Consumer Info

Know your options after an accident

I frequently hear stories from motorists who don't know their rights and end up making bad decisions after an accident.

This column is not meant as a criticism against any of the individuals or businesses that motorists encounter after an accident such as collision repair shops, insurance companies or tow truck drivers.

But there are occasions when unsuspecting drivers wind up in difficult positions. All drivers should be aware of their rights in the event that they find themselves in an accident.

Here's a story of a true incident that happened last February.

Jake had a minor auto accident on a busy highway in the GTA. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured.

A tow truck driver arrived on the scene within minutes. After determining that nobody was injured or required medical attention, the tow truck driver asked Jake where he wanted his vehicle towed.

Jake said that it didn't matter. He signed a consent form that permitted the tow truck operator to transfer his car to a collision repair facility for repairs, and Jake's car was whisked away.

In this instance, the tow truck driver acted responsibly and entirely within the law by providing a service that Jake had requested.

Later that day, after talking with his insurance agent, Jake decided to have his car moved to his local new-car dealership. He had a relationship with his dealer and he felt comfortable with the quality of repairs and service that they would provide.

As Jake soon discovered, there was a problem. When Jake informed the repair shop that he wanted his car transferred to his local dealership, he was presented with an invoice for towing, administration and storage fees.

The bill came to $1,482. And no repairs were made!

Jake was outraged and argued that these charges were unfair. But he had signed a consent form without knowing the ramifications of his actions. This reduced his options considerably. He had no choice but to pay the bill in full to have his car released.

This kind of situation happens all too frequently in the GTA. If Jake had known his rights and his options before the accident, he could have avoided a costly and frustrating ordeal.

When people are involved in auto accidents, emotions often run high. Drivers get upset and make irrational decisions that they may come to regret.

But understanding their rights and obligations, and doing some homework, motorists can take control of their situations and make sensible decisions.

In Jake's case, even if he didn't know where the repairs would be done, he could have advised the tow truck driver to take his car to an auto repair facility that he trusted - at least until he decided which course of action he wanted to take.

If you're undecided, you have the right to have your vehicle sent to a Collision Reporting Centre, which are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There are three such centres in the GTA.

When your vehicle is at the reporting centre, you are allowed 24 hours' free storage, which allows you time to contact your insurance company and make arrangements to have your vehicle fixed.

Most motorists who drive newer cars probably have some form of roadside assistance, which will provide a towing service to the nearest dealer for your vehicle's nameplate.

Or motorists may be members of the Canadian Automobile Association, which provides free towing service.

For those who don't have assistance plans, there are a number of things you should determine, at the scene, before making a decision. These include:

Find out from the tow truck driver how much the tow will cost.

Find out if there are any other charges.

If you have to sign anything, make sure you're only consenting to towing the vehicle.

Don't sign anything that allows a company to "tear down" or repair your vehicle.

Find out if the tow truck has a municipal licence registration number (on its side).

If a tow truck driver recommends a repair facility without first being asked, that could be deemed illegal under some municipal codes. Some operators may do this because they are paid a commission by the garage.

If you don't know whether your insurance policy provides for towing, you should.

Most drivers have probably never read their policies, but you need to know the conditions and declarations specified in them.

When choosing a garage, your insurance company may recommend a facility that it knows. But if you prefer to use your local dealership, then the decision is yours to make.

Insurance companies may also try to tell you that some of your repairs may not be covered, if you don't use one of their recommended repair shops. That's nothing more than a pressure tactic; don't be swayed or intimidated by it.

Being involved in an auto accident is never a fun experience. It's upsetting, emotionally draining and time-consuming. Don't make things worse by being unprepared.

The bottom line with accidents is this: Know your rights and options ahead of time and take control of your situation.

Here are the Collision Reporting Centres in the GTA:

North Collision Reporting Centre, 113 Toryork Dr., 416-745-1600

East Collision Reporting Centre, 39 Howden Rd., 416-701-1600

West Collision Reporting Centre, 855 Oxford St., 416-252-1200

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Robert McMillan, president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, is
a new-car dealer in the GTA, and authored this article. This column represents the views of TADA, and was originally published in the Toronto Star.

Big differences between similar models in Canada and the U.S.

Jun. 17, 2006. 01:00 AM

Canadian and U.S. prices vary a great deal. Here are some comparisons, based on a Canadian dollar worth 90 cents (U.S.). Figures shown are taken this week from manufacturers' own websites for similar base models, and include freight and PDI in most cases.

Taxes are not included.

* Does not include freight and PDI

  Price in U.S. Equiv. in Cdn. Price in Cdn
Acura MDX $37,740 $41,933 $53,030
Chevrolet Corvette $44,490* $49,433 $67,805*
Ford Freestyle AWD/SEL $28,030 31,144 $39,099
Honda S2000 $34,600 $38,444 $51,755
Mazda6 Sportwagon GT $27,720 $30,800 $34,570
Porsche 911 Carrera $71,300* $79,222 $104,300*
Subaru Impreza Sedan WRX $25,620 $28,466 $36,990
Toyota Prius $22,305 $24,783 $32,520
Volvo XC70 AWD $37,305 $41,450 $49,010
VW Passat wagon 3.6 $33,955 $37,728


So You Want To Buy A Car In The U.S.

