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The Jury’s In: Save their Deductibles?

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They come in all shapes and sizes, but their goal is the same: They want you to save their deductible.

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Thirty years ago, deductibles didn’t seem to be such a big deal. In fact, 30 years ago, some insurance companies actually wrote policies with zero deductibles.

In the late 1960s, I was an apprentice in a Ford dealership. One of my jobs was to check all the wrecks that were towed in and, if necessary, I’d pour antifreeze or oil under the hood and squirt the radiator with antifreeze or the A/C condenser with oil. These tactics were used as devices to help save the customer’s deductible. The adjuster would figure the estimate with a new radiator or condenser – or both – not knowing they weren’t bad. The customer got the savings, and the shop made some extra, too.

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We’ve come along way since then, but it seems we still have a long way to go. As an employer, I hate collecting taxes, child support garnishment, regular garnishments, social security, etc., etc. But my incentive to collect these taxes is to avoid prison or paying the taxes myself. I’m unofficially a non-paid government tax collector, simply motivated by fear.

What does this have to do with deductibles? Think about it.

The insurers have done the same thing to us as the government. We’re unpaid insurance company employees who collect deductibles – and for no extra wages. And if we don’t collect them, we don’t look to the insurance company for payment. We’re all alone out here.

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In 1975, I remember going home to my new bride and bragging that we had a $1,271 job in the shop and that all we had to do for it was give up the deductible. Well, it seemed OK then. That $50 was only 4 percent of the job. And back then, it was easy to give 4 percent. But now, 4 percent might be all you make.

Of course, everything was different then.

While sitting at the dining room table last year, I remember jokingly telling my wife that I thought the last person I gave a deductible to had finally died. You see, once you give them something for “free, they want it each time they come back. And it’d been at least six to eight months since anyone had said, “You gave it to me last time!”

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Maybe, just maybe, I’ve outlived them all!

I do know that, over the years, I’ve heard it all. (I’ve even heard some that I don’t feel are appropriate for print!) Get ready for a journey through time. These are some of the best “deductible saving” tactics I’ve heard over the years. If anything, you may at least get a chuckle out of the crazy antics.*

*All names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Mr. Smart-Like-A-Fox


In comes Mr. Smart-Like-A-Fox, who needs an estimate. I write it up, take photos and ask for the job. Mr. Fox says, “I really want you guys to do the job, but you’ll need to save my deductible.”

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I say, “Mr. Fox, you do know that you have a contractual obligation, called your insurance policy, that says the deductible is to be the first part of the repair that’s paid?”

After a long silent pause, I continue: “Since that’s what your policy says, I’m interpreting that that means your savings would have to come off the last money paid, which would be the insurance check. If you like, you can call the insurance company and see if they’ll modify your contract this one time, just for you. Or if you prefer, I can get your agent on the phone now and we can all discuss it.”

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After another long pause, Mr. Fox says, “Don’t bother. I’ll call later.”

In a nice way, I remind him that the deductible would have to be paid upon delivery of his finished car. Or, if he preferred, I told him that he could look for a shop that doesn’t care about policies and contracts – while reminding him that these shops also probably don’t care about quality either.

Usually, the Mr. Foxes of the world book the repair at this point. Simply assure them that they’re doing the right thing.

Mr. Been-Done-Wrong


Mr. Been-Done-Wrong comes in and needs a bid. I write it up and take photos. It’s about a $2,000 bump on the right front of the car. I say, “Let’s go back in the office and write up a work order.”

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But Mr. Wrong says, “Wait a minute. I have a $250 deductible that I need to cover!”

I say, “Mr. Wrong, how do you propose I build that money in?”
Mr. Wrong, of course, says, “I don’t know. But I do know that darn insurance company keeps charging me more every year and that it’s time I got some of their money back!”

Wondering why I need to be his conspirator in this illegal act, I say, “So what do you want to leave off of your car to save that $250?”

Naturally, Mr. Wrong says, “Nothing.”

So I ask Mr. Wrong: “Now let me see if I’ve got this right. You want me to defraud your insurance company by telling them the damage is worse than it is. Do I have it right?”

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Mr. Wrong, with much enthusiasm, says, “Yeah, that’s it! Make ’em pay!”

