When I’m hired to appraise a vehicle, I feel it is my duty to perform a complete inspection. If I see something that doesn’t look right I question it. My background is mostly in sales and determining market value, so when I find red flags with repair work, I turn to someone that is a highly regarded professional in the collision field, that I know will advocate for my client. Leif, of Leif’s Auto Centers is that person. Lately I had Leif do a re-inspection of a Volkswagen Beetle. The body shop’s (body shop’s name withheld to prevent any legal retaliation) final bill said they did a setup and measure and checked the frame alignment, but there were no marks from the frame machine. After Leif confirmed the vehicle had not been checked on a frame machine, I called the body shop and told them my findings and asked for a readout. The body shop initially said they lost the readout, but after three days, finally admitted they must not have checked the frame alignment at all or it was check with a tram gauge.
This is a common problem. A few years back insurance companies cut the cost they pay for set ups. Techs get paid by the book hour, not how long it actually takes. Normally the book says 1.5-2.5 hours, but in reality, it can easily take 3-4 hours to correctly do a setup and measure. So if the work order says setup and measure, many techs will just use a tape measure or a tram gauge and check the car in 15 minutes, but get paid for 1.5-2.5 hours. There is a huge difference in accuracy between using a tram gauge and an actual frame machine. Not all techs or shops are doing this, but there are plenty getting away with it. Here’s a great article on it on bodyshopbusiness.com
So why should you care if your vehicle is checked for frame damage correctly? Well first, if your frame is out of alignment, six months later you’ll find your tires are going bald on one side or other strange things happening. Most of the time you’ll bring it in to a tire company and they’ll say, you need an alignment, not a frame alignment, a wheel alignment. This fixes the problem for about 2 weeks and then the new tires they sold you start to go bald again and the nightmare starts over again. But the big reason actually concerns your personal injury claim if you have one. Insurance companies love body shops that don’t look too close or shortcut. Why? It’s not as much about paying less to fix your car as it is paying out less for your personal injury claim. If you’re hurt, and the frame isn’t damaged, lawyers will make it look like there wasn’t enough damage done to the vehicle compared to your claim. Now if there was frame damage, your attorney can show there was significant kinetic energy to cause your whiplash or back injury. Many times body shops are shaving ten dollars here, twenty dollars there, but the real money is in the insurance paying out three thousand instead of thirty thousand due to a body shop not showing frame damage.
Back to the Beetle. After the body shop checked the alignment on the frame machine and it was okay, I was able to finish my report and the insurance company settled for $3000. within a few days. Preparing a report is about providing good evidence. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-65) I believe in Abe’s philosophy. Sometimes I take a lot longer on preparation of my reports than other appraisers, but my axe is usually so sharp they normally settle very quickly, except for those with Nationwide, who in my opinion always seems to drag things out as long as they can.
You’ve probably seen the commercials but you may not realize how much Leif has done to advocate for Oregonians. Leif is involved in legislature that fights for your rights when it comes to Insurance and Body Shop Scams.