There's paperwork, but it's not difficult

Follow these steps to shop across the border

Despite dire warnings and teeth gnashing by the car companies, there's nothing unlawful about buying your car in the United States and importing it yourself.

In fact, the Canadian government has streamlined its procedures to help individuals and businesses move vehicles across the Canada-U.S. border with a minimum of red tape.

Canada's Registrar of Imported Vehicles ( is a private contractor to the federal government that has introduced procedures that, together with changes to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations, have made importing a car about as easy (or as difficult) as doing your income taxes.

The first step is to review Transport Canada's list of admissible U.S. vehicles, available on the RIV website. The list is comprehensive, showing almost every carmaker whose products are or were sold in the U.S. - everything from Alfa Romeo to Volvo (but not Yugo).

Vehicles older than 15 model years have few restrictions, but newer ones have to meet Canadian safety standards, which differ from the U.S. primarily in the areas of bumper strength, seatbelt anchorage (GM's door-mounted belts are unacceptable) and labeling.

Most U.S. models require a minimum of modifications, typically a pair of daytime running lamps and 50-cent metric stickers for the instrument panel. Your vehicle has to be inspected for compliance within 45 days of entry to Canada.

Gary Moriarty, RIV's deputy registrar, strongly recommends using a vehicle history-search service such as CarFax to check the title of the vehicle you have your heart set on. The service can flag non-repairable titles - indicating a wreck or U.S. south coast flood damage - as well as odometer rollbacks.

The costs of importing a vehicle aren't insignificant.

First of all, be prepared to pay cash for your new or used vehicle, as U.S. dealers and banks generally won't float a loan or write a lease to a non-resident. The good news is you'll be exempt from the sales tax levied by most states by arranging an in-transit permit.

At the border, you'll have to pay the RIV fee of $209 as well as the GST on the Canadian exchange value of the vehicle's purchase price. There is also excise tax of $100 on the air conditioner (if so equipped), whether it's working or not.

Expect to pay 6.1 per cent duty on models that fail to meet NAFTA content rules or are assembled outside North America. Big honking vehicles weighing more than 2,007 kg, such as a luxury SUV, are subject to a further excise tax.

The 8 per cent provincial sales tax will be applied when you buy your licence plates. Your car will also have to pass safety certification, which is mandatory even for a new vehicle.

When it's all said and done, you've paid the same GST and PST you've always paid, along with a few inspection fees and possibly the federal duty (if it's an offshore import).

In return, you get to shop the largest auto market in the world with unlimited selection, and bring home a new or used vehicle at substantial savings.

And those savings are expected to grow as the Canadian dollar continues its climb to parity with the U.S. dollar - unless the automakers decide to adjust their Canadian retail prices.

Safety Standard Certificate is not a guarantee

Jun. 17, 2006.

In a recent letter to the Wheels editor, a reader described an incident that struck a nerve with me.

The reader bought a car from a used car lot in North York. The car had been certified and came with a 30-day, bumper-to-bumper "safety" warranty.
Within that 30-day period, her water pump malfunctioned and her car eventually broke down in the middle of the road.

If that wasn't upsetting enough, the reader became even more incensed when she learned that the water pump wasn't deemed a safety item, and that the car dealer wouldn't pay for a new water pump.

I understand this reader's frustration. On occasion at our dealership, I encounter situations where customers mistakenly assume that certain items are covered under warranty.

Car owners must understand that a Safety Standards Certificate is not a guarantee. It's a document that verifies that a list of government-required safety items perform as expected on a particular day.

The list of items includes such things as tires, suspensions, brakes, reflectors, headlamps, mirrors, seatbelts and bodywork.

Readers may ask, "What's the point in issuing a safety certificate if there is no guarantee against mechanical failure or defective parts?"

When the Safety Standards Certificate was first introduced in Ontario in 1974, it sought to ensure that vehicles changing hands were deemed roadworthy.

The certificate was never intended to serve as a guarantee against faulty parts or mechanical fitness. In that sense, the certificate is misleading.

It's understandable that consumers would feel cheated if they thought that such a document covered mechanical failure.

But the broken water pump really speaks to a larger issue, concerning consumer education and awareness when buying a used vehicle. When I hear about people who have had bad experiences with used cars, it usually boils down to a lack of information.

Many used car buyers look for the lowest price when they shop for used vehicles. But that isn't always the best recipe for finding a good, reliable car.

Why do new-car dealers ensure that used cars meet certain standards before they're sold? In a nutshell, it's bad for business if they don't.

Franchised car dealers have a vested interest in satisfying their customers. They don't want to sell customers vehicles and to never see them again.

New-car dealers hope to see customers at their dealerships when it's time to buy new vehicles and when it's time to service those vehicles.