I proceed to tell Mr. Wrong, “What you’re asking for is insurance fraud. I – or we – could go to jail for that. I don’t think I’m going to be able to work with you on this. If you want me to cheat your insurance company, that would make me a common crook. And why on earth would you trust a crook to work on your car? I’m sorry, but if we do the work, you’ll have to pay your deductible upon completion of your repairs.”

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The Mr. Wrongs usually book the job at this point. They’re usually all bark and no bite. Most people want to do what’s right. You just have to put it in perspective.

Ms. Checks-O-Plenty


Some of you may have met this one already. When we do the bid, we remind Ms. Checks-O-Plenty of her $250 deductible. When she books the job, we have her acknowledge her $250 deductible. When she drops off the vehicle for repairs, we again remind her of her $250 deductible. And, finally, when we call her to tell her that her car is done, we remind her to bring her $250 deductible.

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When she shows up to retrieve her car, we say that we’ll bill the insurance company for the repairs but that she needs to write us a $250 check for her deductible.

Ms. Checks-O-Plenty gets a shocked look on her face and says, “I didn’t know I had a deductible! Anyway, doesn’t the agent bill you for that?”

Although my cap’s about to blow (she’s got some nerve!), I manage to respond: “I’ve told you several times about your deductible.”

In a whiney voice she says, “I got confused.”

So I say, “Well, you have to pay the $250 to get your car.”

She proceeds to tell me that she doesn’t have that much in her account but that she could give me a check for $25 now and post date nine more for each Friday until it’s paid.

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Now not only am I going to blow my cap, but a few gaskets too. I tell myself not to let her get to me and to calm down. I – calmly – say: “Let’s say, hypothetically, that I agree to 10 separate checks. I’m not sure if I would, especially postdated for 10 weeks. But, I may take them if they’re all dated for today. How would you feel about that?”

In her whiney voice she whines, “I don’t think I can trust you not to cash all 10 at once!”

So I look her in the eye and clearly state my plan: “Here’s how it will work. Each week, I’ll deposit one check. If it doesn’t clear the bank, I’ll deposit all the rest – and I think they charge about $20 per insufficient check. Therefore, as long as you keep my checks clearing the bank, we’ll both win in this game.”

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She agreed to my terms and started writing her checks. It seemed like it took an hour to write them all.

I’ve got to tell you though, she did make good on all 10 checks.

Mr. Rational Approach


Mr. Rational Approach comes in, and I often try a little different approach with him. This person could be a lawyer, businessman, white-collar worker, teacher or a person of affluence. He asks lots of questions besides the deductible question and really wants a good repair, but someone else might have told him to beware of body shop people.

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Again, we write that $2,000 bid, and then Mr. Rational mentions that he needs to save his $500 deductible. So I look him in the eye and say, “Maybe we could find a couple hundred in savings if this were a $12,000 job, but there’s absolutely no way to save $500 on a $2,000 job.”

Mr. Rational says that another shop saved his deductible before. So I ask why he isn’t there now. After a pause and no answer, I say: “Let’s look at this rationally. We work on about $.10 on the dollar, so that means on a $2,000 job, if everything goes perfectly, we might make $200 profit. So how can I save $500 when I’m only going to make $200? If I’m going to lose $300 on your repair, I might as well just stay home and watch Oprah. I won’t lose as much that way.”

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This is now producing a quizzical look on Mr. Rational’s face, so I continue: “So, you can see why we need to collect all $500. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Not quite. Mr. Rational asks if we can save anything at all.

I look him in the eye and say, “I don’t know, but it’s not likely. But if you book the repair, I’ll give you a $25 credit on a rental car when your car comes in. That’s the best I can do. So can we book your repairs?”

After mentally reviewing his options, Mr. Rational Approach – in a let down tone – says, “Yeah, go ahead and book it.”

Why’d I give him anything at all? Because this person won’t get greedy and want more or be hard to sell on the finish line as long as you do as promised. And giving up $25 on a rental that might have sat anyway is a small price for a quality customer. Customers like Mr. Rational carry credibility when they tell people where they had repairs done.

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Mr. In-Hock-Up-To-His-Ears


One day when I’m working the drive-up estimating station, Mr. In-Hock-Up-To-His-Ears pulls in, driving his almost-new Jaguar. He hops out and says he needs a bid, so I head over to the vehicle with him. He’s got a small four-hour dent in the driver’s door – on its best day, a $350 to $400 repair.

