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My Allstate Debacle

Several years ago I was in a serious car accident. On my way home from work, over the Christmas break, I was "t-boned" at an intersection by a homeless person driving a '70s Monte Carlo at high speed. The other driver didn't have insurance, naturally, so the cost of repairing my car fell to my policy.

My Honda Accord was deemed worth about $12K, and the Allstate-preferred repair shop estimated $8K in repairs, so Allstate authorized the repair work. About 2 weeks later, when the car was supposed to be finished, I learned that it wasn't done yet and that the shop had found "hidden damage" so they were waiting for Allstate to authorize an additional $3K in repair work. It was authorized, and two weeks after that, I picked up the car and discovered, to my shock, that the total repair bill was now $14K.

I called my Allstate agent, Dave Gragnola of Cupertino, California. I learned that repair shops are allowed to amend their bill, and greatly exceed their estimate, with impunity. Even when, as in this case, the estimate was so wrong as to be nearly 50% of the final cost.

I explained to my agent that, in my view, the repair shop was running a scam . Clearly, my car should have been totaled, as the cost to repair the damage exceeded the value of the car. But by submitting a low estimate the shop ensured that the repair would be approved. The result was a job that took weeks longer than expected, and left me with a car that was so heavily repaired it was never the same again, and could be sold for only a fraction of its former value. Both I, and Allstate, were ripped off, in my opinion.

All these years later I remember Gragnola's response, said with the lilt of a shrug: "What do you want me to do about it?"

Two weeks later I ended my 12 year relationship with Allstate. Eventually, with the Honda suffering from poor handling and persistent electrical problems, I traded it in for a Nissan. The dealer who assessed the Honda's trade-in value remarked that more than half of the car had been rebuilt and that "somebody spent a fortune fixing that thing." Indeed.

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