They also want to satisfy their manufacturers. If too many consumer complaints are registered against a certain dealership's products or services, it sours the relationship with its manufacturer.

Consumers should know that used vehicles acquired by new-car dealerships are subjected to an exhaustive inspection process. Some vehicles are wholesaled, some are sold as "unfit" and some are sold as "fit."

When a vehicle is sold as fit, it is inspected for mechanical fitness. If a car needs new brakes, shocks or tires, then those items are replaced.

Next, the vehicle undergoes a complete safety inspection by an auto technician who is registered with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. If the vehicle passes, it is issued a Safety Standards Certificate.

After the mechanical and safety inspections are complete, the car is then subjected to a Drive Clean emissions test.

While Drive Clean does not usually require vehicles to undergo an emissions test until the vehicle is five years old, the program requires all resale vehicles to be tested beginning in the first calendar year after the vehicle's model year. Light-duty vehicles need to be tested every two years for the life of the vehicle. This change took place Jan. 1, 2006, beginning
with 1988 model year.

This program requires all vehicles to be tested every two years for exhaust emissions in accordance with provincial standards. The testing begins in the third calendar year after the model year of the vehicle, and continues up to and including the 19th calendar year after the model year.

Once the vehicle passes all of these tests and is deemed fit, then (and only then) is it offered for sale.

Consumers should be wary of garages and technicians that are prepared to sign safety certificates without inspecting the vehicle.

Some auto manufacturers offer factory-certified used vehicles. In this case, vehicles go thru a multi-point checklist.

You should remember that a certified car does not guarantee that it will not break down. It means the vehicle has been inspected and, in its current state, meets the manufacturer's quality for a pre-owned vehicle.

Usually, once a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) inspection has been performed, the vehicle will qualify for an extended warranty, which should cover most of your mechanical issues. I recommend that all car owners read their manufacturers' (or aftermarket) warranty for their coverage.

For added protection, some manufacturers also allow for added years to be purchased for their CPO warranty. These warranties are modestly priced and have become very popular in the last 10 years.

A CPO provides added protection and peace of mind, and it can easily pay for itself if your vehicle ever requires major repairs.

Finally, for anyone considering a used car, I strongly recommend visiting a franchised dealership before doing business with it. Get to know the sales manager and service manager - even the dealer principal. Talk to customers at that dealership.

From these discussions and observations, you'll get a sense of the culture and the values of the dealership.

Above all, be informed. If you don't know what to expect when buying a used car, then put yourself in the driver's seat by doing a little homework.
Robert McMillan, president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, is a new-car dealer in the GTA. This column represents the views of TADA. Email: Web:

American sticker shock $16,740 (U.S.) $22,510 (Cdn.)

We used to have it good in Canada, with some of the cheapest cars in the world. Not any more

Car prices don't reflect the strong Canadian dollar, and consumers are crossing the border to cash in


For Mike Perry, it's like a recurring bad dream.

"People keep calling me up and saying, `C'mon Mike, sell me a car. We won't tell anybody,'" he recounts on the phone, his voice telegraphing his frustration.

"They want to buy a car so badly. But I have to turn them down every time. It would violate my franchise agreement."

As general manager of Ray Laks Acura in Williamsville, near Buffalo, N.Y., Perry was unaccustomed to turning away customers from his showroom - until Acura's head office read him the riot act and told him to stop selling cars to Canadians.

Located a short drive from the border, Perry gets lots of inquiries these days from curious Canadians wondering how much the new models are going for, and how difficult it would be to bring a bargain across the Fort Erie or Queenston bridge.

"I wish they would open up the border," he says wistfully, growing tired of the hopeful calls and friendly visits from deal-seeking Canadians flush with cash.

With the Canadian dollar riding a quick escalator upward past 90 cents (U.S.) in recent weeks, consumers on this side of the border have noticed the growing disparity between Canadian and American new-car prices.

"I did a Yahoo search in the U.S. (North Carolina) market for a 2006 Matrix XR and got the following prices before taxes: retail price $16,740 (U.S.) or $19,022 (in translated Canadian funds)," wrote reader Somay Weerasuriya recently.

When Weerasuriya priced the same model in Toronto the sticker read $22,510 before taxes, a difference of about $3,500 - a yawning gap on a small car.

"I priced the Ford Freestyle AWD/SEL and the U.S. price is $28,030 and the Canadian $39,099 - a difference of $8,142 (after the exchange)," observed reader Ain Allas. "The same range of pricing variance appears to be consistent among the auto makers."

We asked four major car companies to address the apparent price disparity, focusing on manufacturers that operate assembly plants on both sides of the border and whose products qualify under NAFTA content rules.

Gina Gehlert, a public affairs manager at Ford of Canada, attempted to explain the $8,500 premium Canadian consumers pay for the Mercury Grand Marquis.

"Many of the models which we sell in Canada have different levels of standard equipment than those sold in the U.S. or Mexico. We take great care to equip cars and trucks for Canadian driving conditions and preferences, including standard items like floor mats, defrosters, CD players, block heaters, etc.

