but nothing.  Alas on a sunny Friday afternoon Copart came along to pick up the vehicle to take it to auction, and that was the end for her vehicle.

How convenience may end up costing you

We are certainly in an unprecedented time, and the safety and convenience of remote and virtual work have been helpful. However, as we slowly work our way into a new normal, there are just some areas of work that need a physical presence and human eye to confirm actuality.

The thing is I would have been the one to fix the car, and so my cost assessment is exactly what it would take to repair the car. Unfortunately, a set of pictures and a virtual process replaced my assessment, and it is now costing the customer much more. 

Now she has to spend significant time and effort to find a replacement vehicle. The used car market is limited and is also up by 30% in the last 6 months or so due to shortages for both new and used vehicles. This means that she will have an incredibly hard time finding a car that is similar and within the claim payment amount from USAA. Indirectly, she will be paying for her crashed car out of pocket by the simple virtue that the payout won’t cover a working car in the current market.


What can we learn from this?

Your insurance company may encourage you to submit photos online, but remember getting a policy is not contingent on owning a camera with a phone or a camera period. This means that if you have one or not, it’s not required that you take this route. Insist on taking your car to a body or repair shop for a damage assessment or if that is not an option insist an inspector comes to you. Their suggested process may be virtual, but if all channels are expired, they will send someone to you.

Certainly, virtual is quick and pretty seamless, and if you wish to have your car totaled it is more likely to happen if this route is taken. There will be a higher chance that the damage will be seen as worse than it really is, but just like my customer, consider what this will mean for your total potential out-of-pocket costs and time involved to find a replacement vehicle.