Should you claim for that dent?

Many people wonder whether they should claim from their car insurance after an incident that causes minor dents or scratches on their vehicle. Sumarie Greybe, co-founder at Naked Insurance takes a look at when it makes sense to submit a claim.

Should you claim for that dent?After the annoyance and possible embarrassment of a minor vehicle accident, most people will wonder how much it will cost to fix the scratch or the dent on their car and whether to involve their car insurance provider. After all, even damage from a small incident can turn out to cost thousands of rand to fix. Here are some of the factors you should consider in your decision.

What is the excess payment in your policy?

The excess is an amount of money that will come out of your pocket when you claim from your car insurance. If you have a low excess — say R1 500 — it could make sense to claim for a typical small scratch/dent, which is usually in the region of R3 000 – R5 000 to repair. But if your excess is larger — for example, R10 000 — it will probably be bigger than the cost of the repair. So, you could claim and get a small amount or nothing back for your trouble.

On top of that, when it’s time for your annual premium review, your insurer may take the fact that you made a claim into consideration. It may assess you as a higher-risk customer and increase your premium as a result. Your premium increase over a couple of years could be higher than the cost of simply paying for the repair of your car out of your own pocket.

Do you have a no-claims bonus?

Many car insurers offer a no-claims bonus. As the name implies, this is an incentive not to claim from your car insurance. The bonus is usually a percentage of your premiums paid back to you in cash after a set period of time, provided you have not made a claim. You will lose this bonus if you claim after a minor incident, even if it turns out that your claim was lower than your excess.

Was another vehicle involved?

This is when it starts to get a bit trickier to decide. If the accident was not your fault, the other driver might apologise profusely and promise to pay personally without involving insurance companies. You should be careful of accepting such an offer, even if it seems attractive not to hassle with insurers and excesses and all the accompanying red tape.

Firstly, you will be on your own without your insurer to fight in your corner if the person does not honour the deal. You could find yourself chasing them for weeks for the money they promised to pay. Secondly, it is possible that something that looks like a minor dent on your bumper could hide deeper damage to your car that might be more expensive to repair than the other person anticipated.

Likewise, if the accident was your fault, you can offer to settle out of pocket, but it might not always be a good idea. It could be that it will cost far more to repair the other vehicle than you expected or can afford. The other driver might also try to hit you with unfair claims for additional damage and injury, which is when you’d like to have your insurer at your side.

Are policies for minor damage worth your while?

Many insurers now offer policies that cover scratch and dent damage, with premiums as low as R100 a month. Be aware that such policies cover only up to a small amount — for example, R3 000 per incident.

This does not mean the insurer will pay for the first R3 000 of repairs, but rather that it will pay only if the repair will cost less than R3 000. So, if the damage is deemed to be R3 001 then your claim will be rejected. In practice this cover is seldom enough to result in a valid claim, since even a tiny dent on a mid-range sedan can cost R5 000 or more to fix these days.

Plus, you will need to accept the word of the insurance company’s assessor about what the damage will cost to repair. You friend at the autobody repair shop might be able to do the job for less, but that doesn’t matter. Check the wording of your policy carefully and choose a reputable provider if you are going to go this route.

Alternatives

  • Scratches and dents are a reality of car ownership. Save some cash in a rainy-day fund for minor repairs and other day-to-day hassles.
  • Try to find an affordable and reputable car repair shop you trust to buff out scratches or do micro-location paint jobs for you.
  • Think about your cash flow and risk tolerance when shopping for car insurance. If you are really worried about paying for repairs out of pocket, opt for a policy with a lower excess. If you are buying from a digital comprehensive car insurance provider like Naked, you can experiment with different excess values online or on the app to understand how reducing or increasing the excess will affect your monthly premium.

This article first appeared in City Press.

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