"In the case of the Grand Marquis, the U.S. offers an entry-level GS series model which is not offered in Canada. Consumers have told us that a Grand Marquis should be equipped to higher levels; therefore, direct comparison between Canada and U.S. requires a more detailed look."

A closer examination of the Marquis's specifications reveals the U.S. "GS Convenience" model to be very similar to the Canadian base model - with a price differential of $7,000 that remains largely unexplained.

Stew Low, communications director at General Motors of Canada, suggests the new-car markets in Canada and the U.S. behave differently, so price parity doesn't and shouldn't apply.

"Market research shows that Canadian and American customers are fundamentally different in their ownership and purchasing. For example, while U.S. consumers are primarily cash buyers, 90 per cent of Canadians prefer to lease or finance their vehicles. The end result is significantly different marketing strategies," he says.

On that point of distinction, the markets are really not that different, according to Maritz Research.

While there are more cash buyers in the U.S., they still make up less than half the market (44 per cent), says Chris Travell, vice-president of the Automotive Research Group of Maritz Research. In Canada, 34 per cent of buyers pay cash.

Low correctly points out that affordability issues drive the Canadian market. To that end, GM has spent a lot of time engineering low monthly lease and finance payments.

"Our strategy in Canada is to put our resources into offering consumers a total value package at a very competitive lease or finance payment. In fact, over the last five years, customers' monthly payments have stayed the same or decreased for vehicles with far more added option content," says Low.

Rather than reduce the retail price of its models, GM has been loading its cars and trucks with more standard features and equipment that used to be extra-cost options.

"Currency exchange rates is not the determining factor in our marketing strategy, it is however something that we monitor on an ongoing basis," says Low.

GM's insistence that differing market conditions require made-in-Canada pricing is a theme echoed by Honda and Toyota, both of which own large manufacturing facilities in North America.

"Toyota Canada, like many of our competitors, sets pricing in the Canadian market to be competitive within our market. As such, our pricing can vary from that of other countries, but this is not a variable that factors directly into our Canadian pricing," says Wesley Pratt, Toyota's public relations manager.

"Pricing is a complicated formula that is based on more than just exchange rates between countries. Many factors weigh into the pricing decision," adds Sandy Di Felice, assistant VP, corporate communications, at Honda Canada. "For competitive reasons, Honda does not disclose its pricing rationale."

What all four manufacturers politely tiptoe around is the fact Canadians have long been on the winning side of price discrepancies between the two nations.

For much of the 1990s, the Canadian dollar languished below 80 cents U.S. and for five years it slid below 70 cents until finally bottoming out at 61.79 (U.S.) in January 2002.

Yet despite the devalued dollar, Canadian car prices did not rise conversely to cover the gap. Instead, auto manufacturers took it on the chin to preserve their market share.

"Let's put it this way: when we had a 62-cent dollar, nobody was complaining about the sudden high cost of automobiles," points out Zvi Richman, owner of First Rate Auto.

Richman suggests manufacturers with billion-dollar plants on both sides of the border adopt a long-term view and can't be sensitive to currency roller coasters.

"There's no underhandedness on the part of car manufacturers; they need stable prices to calm the market," says Richman. "It's a sensible business model."

"Canadian buying power was pummeled in the 1990s and manufacturers were not able to pass along the costs to consumers," adds George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association.

With market forces keeping automobile prices steadfast and the American dollar worth $1.40 (Canadian), Canada gained a reputation in the `90s for having some of the cheapest vehicle prices on the planet - which garnered the attention of American consumers, entrepreneurs and auto dealers.

In 2002 alone nearly 200,000 cars and light trucks were exported from Canada to the United States, up sharply from 16,000 in 1996, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Export volumes had grown so large, the influx of Canadian-spec cars was disrupting the automakers' U.S. distribution system. They adopted a hard line by curtailing warranty programs and attempted to fine Canadian dealers. Buffalo-area Acura dealer Mike Perry remembers those days.

"We would resell brand-new Canadian vehicles as used. The Acura MDX was hot and we couldn't get enough of them, so we went up to Canada to get them," he recalls.

Another Buffalo dealer confirmed this and added that buyers could purchase an aftermarket warranty, since Acura had voided its warranty on Canadian exports.

Now that the Canadian dollar has rocketed almost 30 cents (U.S.) in four years, the tide has turned, and empowered Canadians are looking south of the border for bargains.

"Dealers tell me that manufacturers are saying to them `it's time to recover their losses,'" says Mohamed Bouchama, executive director of consumer group Car Help Canada, explaining why Canadian prices have not fallen as the loonie gains strength.

While some observers say Canadians should suck it up and live with the price disparities, Bouchama believes the government should investigate the situation, which he suggests amounts to "price-gouging."

While it's not illegal to cross-border shop for a new vehicle - this is supposed to be a free-trade environment, after all - some manufacturers have attempted to quash the trend by voiding warranties and threatening dealers with legal action.

"Consumers are held hostage because of the warranty issue," says Bouchama "If they could get a warranty with their new car, I estimate 30 to 40 per cent of Canadians would be shopping in the U.S."