Mr. Ears says the shop down the road said they’d save his $500 deductible. I do some quick math in my head and say, “There’s no way that shop told you that.”

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Mr. Ears wouldn’t elaborate, but he assured me that he had a bid for $1,400. Well, I’m thinking that this is called insurance fraud, but I use restraint and say, “Mr. Ears, let’s say I give you the $500 and throw in a set of four Michelins. What do you say?”

Of course Mr. Ears says, “That’s great, but how can you do that?”

I say, “I really can’t. I was just joking. I suggest you go to the other shop as fast as you can, sign their work order and count your blessings.”

So long, farewell and good-bye! There are some people you just don’t want to work for.

(Mr. Ears came back about two years later. I assume he’d been run off everywhere else, so he had to come back. We wrote a complete, very profitable bid on his Jag and as soon as he complained about the price again, we asked him to either leave or to give us a $1,000 deposit to start repairs. He left. The 80 percent rule applies here: Eighty percent of your trouble comes from 20 percent of your business. We eliminated the problem, for now, but I know he’ll be back in a few years to try again.)

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Dr. Barter


And then there’s Dr. Barter. My wife needed her gallstones removed, and we were having a final consultation. In passing, I say, “Say, doc, do you ever barter?”

Looking at me with a knowing grin, Dr. Barter replies, “Every chance I get. I have a $2,500 deductible, so I end up paying most small claims myself.”

With that same grin but now growing larger, he adds, “My wife just wrecked my new Volvo – about $6,000 in damage. I might be interested in trading my deductible against surgical fees.”

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I, out of curiosity, ask, “Can you do that?”

He says that he can only trade his own fees, not the hospital or surgical team, but that it’d be worth much more than $2,500 – if I’m interested. I think to myself and realize that it’s going to cost me more than $2,500 so why not go for it? So I tell Dr. Barter, “I’ll make the trade.”

As we walk out of the doctor’s office, my wife says to me, “I can’t believe you traded me for a $6,000 wreck! What were you thinking!”

Thinking to myself, real fast (I need a really good answer for this one), I say to her in my most sincere tone, “Honey, I only did it because I love you so much and because the doc wants to make his wife happy by fixing the Volvo so he’ll do a better job on you so we’re happy. Can’t you see it?”

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My wife simply shook her head with a slight chuckle and repeats, “I can’t believe you traded my gallbladder for a wreck job.”

Dr. Late-Night Deliveries


While we’re discussing doctors, have you ever noticed how they usually want your deductible or payment before services are rendered? Dr. Late-Night-Deliveries was my wife’s obstetrician. She was seeing him weekly for prenatal care, and he required us to pay $50 a visit – in case insurance didn’t pay the bill.

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One day, Dr. Deliveries’ new Ford station wagon comes in on the hooks pretty crunched up – a nice wreck, I might add. When Dr. Deliveries comes by to get his personal stuff out of the car, we start talking and my mind wanders to the payment policy at his office. So, while we’re talking, I say, “Doc, I just want to mention, I need your deductible up front.”

The doc looks at me with complete puzzlement and says, “No way!”

I look right at him and say, “Doc, you’re making me pay in advance for my unborn baby, so I don’t see why you should get different treatment from me.”

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The doc proceeds to tell me that it’s different for him. And I proceed to tell him that it’s not: “When you give me a healthy baby, then I’ll pay you that day. And when I deliver you your car, you pay me cash.”

The doc thought about it for a minute and finally agreed to stop charging me up front.

By the way, we fixed many more cars for the doc – he had eight children who all eventually drove at the age of 16. And he even delivered another child of mine – on final payment, of course.

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Don’t you just love happy endings?

Mr. Sneaky Politician


Recently Mr. Sneaky Politician visited me. He comes in with a Corsica with a damaged hood. The first thing he does is give me his business card to show me how important he is. We then proceed with the bid and photos.

It doesn’t take long for him to ask me to save his deductible. I respond that he has a nice, small $100 deductible and that there’s nothing I can do to save it for him. When he decides to book the wreck, I remind him of his deductible again. He responds by saying, “Yeah, yeah. I got it covered.”

