It was just a bump in a parking lot, some scratched paint, maybe a tiny dent. But when you take it in to be cleaned up, the guy at the body shop says a bumper job that once would have taken a couple of days is likely to take a couple of additional days, possibly leading to weeks.
Over and over, my customers are shocked to hear that seemingly basic repairs have become such high maintenance. The bills I’m paying for those repairs are higher, too.
Blame all those new automated safety systems that have made the humble sedan as sophisticated as a fighter jet, with associated part costs that only the Pentagon could love.
Carmakers also seem to be following the lead of the military with the alphabet soup of acronyms they’ve concocted to describe their latest inventions. FCW—forward collision warning. ACC—adaptive cruise control. LDW—lane departure warning. AEB—automatic emergency braking. And all of it known collectively as ADAS—advanced driver assistance systems.
To be sure, this amazing technology makes driving much safer. The University of Michigan found that cars with both FCW and AEB are involved in 46% fewer rear-end collisions than those that don’t have them. Technologies developed to make driving in reverse safer have cut back-up crashes by 81%.
When you shop for a new car, the dealer will certainly extol the convenience and protection that such automation offers. You’re much less likely, though, to hear about the hassles that await should an accident occur.
Vault customers often buy the most advanced vehicles—the earliest adopters of new technologies—so I’ve seen it all. Here are four things I know the dealers likely won’t tell you:
1. Parts cost a lot more.
The bumper on your new car isn’t just a piece of sheet metal or plastic; it’s embedded with precision sensors. The windshield encloses tiny cameras in glass milled as precisely as a microscope’s. Side mirrors deploy radar transceivers.
In short, you’re behind the wheel of a sophisticated computer that requires a lot of data to understand its condition and surroundings. The best place to put the sensors that gather this data is around its perimeter—in other words, the spots most likely to be damaged in an accident.
Needless to say, replacement parts are much more expensive than they were a few years ago. For instance, it used to be that a broken headlight could be replaced for no more than $500 – $1000, even less if an aftermarket replacement. Today, you can spend more than $2,000 to replace one that uses a motorized array of LED lights to swivel as you steer, required to be an OEM replacement. Long gone are the days of a $20 bulb replacement.
2. Repairs take longer.
Fixing a car with advanced safety features requires more steps, each of which increases the potential for delay. For starters, parts are more likely to need to be replaced than repaired, and ordering those replacements can take time. Tesla, for example, often has long backlogs for its components.
Additional delay comes from the need for recalibration of these safety systems. To repaint that scratch on your side mirror means removing it first, and that means the sensors on it may need to be adjusted once it’s put back. This can take several hours in the shop, and longer for models that require the work to be done while the car is being driven.
Similarly, a cracked windshield could once be replaced in your driveway by a mobile technician in no time. Now, though your windshield—with its built-in cameras and sensors—can still be replaced at home, you may need a dealer to calibrate it before you can drive again. Safelite, the glass-repair company Vault uses, is equipping its trucks with the calibration equipment of many manufacturers, but some models still need to be checked by a dealer.
3. Many repair shops can’t accommodate them.
The local body shop you’ve patronized forever may not have the equipment necessary to install and calibrate advanced smart-car parts. Some high-end brands—such as Rolls-Royce, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Tesla—sell parts and repair tools only to shops that have gone through a rigorous certification process, often paying a large fee that not every mechanic can afford for the privilege. Even independent shops that can install the parts might have to drive your car to the dealer to have it inspected and recalibrated.
Surprisingly, that dealer may not be able to handle every repair either, especially post-crash bodywork and painting. Call them after an accident, and they’ll tell you to bring in the car, but they may not tell you that it will wind up on a flatbed truck, on the way to a body shop that has the right equipment. Sure, the dealer will take care of all the logistics, and your insurance company will most likely foot the bill for transport , but you’ll still be wondering why it’s taking so long to get your car back.
4. You still need to drive the car.
Today’s advanced systems are reliable, but they’re not foolproof. I had a recent claim in which a customer using the intelligent parking assist function backed into a pole when the sensor didn’t alert them. The moral: Your car may have radar, but you still need to use your eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. Protecting yourself and your family from accidents is worth these inconveniences and more. But you’ll make your life easier if you reset expectations before bringing in your car to be serviced. At Vault, we can make your life easier still. We have relationships with the best repair shops and know how to best work with them through the entire repair process. We pay for original manufacturer replacement parts as a policy standard (unlike some insurance companies), and make sure you have a rental car ready for you, too—however long the repairs take.
By Jimmy Caylor
Jimmy Caylor is Vault’s first insurance adjuster for auto policies.