Gehlert explains a Ford bought in the U.S. would maintain its American powertrain warranty coverage of three years/36,000 miles (58,000 in equivalent kilometres), but would not have the benefit of Ford of Canada's five-year powertrain warranty.

But what is unclear is while this applies to vehicles whose owners are vacationing or relocating from one country to another, it may not benefit people who put a transit sticker on their new vehicle and move it across the border within hours of acquiring it.

But as one anonymous Buffalo dealer explained, he has Toronto customers who will think nothing of driving across the border for warranty work when it's needed - which may be manageable if it's a brand with a good reliability record.

The Buffalo-area dealers we sampled ran the gamut from stern refusal to deal with Canadians - one Chevrolet dealer recited a memo from GM stipulating they are not to sell to Canadians - to tacit approval of the practice.

Ever the salesman, Mike Perry at Ray Laks Acura suggests an easy out for all concerned.

"Used cars are permissible to sell to Canadians, and I've got lots of late-model Acuras here I'd love to sell to you at great prices. C'mon down!"

Courtesy of The Toronto Star

Consumer Tips:

How to Avoid Unknowingly Buying a Flood Damaged Vehicle

Good used vehicles are in demand. With careful shopping, some research and a little common sense, you should be able to find a vehicle that will fit your needs.

The recent hurricane season in the U.S. Gulf states has led to many motor vehicles suffering flood damage. By following some simple tips, Ontario consumers can not only protect themselves from unknowingly purchasing a flood damaged used vehicle but also from purchasing any used vehicle they may later regret.

Always ask to view the Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP). In Ontario, a seller must provide a UVIP to a prospective buyer. For a fee of $20, a UVIP can be purchased:

using the Ministry Online Services, at a ServiceOntario Kiosk, or at any one of MTO's private Driver and Vehicle Licence Issuing Offices. Buy from dealers registered with the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC). Vehicles purchased from these dealers are protected by the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund, which is a fund that was established to compensate consumers (up to $15,000) who suffered a financial loss arising from a transaction with a registered dealer.

To find out if your dealer is registered with the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council visit ExtraWeb Consumers* - The OMVIC's online services website. Click on "Search for Dealers".

For additional information on the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund visit Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council*. Click on "Compensation Fund".

* External Links Disclaimer
Always inspect a vehicle in the daylight before you buy it. Kicking the tires isn't enough.

Look for obvious signs of water damage.
These include:

The smell or sight of mould and mildew, water, sand, silt or mud under the carpets or behind the dashboard;
Rust on interior screws where water shouldn't end up.

Don't forget less obvious signs of water damage. These include:

Checking or looking for stains or discolouration of the upholstery;
Lifting up some of the trim and looking for stains, discolouration or rust;
Checking for water, sand, silt or mud in the spare tire compartment, storage areas inside the vehicle as well as in crevices inside the engine compartment;
Looking for unusual rusting among various components in the engine areas.

Take the vehicle to a mechanic or to a diagnostic centre for a check-up before finalizing the purchase.

They may be able to uncover less obvious signs of damage including water damage that may result in electrical systems short circuiting, resulting in safety devices, such as airbags not working.

Test as many components as possible.
Radio, windshield wipers, turn signal, headlights and heating/air conditioning systems to name a few.
Ask to view the service records for the vehicle.
Check carefully for excessive wear.
Interior upholstery, the seats, even the brake and accelerator pedals.
Look closely at the exterior.
Ripples on the body of a vehicle suggest that bodywork has been done and that the vehicle could have recently had bodywork hastily completed.

Take the vehicle for a road test that allows driving at different speeds on different road conditions.

If you are importing a motor vehicle into Canada (regardless of whether it may be from an area affected by flooding or not), be sure to check with the federal Registrar of Imported Vehicles.

This will enable you to become familiar with appropriate rules and procedures that apply. For additional information visit: Registrar of Imported Vehicles

Consider obtaining additional information about vehicle history of a vehicle that may have been registered in other parts of North America.

You may be able to find this information on the Internet.

For information on vehicle branding in Ontario and equivalent brands from other Canadian and US jurisdictions:

See Mandatory Branding Program

See more tips on how to avoid unknowingly buying a flood damaged vehicle.

Buying insurance can be costly when young

Prices vary wildly among companies

Here are some tips for saving money

Learning to drive is a rite of passage; a nerve-tingling, exciting, sometimes frightening experience, especially if you're still at school.

But the worries don't end there. The young driver and his or her parents must also face up to the fact they're going to need auto insurance - and that doesn't come cheap.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce those costly premiums.

First, shop around. While the insurance policy offered by various companies has the exact same wording, their rates can vary enormously. If you are a parent, don't assume that your current insurance company will offer the best rate when it comes to adding your son or daughter to your policy.

The young person should get at least three years' driving experience as an occasional driver on his or her parents' policy. The savings can be enormous, especially when the time comes for that young person to buy a car and get their own auto insurance.

