A French philosopher once asked, “Why do we never expect dull people to be rascals?” He said “dull people” because the demographic we call automobile collision repair appraisers had yet to be invented.
We have all had the experience of finding that a dent in a bumper or a scratch in the paint that will cost us a month’s salary. That’s why some wise philosopher invented automobile collision insurance. That way, there’s just a dent in one’s salary when the deductible is figured in.
The other day I incurred a scratch on my bumper. At the same time, I lost a bumper filler. The cost of the filler (aka a fog lamp cover), according to the four appraisals I got, ranged from $23.37 to $24.77. The appraiser responses ranged from “We can give you an appointment in two or three weeks” to only half-a-month’s salary
I scrutinized the display ads in the phone book. I called into the first shop. The lovely assistant ascertained that I was not making an insurance claim. She said the appraiser would see me in a few days.
I drove to the second appraiser’s shop. Ho-hum Harry was sitting behind an empty desk, not an employee in sight. First, he ascertained that I was not making an insurance claim. Harry gave the scratch a cursory glance, sat down to a computer, and computed for about 15 minutes. His computation: $1,100.
I drove to a third shop and assured the appraiser that I was not claiming insurance. Tardy Terence gave the scratch a close inspection. He did computations in his head and spat out the figure of $600 and change. My faith in appraisers was to a degree restored. I asked for the appraisal in writing. He hemmed and hawed. Said he would email me.
Next day I followed up Tardy Terry with a phone call and an email to his office. No response.
My appointment with the first shop rolled around. The shop was hive of activity. Dozens of dented and scratched cars clogged the yard. If I were a betting man, I’d bet they were all insurance claims. Dazzling Dave greeted me with a bright smile. He scrutinized the scratch from multiple angles. He snapped a picture. Then another. And another. He walked around the entire car snapping pictures. He snapped a dozen or more pictures. He ended with a closeup of the fog lamp, which was working perfectly. He thrust the camera as far as he could into the lamp cavity. I followed him to the shop and took a seat. I declined a coffee or a drink.
Dazzling Dave sat at his computer, computing. From time to time, he, flashed a bright smile. After 15 minutes, he returned to me with a bright smile. He took pains to explain every line of the two-and-a-half page appraisal. He glided over the hourly labour rate (which, I later ascertained, was 50 percent higher than the industrial average). He gave me the bad news with a bright smile. Total: $2,000.
I responded with a bright smile. I left.
I scoured the phone book again. I picked out an obscure body shop in a run-down part of town. I phoned. The lady said to come in anytime. She said Eddy would be in the shop, working.
I drove over there. There were no numbers to mark the street address. I located a probable address and pulled into an empty lot. Abandoned structures were the rule in this neighbourhood. No one had cut the grass and weeds since the snow had gone. I entered a virtually empty office. The décor was vintage early 19th century.
The lady was very friendly. Said Eddy would be with me shortly. Asked if I was making an insurance claim. We chatted. Been doing business here long? I asked. She said forty years. Her husband had handed down the shop to their son, Eddy.
How did you find us? she asked. Been checking out places, I said. Of course! she said. Some of those places charge what the traffic will bear.
Eddy came in from the back. He was cheerful. He grabbed a notepad and we walked outside. On the driver’s side, I said. He walked past the scratch. I drew his attention to the scratch. Swiftly he made the appraisal, articulating what he had found and what he would do. He would email me the appraisal.
A couple of hours later, after his shop closed, I received the appraisal: $625. I dubbed him Honest Ed.
The next morning I received Tardy Terry’s appraisal. It was properly detailed: $800. If he had sent it 24 hours earlier, I should have accepted his figure. But, he was too late.
The man who invented the concept of deductibles was a wise man. But there are still rascals in auto body shops. Some are dull and some are dazzling. But, thank God, others are honest men.