We are SO excited! We finally got our car repaired from the damage that was done about 2 1/2 months ago (see Auto Accident With No Drivers post). It was quite a process and, obviously, didn't happen very quickly.
After getting some repair estimates and sending them in, the insurance company put together an estimate of the total repair cost. The estimates from the body shops were for labor only and included a list of parts needed to complete the repairs. The insurance company "shops" for the parts and prices them out. Combined with the labor estimate (the lowest one, of course), they add up to the total cost. This number was given to my insurance agent well over a month ago. I was told the insurance company would just send me a check and it would be up to me to get the repairs done.
After waiting several weeks for the check (and making several visits to the insurance adjuster's office) I was getting quite frustrated. We had been driving the car with the damage to the driver's side doors for almost 2 months. Our insurance agent suggested we could go ahead and get the car repaired, pay for it ourselves, and get reimbursed when the insurance check arrived. We decided to go that route.
I chose to use a repair shop in David that, despite having a significantly higher labor estimate, had been highly recommended by several people for the quality of their work. I paid them a visit and discussed the repairs that needed to be done. I knew my budget because I had already gotten the reimbursement figure from the insurance company. We discussed ways to keep the cost down, repairing the lesser damaged door, rather than replacing it, etc. I also negotiated to get the whole car painted, rather than just painting the side with the damage (per the estimate). We came to a mutually agreeable price, which was below my reimbursement amount - even with the full paint job. We scheduled a date to bring the car in. I was told the repairs would take a week (drop off Monday; pick up Friday or Saturday).
Here's the car repair timeline:
- Monday (4/20): dropped off car at body shop. I was now told it would take 10 days - pick up on Wednesday (4/29).
- Mon (4/27): I called and was told it will not be ready until the end of the week.
- Thurs (4/30): I called and was told that it might be ready on Friday but if not, it would be Monday, since the shop was closed on Saturday because of a Panamanian holiday.
- Fri (5/1): I called and was told the car had been painted but still needed some finishing work and would be ready on Monday afternoon.
- Mon (5/4): I called and was told the Boss found some minor flaws he wanted to have corrected, so they would need the car another day. I could pick up the car Tues afternoon after 2:00pm.
- Tues (5/5): Tina and I drove our neighbor's car into David (about 30 min) late morning, so we could take car of some errands before picking up our car. While we were running our errands, the body shop called and said the car wouldn't be ready. We would need to pick it up tomorrow. She said she'd call when it was ready.
- Wed (5/6): We weren't going to make another trip into David with our neighbor's car until and unless we received a call from the shop. No call came.
- Thurs (5/7): We received a call from the shop, saying the car was ready to be picked up. We drove our neighbor's car into David again, to the body shop. The detail crew was still working on the car but it looked great. It was about lunch time and the owner told me they would need another 1.5 - 2 hours to finish up. Tina dropped me at a shopping plaza, about a 15 minute walk from the shop, so I could eat lunch and kill some time before walking back to the shop. She headed back to Boquete for an appointment. About 2pm, I arrived back at the shop. The car was ready and looked fantastic! I paid the balance of my bill and drove our shiny, new-looking car back to Boquete.
During the time our car was in the shop, we were using our neighbor's car, the one that hit us, when we needed to go somewhere. How's that for ironic? She had gotten her repairs completed, by the same body shop, just a couple of days before we took ours in for repairs. It was much less expensive for her to let us use her car than to pay for a rental car for us (neither her insurance nor ours covered a rental car).
I detailed out the above timeline, not to bore you with details, but to give you an idea of how things often go here in Panama - or other parts of Central America, for that matter. To be an expat here means you sometimes have to back off your expectations and engage your patience and persistence. Things get done but often (OK, usually) not in the timeline we'd like.
By the way, despite missing a number of estimated completion dates, the body shop was great to work with. It's a large, busy shop and I dealt directly with the owner and his wife - both of whom speak English very well. They helped me deal with the insurance adjuster and were very fair in working with me on a cost that I was comfortable with. The quality of their work was outstanding and there was no detail too small for them to address. They wanted me to be 100% satisfied.
Getting paid by our neighbor's insurance company was the other battle ... or should I say "challenge" ... in which I was engaged. Both our neighbor and I have the same insurance agent - so she was handling both sides of the claim. Our neighbor assumed responsibility and cooperated fully. It should have been pretty cut-and-dried for the insurance folks. As I described above, the insurance calculated a reimbursement amount for me and gave that number to my insurance agent.
When I met with the body shop to discuss/negotiate the cost of repairs, the body shop owner found some additional damage that had not been included in the original estimate. He called the insurance adjuster to explain and I took the car over to the insurance office (just a few blocks away). The adjuster took pictures so he could submit them for the additional reimbursement.
Long story short (well, a little shorter), over the next few weeks, it turns out the adjuster that originally handled my claim no longer worked there. I met with the new adjuster (now overwhelmed with all of the other adjuster's claims) and tried to explain the situation, using various admin staff in the office as interpreters. He told me the additional damage had been included and quoted me the same reimbursement number I was given originally. I made several trips to his office and to my insurance agent's office, trying to get things straightened out. Almost every week, I was promised the check would be ready the next week. During my last visit to the adjuster, I asked him to verify the final check amount and it was LOWER than the original number! It went the wrong direction... Ugh!
I received a call from my insurance agent two days ago. She said the General Manager from the insurance company was personally delivering my check to my agent's office the next morning. I showed up for the GM's visit because I wanted to discuss the additional amount owed. As it turned out, the check the GM brought was for MORE than the original amount - not as much as I had hoped, but close enough. I agreed to accept the check and took it directly to our bank to deposit it.
Here's how it worked out:
I was able to negotiate a deal with the body shop for $1,750 for the repairs, including a full paint job. This is unbelievable, considering these repairs in the US would be thousands of dollars ($5,000 - 6,000?). The huge difference is due to the MUCH lower labor rate here. At the time I picked up the car, the last reimbursement amount I had been given by the adjuster was about $100 less than the original amount. The body shop called the adjuster and worked out a deal which resulted in them charging me $100 less for the repairs. My grand total was $1,650 (amazing!). The amount of the actual reimbursement check, received a week later, was about $2,200. That means we came out about $550 dollars ahead - and we got a full, new paint job!
As I mentioned earlier, things get done but it often takes more time than you'd like. Also, most times YOU have to be the one driving the process. Persistence pays off.
The body shop did an EXCELLENT job on our car. I don't think anyone looking at the car would ever know it had been damaged. The driver's side door was replaced (it was too far gone) and all the other damage was repaired. The paint job looks like a new car. There are no scratches, scrapes, or dings on the car, so now I'm paranoid about where I park our 10 year old Honda. Funny...
Our car was "new" to us when we bought it in January. It now feels "new" again.
Posted by Mark