Second, take an approved driving school course, one that is recognized by insurance companies. The cost of a course can vary from about $500 up to $900, but you (or your parents) will recover that money later thanks to reduced insurance premiums.

Complete the Graduated Licensing Program as soon as possible. Insurance companies give small discounts for every year you have been driving. But most won't give you the discount for four years of driving until you've passed your full G driving test. However, they are required to provide a discount (usually 10 per cent) after you receive your G2 licence and again after you receive your full G licence. The discount stays for one year only.

According to Stephanie Lewis, an insurance broker for 18 years who now works for web-based, the biggest number of complaints from new drivers come from those who pass the G2 test and then wait several years before obtaining their full G licence.

"The insurance companies are making a fortune in extra premiums from these people," says Lewis. "Not only that but these drivers are missing out on discounts for driving experience."

A new driver can go from G1 to G2 in eight months if she takes an approved driving course. They then have to wait only one year before taking the full driving test.

Know the restrictions on learner-drivers (changes were made last September). For instance, a driver aged 19 or less who completes the G2 test can only carry one passenger under the age of 19 between midnight and 5 a.m. for the first six months. If the driver has had a G2 licence more than six months, or is over age 20, he or she can carry up to three passengers under age 19.

These restrictions don't apply if there's a full-licensed (G) driver with at least four years' driving experience sitting in the front passenger seat or if the passengers under age 19 are immediate family members.

Drive safe and drive smart. Don't get any tickets for traffic violations and don't cause a collision. Premiums will skyrocket if you do and some insurance companies will actually cancel the policy after two convictions.

Now, let's give some examples of differing insurance premiums, starting with the advantages of approved driver training.

We'll take a 21-year-old male with three years' driving experience behind the wheel of a 1999 Honda Accord DX in Toronto. He has $1 million liability coverage and has $500 deductibles for both collision and comprehensive. The premiums shown in the top chart at right are for him alone (not his parents).

The second chart below it shows how accidents and traffic convictions can affect premiums. The rates are for a young male insuring his own car.

Please note that all the chart rates are for male drivers. A young female can expect to pay premiums that are about 30 per cent less because statistics show they are less likely to be involved in collisions or get tickets.

If you are involved in a collision, make sure you go to the nearest Collision Reporting Centre so that your insurance company is made aware of the circumstances. Failing to report a collision can, once again, lead to problems.

Finally, don't let your driver's licence or insurance lapse, even if you don't intend to drive for a year. Otherwise you may have to start all over again when it comes to building your driving experience credits.

"Screwy" Accident Rulings

When there's an accident and one driver is found to be "At-Fault", many times the other driver is designated to be "Partially At-Fault". These "partially at-fault" designations send many good drivers' insurance rates skyrocketing.

Private Property and Parking Lots: Accidents happening on private property or in parking lots are notorious for triggering the 50/50 rule, leaving both drivers at least partially at-fault. The problem is that a partially at-fault designation has the same impact as being completely at-fault, when your policy is up for renewal. Two partially at-fault accidents within a 6 to 10 year period will cause many insurance companies to cancel your insurance policy.

While there may be justification to increase a driver’s rate after causing 1 or 2 accidents, feels there is little justification for these partially at-fault rulings to affect drivers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We need to speak out about this: At the bottom of this page, we give you an opportunity to do so. But first, allow me to explain how a partially at-fault ruling affected my family, and what I did to get it overturned.

Personal Disaster: Here is the impact that such a ruling had on my mother (Mary) and her husband (Eugene), just two weeks ago. Because I handle their insurance needs, I received a cancellation notice in the mail, first for Eugene's car, then Mary's car.

Eugene had an accident way back in 2000, and has a minor ticket too, but when I called him he didn't know anything about a second accident in 2006 which triggered the cancellation. I called his broker and they confirmed that Eugene had a "partially at-fault" accident in January of this year. That's 2 accidents, 1 ticket. Mary had no tickets or accidents, but because Eugene was named on her policy as the primary driver, she was being cancelled too.

This Could Happen to You

This could happen to any of us. Eugene pulled into the parking lot of his condominium complex, parked his car, and was getting out of it to collect the mail. As he was halfway out of his car, a garbage truck was backing up and didn't see him. The truck hit Eugene's car door. Eugene yelled, the truck stopped, and the driver admitted he was at fault. Eugene told his broker about it, and his insurance company fixed Eugene's car door. BUT they ruled Eugene to be "Partially At-Fault" for the accident.

Partially At-Fault: A "Partially At-Fault" ruling holds as much weight as being "Completely At-Fault" at renewal. As a result, both Eugene and Mary's separate policies were cancelled. Eugene's rate was set to skyrocket from $780 to $4,718, and Mary's from $547 to $2,978. A $6,369 rate hike! Totaling $7,696.

Here's What I Did That Didn't Work

I called Eugene's broker and told them that this wasn't an "accident". Eugene didn't hit anyone. He was getting out of his car and someone backed into him. I was told that "on private parking lots", when there's an accident, the fault is shared 50/50. Too bad, so sad. They didn't even seem to care that I could write about this in the Toronto Star.