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We complete the repairs, and he comes to pick up his car. When he arrives, I have him sign the insurance check and I say, “That will be a $100 deductible also.”

Mr. Politician hands me a little pink receipt and two tickets to a dinner the next evening.

I say, “What’s this supposed to mean?”

Mr. Politician says, “I knew you wouldn’t mind, so I created a tax deduction for you. You bought two tickets to my fundraiser. I think that was mighty nice of you. The food will be great, and you can meet lots of great people.”

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I look at him, with a puzzled look (because I am puzzled) and say, “I’ve made it my policy to remain politically neutral while in business – I almost never take a side. Besides, I don’t think you’re the party I voted for last time. And now you’re telling me I’m listed as a political donor for your campaign? I’d prefer my $100, please.”

Mr. Politician proceeds to tell me that it’s too late – that he already turned in the check he wrote on my behalf and that the do-nor list was already turned in, too. As he’s leaving, he says, “Hey, I really appreciate your donation. Call me any time you need something.”

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For once in my life, I’m caught off balance and don’t have a good comeback. Even if I had a comeback, I’ve got an office full of people picking up their cars on a Friday night, and I don’t want to make a scene for a lousy 100 bucks.

Ms. Religious Liar


This is the one that sticks out most in my mind. One day, in walks Ms. Religious Liar. She asks for me personally. My general manager comes into my office and says, with a chuckle, that a lady out front needs my blessing or something and that I need to go out front to talk to her.

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Well, it’d been a mighty long time since Andy Batchelor had blessed anything, so I figured this might be interesting. As I approached the counter, Ms. Liar asks if I remember her and I say I think I wrote a repair on the driver’s side of her truck.

She says, “That’s right, and I have the check right here for $9,000 made out to me and your body shop.”

I think to myself, “I know where this is headed. She wants to cut a deductible deal or wants me to sign over the check.”

She says, “Can we go outside? I have something I want to discuss with you.”

So we walk outside toward her truck and she says, “Andy, I need your blessing. I want you to sign this check over to me. I’m going to give it to our church’s missionary society, and they need the money for a trip they want to take to Haiti.”

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I think to myself, “God, if you ever wanted to strike down this lady for lying, now’s the best chance you’ll ever get. Maybe just a small bolt of lightning as a warning would do.” But instead I say: “I’ll be glad to send the check back to the insurance company for you and request a check in your name only.”

She then proceeds to tell me that she can’t do that because her brother owns the insurance company and she can’t ask him to do that.

Again, I think to myself, “God, you just missed another good chance to strike down this liar.” But instead I say, “I think your brother would be very understanding. He probably goes to the same church as you, right?”

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Again, she says, “Won’t you just please sign the check over to me?”

Again, I say, “The insurance company and bank would both hold me accountable for all the damage to your vehicle, so I’m sorry, but I can’t give you the money. But I’d be glad to fix your truck. Can we schedule you an appointment?”

She gives me a nasty look and spats, “The Lord will judge you.” Then she leaves without closing the door.

I don’t really want this woman struck down by lightening, but I do think the Lord – or someone – should have a nice chat with her about lying.

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I’ve Heard It All … I Think
I tend to think I’ve seen it all when it comes to “deductible savers,” from Mr. Smart-Like-A-Fox to Ms. Religious Liar – although I’ll probably have a new deductible story by tomorrow that will top all of these.

One thing that holds true is that there’s no set type of person or group who wants to save their deductible. They come in all types – rich families, welfare recipients, politicians, doctors and even preachers. I have found, however, that there are a few honest people out there who understand their contractual obligations on deductibles. With these customers, you have their loyalty – and deductible payment – without a fight and, oftentimes, without even reminding them they had to pay it.

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Andy Batchelor owns Andy’s Auto Body of Alton, Inc. in Alton, Ill., and has been a self-employed automotive repair owner for nearly 30 years. He’s a certified Automotive Specialist with training from Rankin Technical School and a Platinum-certified I-CAR member, and has Master Collision Certification from ASE and a degree in Business Administration from Lewis and Clark Community College. Batchelor also serves as I-CAR’s Southern Illinois Training Chairman. Batchelor and his wife, Nancy, reside in Alton, Ill., and have two children, both married and living in the suburbs of Chicago.

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