Why Photo Estimates for Collision Repair Can Cost You Time, Money and Even Your Own Safety
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Why Photo Estimates for Collision Repair Can Cost You Time, Money and Even Your Own Safety

You’ve probably seen ads for auto insurance apps on TV promoting photo-based estimates. To get the money to cover repairs, all you need to do is snap a picture on your phone and send it to the insurance company. This seems great until you remember one thing: doesn’t damage normally need to be assessed by a certified appraiser before the insurance company will pay for repairs?
Therein lies the problem: a photo can only show so much. While you may be happy about getting a settlement sooner, it can increase the time it takes to make repairs, it can potentially keep you from getting full payment, and it could leave you with a devalued or unsafe vehicle.

Damage is More than Skin Deep

Let’s say you’re involved in a minor accident that bends up one of the front fenders. You take a photo, send it to the insurance company and they see the fender damage. They then send you a check so you can have a new fender fitted and painted.

Underneath the fender, there are suspension components, frame components, drive components, brakes, wiring, and electronics. Any of these could have been damaged. Did the impact compress the center of the car? It’s likely that the radiator and A/C condenser are also damaged, and one of the engine or transmission mounts could be pushed out of place. This damage doesn’t show up on the photos, so it’s not included in the estimate.

It Can Make the Repair Process Take Longer

Occasionally, additional damage is discovered after an initial assessment, requiring an adjustment to make a complete repair. With a photo-based estimate, it’s far more likely that this will happen. While you may get an insurance check sooner by using the app, the vehicle will have to be reassessed and the appraiser will need to negotiate an adjustment. This takes longer than having a professional assessment cover the damage from the start.

You Can Lose Money

What if you don’t have the vehicle assessed properly? When you’re ready to sell your car, this underlying damage could be discovered, lowering the value of your vehicle. This can cost you thousands in sale or trade-in value when this could have been avoided with a correct assessment and repair. Worse still, the insurance company could be off the hook, even though they would have paid for necessary repairs. Technically, there is no time limit for filing an insurance claim, but realistically it’s all but impossible to file a claim more than two years after an accident. Even then, it can be hard to establish what damage was done by the accident and what damage was caused by driving the vehicle.

It Can Make Your Vehicle Unsafe

What if the damage doesn’t look that bad, so you decide to pocket the insurance check? Whether you decide not to repair the vehicle or do the repair yourself, this still leaves less obvious damage unrepaired: lights and sensors may not be working; or wheel, brake or suspension damage could make your car handle unpredictably.

The Current Appraisal System

The current system of appraisal was established because it’s beneficial for all parties involved. For insurance companies, it helps them avoid fraud. An unscrupulous policy owner, shop or insurance agent can make it look like the damage is more extensive and pocket the extra insurance money. By working with a professional appraiser, they know the estimate is accurate. For policy owners, a professional appraisal forces the insurance company to pay out the full amount of coverage to make repairs.

With a photo estimate, the insurance company controls how much gets paid out. They don’t have to worry about fraud, which is a huge incentive for them: the FBI estimates non-health care related insurance fraud costs the industry $40 billion per year. However, there isn’t an incentive to make sure the estimate is accurate. The person judging the claim also isn’t required to have any training, making an accurate estimate even less likely. Several states are looking into the legal implications of photo appraisals, but until there is some protective legislation, using this service increases your risk of losing money or getting your car improperly repaired.

Save the Headache

Merton Auto Body’s auto body estimating center lets us put together an estimate quickly, and we have a certified appraiser on-staff, so we can get adjustments approved if new damage is discovered. We’re a preferred auto body shop for most major insurance companies because we simplify the claims process, working directly with these companies to get the repairs done right the first time. If you need collision repair, coming to us first can save you time and money while assuring your car will be safe to drive again. Stop by our Sussex, WI location for a free estimate. We proudly service the Waukesha County and Lake Country surrounding areas, including Oconomowoc, Hartland, Delafield, and Pewaukee.


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