Here's What Worked

I got an expert. I found someone in the insurance industry who knows the Insurance Act's "Fault Determination Rules" inside and out. A person far more experienced than perhaps the adjuster, whose life is made easier by ruling an accident as "partially at-fault". My expert said there was a fine line here: If Eugene had opened his car door into the truck that was backing up, he would have been "partially at-fault". But Eugene already had the door open when the truck backed into him, so the "partially at-fault" ruling shouldn't have applied.

Process And The Result: I called the Ombudsman of the insurance company. She directed me to the underwriting manager. I knew I only had one shot at this, so when I called the underwriting manager, I also conferenced in my industry expert. Immediately, the underwriting manager began to explain to me their justification for the "partially at-fault ruling". Then my expert took over and explained the correct application of the rule. Within a couple of minutes, the "partially at-fault" charge was dropped.

WOW: You have to wonder how many other Mary and Eugenes are out there, paying huge insurance rates for “wrecklessly” imposed "partially at-fault" judgments.

If It Happens To You

You Can Fight It: Insurance companies are not heartless, but their rulings are difficult for the average person to navigate. The insurance expert I used only charged me $200 for 3 conversations to solve a $6,369 rate hike.

If you have a problem, in any field, you use a lawyer. In this industry, you need an insurance expert. If your broker or agent can help you, it's free. If they can't, then you have to search for these people. Ask your friends if they know of anyone in the insurance field who could help you. Or call insurance organizations like The Insurance Broker's Association Of Ontario at 416-488-7422 or the Financial Services Commission of Ontario's Ombudsman at 1-800-668-0128, and ask them if they can direct you to an expert in the area in which you need help. You may encounter resistance, but be persistent until you feel you are being dealt with fairly.

We Need to STOP "Partially At-Fault" Rulings

Insurance companies that determine one driver to be "at-fault" and the other driver to be "partially at-fault" cause both drivers' rates to go up. This is a classic case of double dipping. The distinction should simply be: "Which driver was "mostly at-fault?" And that's the driver whose rate should go up.

The Fault Determination Rules in the Insurance Act need to be changed, but I can guarantee that neither the insurance industry nor government will act unless they begin to hear from drivers about how unfair this ruling is.

Please Speak Out

If you feel that the "partially at-fault" ruling is unfair, here's where you get to say it. Do you feel that you have ever been unfairly treated by the "Partially At-Fault" ruling?
I will take your comments to the government, to be tabled at their next legislative meeting.

Lee Romanov, (used with permission)


On March 31, amendments to the Highway Traffic Act under Bill 169, the Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005, will take effect, including doubling fines for speeding in construction zones and creating a new offence for disobeying a traffic control person with a three-demerit point penalty. Fines and ranges generally are also changing across the board.

As such, the fines for being one to 19 kilometres an hour over the posted limit in a construction zone are double the going rate at $6 per kilometre, and for 20 km/h to 30 km/h are $9 per kilometre and a whopping $14 per kilometre for up to 49 km/h over the limit. For those caught doing 50 km/h over the posted limit in a zone, it's a wallet- crushing $19.50 per klick.

Those are the maximums; motorists who plead guilty without going to court can escape with slightly reduced penalities.

A $5 court fee and the Victims of Crime surcharge are always extra, the latter increasing with the fine while demerit points also apply.

The hidden zinger is the creation of a new middle speeding bracket to 20 km/h to 29 km/h from the original 20 km/h to 34 km/h over the limit. Now, getting nabbed between 30 km/h and 34 km/h will cost $7 per kilometre instead of the $3.75 per klick it used to cost because it's been lumped into the new bracket of 30 km/h to 49 km/h. And, of course, the fine is doubled in a construction zone.

There will no media blitz to support the changes since the Ministry of Transportation says it announced the pending changes last year. Pleading ignorance in these cases is no defence, as Val Montgomery of Alberta discovered last New Year's Eve.

Travelling from Canmore to Calgary, she passed an RCMP cruiser that had stopped another vehicle and had its lights flashing. While her speed of 106 km/h was under the speed limit, she'd unwittingly violated a new law that demands drivers slow to 60 km/h when travelling through a construction zone or passing emergency vehicles - police, fire, ambulance and tow trucks - when their lights are flashing.

Despite protestations, she'd never heard of the law, she was handed a $632 ticket.

Sgt. Woolley says police have little discretion. "We can drop it down perhaps to save points but if they have a hard luck story, the best course is to take it to court because the justices of the peace have more discretion with the fines."

CAA's Barnier says in some cases photo radar can be a useful tool when used properly.

"If there are signs notifying motorists they are in a photo zone and that it's treated not as a revenue generator, then we would support it," said Barnier.

"The most effective way to stop speeding is with a police presence. However, we support the doubling of fines in construction zones and we welcome working with ORBA to make those zones safer." (Toronto Star)

A Gap In Your Insurance

Many drivers have been forced to pay higher insurance rates "unnecessarily" because of a so-called "GAP" in their insurance history.

