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How Many People Will She Tell

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I’m not just a collision repair industry editor – I’m a client.

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I admit, I’ve always been a bit accident prone – if there’s a wall to run into, a piece of furniture to fall over or a step to trip up, I’m your woman. No one in my family ever harbored hope of my someday growing up to be a ballerina – they just hoped I’d survive my clumsy childhood long enough to grow up.

Luckily, I outgrew that awkward stage, and I’m proud to report that I no longer stumble through life (though I do still bump into walls on a regular basis – “Who put that wall there?!” I exclaim, even though it’s the same wall I ran into yesterday).

What I’m finding, however, is that I’m still accident prone – people have an irresistible urge to hit my car. Last March, a man driving a Ford Bronco ran a red light and hit an SUV that was going through the green light. I was innocently sitting on the other side of the red light when his Bronco landed on top of my Celica. They say it was a miracle I survived. My Celica, however, wasn’t so lucky.

So I bought another Celica (there’s something to be said for a sports car that protects the person inside when a Bronco falls on it), and vowed to never again stop at another red light.

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Fast forward to last month. I’m once again innocently sitting at a red light (it was becoming too expensive to keep running them), when an older lady rear ended me. She apparently hadn’t noticed that everyone in front of her had stopped, and she hit my car so hard she pushed me into the car in front of me. When we got out of our vehicles to inspect the damage, the little lady (who we’ll call Mavis) apologized repeatedly and worried how her husband was going to react – and that her insurance company would raise her rates.

Luckily, my car is so low to the ground that the car I hit wasn’t damaged. The front and back ends of my car were a bit banged up, but Mavis’ car only had a few scuffs. We exchanged information and decided not to report the accident since she offered to pay out of pocket for the damage. I told her I’d call her when I knew how much she owed me and if she had any repair questions regarding her car to call me.

Yes, I’m about to get to the point of my story. In fact, I’ll tell you my point first: The public will never trust the collision repair industry and think of repairers as professionals as long as so many of you come off looking like con artists. I say this because …

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About three days after the accident, Mavis called me. She’d gone to the dealership where she’d bought her car and had gotten an estimate. It came to $545.

“How could that be?” she asked.

I wondered the same thing. She read the estimate to me and about $250 was paint labor. Paint labor? I’d seen her car. I’m no expert, but I know a scuff when I see one. Her car was a prime candidate for buffing. Nothing needed replaced – and no painting should’ve been necessary.

“Did you tell them you were paying out of pocket for the repair?” I asked her.

“No,” she responded. “But why would that matter?”

“It just does,” I said, offering to help out. As soon as we hung up, I called the shop manager, who said he had no idea that Mavis wasn’t using her insurer and that buffing out the scuffs wouldn’t be a problem.

“And it won’t compromise the integrity of the repair?” I asked.

“Nah. Those bumpers are plastic anyway,” he said. “Her car will still be as good as new.”

About a week later, Mavis called me again. Her final bill: $118.

“I told all my friends what you did,” she said. “Thank you so much. But none of them understand why the shop didn’t just do it that way to begin with.”

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We know why. What we don’t know is how many friends she has.

Editor Georgina Kajganic can be reached at [email protected]

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