Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of Vipers being wrecked lately, including some from this board. With insurance companies making you fight for every settlement dollar today, the more information you have before hand, the more prepared you will be when it comes time to negotiate. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around out there and consequently, many are not prepared when it comes time to deal with their wrecked Viper. The information which follows has been garnered from our observation of Viper insurance claims and from our experience in repairing collision damaged Vipers from the past several years, and we have more experience in this area than most.
And just so everyone knows, the following is not a plug for my company. As of the end of this month we will be only be accepting customer jobs on a very limited basis and will no longer be performing typical collision repair services. If anyone needs any information or recommendations in this area however, feel free to contact me.
1. MAKING SURE YOU GET PAID FOR ALL THE DAMAGE TO YOUR CAR. Vipers are somewhat unique in the collision repair field in that a relatively small amount of damage can equal very high repair costs. Parts costs alone can total the car; hood $17,000, frame $9,000, exhaust cover $4,600 etc. Because of this, many insurance adjusters will want to repair components which should be replaced. While I won’t go as far as to accuse adjusters of encouraging shoddy repairs, I’ll let you consider a policy many insurance companies use: some adjusters receive pay bonuses based on the dollar amount of the parts which were replaced on estimates which they have written. One Viper estimate can totally wreck an adjuster’s bonus because of the parts cost, so repairing parts, rather than replacing is to his or her financial benefit. I’m not going to get into specifics on when a component should or shouldn’t be repaired, there are many things to consider, but just don’t take some adjuster’s word when they don’t want to replace components. Be mindful however of trying to get the costs too high because as described below, many insurance companies will want to total the car before the damage actually reaches the point where it would technically total.
2. MAKE SURE THE REPAIR SHOP WORKING ON YOUR CAR IS QUALIFIED. There are many different considerations when performing these repairs and a complete technical review here would be prohibitively long. The following information includes brief descriptions of things which should be addressed when having your Viper repaired. These are minimums and should not be considered to be all inclusive.
Vipers are constructed quite differently from most domestic and import cars. Repair procedures and equipment should be different as well.
A. STRUCTURAL REPAIR: Of particular importance are structural repair procedures and equipment. Vipers are built on a “space frame” which comprises a number of steel frame members welded together to form a rigid structure. The manner in which these cars are constructed makes typical frame repair machines incompatible with Viper repair as there simply is no way to set up the car on the machine, short of welding brackets on the bottom of the car. As such, making accurate structural repairs and measurements is very difficult for most shops. European “jig type” machines are the preferred machines and allow for extensive anchoring and integrated, ultra precise measuring. Typically these machines are only found at shops specializing in exotic or European cars as their usefulness is limited for most mainstream cars. Measuring is very important as the tolerances for all dimensions from the factory are specified at +/- 1mm for all suspension mounting locations and +/-3mm for all others. If there is significant structural damage, make sure the insurance company pays to have the car measured and get verification that it was done.
B. BODY COMPONENT REPAIR: Unless the damage is very minor, always try to have the panel replaced. When panels are repaired however, make sure the shop is familiar with the composites on the viper and that they use the correct materials for performing the repair. The following body component description is for GenI and GenII cars: The hoods are made of SMC (sheet molded compound or sheet molded composite) the bumpers are urethane, the exhaust covers are aluminum and the rest of the panels are RTM (resin transfer molded). The rear tail-lamp panel on the GTS is made of TEO (Thermo Elastic Olefin), which can be difficult to repair properly due to its incompatibility with most adhesives. Make sure the shop repairing your car has experience with all these materials. If possible, ask to see a repair which has aged a couple of years to see how well it has held up. A repaired panel can look great when it leaves the shop, but if the wrong materials are used or if the repair is poorly prepared or executed, then the repair will deteriorate prematurely.
3. TOTAL LOSS DETERMINATIONS. Just because your Viper did not sustain enough damage to be technically declared a total loss does not mean that the insurance company won’t total your car. In consideration of all of the above, insurance companies often do not like to repair significantly damaged Vipers. If your car has enough damage (the amount varies greatly and is totally dependant on individual circumstances) the insurance company will consider totaling you car. Most insurance companies start to consider totaling a car once the damage estimate reaches 60% of the retail value of the car. They figure that once the car starts being repaired, additional damage will be found and will potentially bring the repair cost up to 70 or 75 percent. That being said however, if the owner no longer wants the car, Vipers will frequently total for lesser percentages because the insurance company knows that it will be able to sell the salvaged vehicle for a high price and recoup much of its loss. If the owner is adamant that he no longer wants the car, it is not unheard of for a Viper with less than $20,000 in damage being totaled.
4. BUYING YOUR VEHICLE BACK (RETAINING SALVAGE) If your Viper is damaged in a collision and is potentially a total loss, the very first thing you need to decide is whether or not you want to keep the vehicle. Regardless of whether you plan on letting the car be repaired, or plan on selling it, parting it out or making a race car (preferable), this decision needs to be made BEFORE YOU TALK TO YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY. They will they will treat your claim very differently depending on this decision and it can have a very substantial effect on the amount you receive.
An example: Let’s say you have a 2002 GTS which has had damage estimated at $43,500. Assuming the insurance company sets the retail value of the car at $64,000, the car is not technically going to total (as far as the law is concerned). However, $43.5k is 68% of the retail valuation so the insurance company is starting to look towards totaling a car. At this point, however, it’s still your call. Depending on the circumstances, at this point the insurance company will likely cut you a check for $43,500 and call it a day if that’s what you ask. However, if this is the route you take, it is advisable to determine beforehand how the insurance company will disperse the funds. Often they will want to make the check payable to the repair shop to ensure that the car is being repaired. Additionally, if you have a lien on your car the check will often be made payable to both you, as the owner and the lienholder. The lienholder will typically want some form of verification that the car has been repaired or that the lien is paid off prior to endorsing the check. Once settlement dispersement has been completed, in this case you would get $43,500 and get to keep your car.
On the flip side now, if you have allowed them to treat the car as a total loss and then tell them that you want to retain salvage of the car (buy the car back) the numbers will look very different. Taking the above value of $64,000 plus taxes and fees would get you a settlement of $70,000+/-. Once they total they car they will likely contact their salvage liquidation company and get a salvage value quote. In this case the quote will likely be upwards of $27,000. If you want the car this is the figure they will want to deduct from your settlement (depending on the company and circumstances you will want to try and negotiate this figure as well). Additionally, as you are keeping the car, you don’t get your taxes and fees back ($6k+/-) either. So after all deductions you net out $37,000.
So to compare: Total loss and keep the car you get $37,000.00
Non total, you keep the car and get $43,500.00
Difference: $ 6,500.00
Obviously these numbers can and do vary and ultimately it depends on how well you can negotiate with your insurance company. Be careful how you proceed however, as once the damage percentages reach this level the insurance company will also start to compare their net losses for each scenario. You will need to be an effective negotiator to maximize you numbers.
Hopefully no one here will need the above information, but hopefully it will help if you do.