I've Heard

I've heard of drivers paying higher rates because of a gap in their insurance history, but the reasons given are scandalous.

Some of the reasons I've heard are:

1) The driver temporarily moved out of Canada, creating a "gap" of insurance, and when they moved back, they were rated as a "new" driver.

2) Other drivers got a rate increase because they canceled their auto policy when they decided to take the subway to work, causing a gap. They suffered higher rates when they decided to resume their car insurance.

3) Drivers who had a gap because they didn't own a vehicle for a while, also had their rates increase.

None of these are valid reasons for having your insurance rate increase because of a gap in your history.

Only 4 Ways A "Gap" Can Cause A Rate Increase

Definition of an "insurance gap": Most insurance companies define a gap as being without insurance for more than three months.

There are ONLY 4 situations in which an insurance company can increase your rate due to a gap in insurance history:

1) You had your driver's licence suspended as a result of an offence involving the operation of an automobile.

2) You had a car accident or traffic conviction which would have resulted in a rate increase. To avoid the increase, you did not inform your insurance company of the accident or conviction, so you were cancelled.

3) The gap was a result of an insurance company canceling your policy for non-payment of premium.

4) While driving without insurance during the gap, you were convicted of doing so.

Fight It

If you're paying a higher rate because of a "Gap" in your insurance history and the reason you've been given is "NOT" one of the 4 ways that a gap can cause your insurance rate to increase, go back to your insurance rep and get him to adjust your premium back to a lower rate.

If your insurance rep will not decrease your rate, ask them to put "in writing" the reason you're being penalized with a higher rate because of this "gap" in your insurance. Then take this letter, along with a copy of this Romanov Report, to the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), or the governing body of the insurance industry in your province. They will act to to resolve this for you. If that fails, contact me through the "Contact Us" section of

Protecting Yourself

If you cancel your insurance policy, or get cancelled, ask a friend, co-worker or relative to list you as a driver on their policy. This may cost them some extra money, so be prepared to pay them for it. But it's really worth it in the end. This way, you have "continuous" insurance and will not be penalized for a gap.

Look at this rate example when you compare a driver with a suspension or cancellation, who did "NOT" keep continuous insurance, to the driver who "DID" keep a continuous insurance history:

Gap of Insurance Rate Comparison

This comparison shows the lowest rate found from 30 top Canadian insurance companies, for a Toronto driver.

Insurance Rate

Driver who did "NOT" keep continuous insurance, creating a "GAP" $4,727 Driver who "DID" keep continuous insurance (NO GAP) $1,613

BEWARE: An interruption in your "Driver's Licence" ALWAYS affects your rate. A lengthy interruption could cause the Ministry of Transportation to require you to go through the Graduated Licensing Program, forcing you into higher rates as you lose your driver licence history and start over as a new driver.

(Thanks to Lee Romanov and

To Swerve or Not to Swerve

I heard of a guy who hit a deer and instead of leaving it on the side of the road, put it in the back seat of his car to take home so he could enjoy some venison. Well, the deer wasn't dead, and when it woke up it was kicking mad. Next came a frantic 911 call from the driver. I wonder how he explained to the insurance company how the inside of his car got destroyed with out looking like a complete psycho.

A collision with an animal is covered, subject to your deductible, if you purchased comprehensive coverage. But, does that also cover the animal waking up inside your car and destroying it?

If you hit an animal, whether it's a deer or a dog, and put it in your car to take to the vet, will your insurance company cover the cost of cleaning blood off your car's interior, your clothes or other damages? The answer is "yes" this is covered.

For a collision with an animal to be covered, the accident must take place on a highway or road as defined by the Highway Traffic Act. The claim is covered in the section of your policy called "Comprehensive Coverage" and is subject to a deductible. It does not count as an "at-fault" accident and will not affect your insurance rate.

If, however, you swerve and miss the animal, but collide with the ditch or another vehicle, the damage is covered if you purchased collision coverage, and the accident will be considered your fault. The claim will then impact on your insurance.

Even if a kid runs out in front of your car and you swerve to miss the child and hit something else, the insurance company considers you to be at-fault because they have adopted the position that you should be in care and control of your car at all times.

The insurance companies have adopted this position because there have been so many people who have said that something has run out in front of them and caused them to have an accident.

(courtesy of

No-Fault Insurance and Accident Forgiveness

No-fault insurance is an oxymoron. Fault is determined in every accident, using the Fault Determination Guide as set out in the Insurance Act. To view the Fault Determination Rules, click below:

No-fault insurance actually means that if you get in to an accident, regardless whether or not it's "Your Fault", your own insurance pays for the damage to your vehicle and for your injuries. No-fault insurance was created to increase consumer satisfaction with claims handling, as you only have to deal with your own insurance company, not somebody else's company when paying for your damages.

Accident Forgiveness
(Can not be bought - it can be applied if the insurance company wishes to use it)

Absolute forgiveness - no increase whatever in premiums after an at-fault claim - is available to the best drivers from some companies at no additional cost.

But most companies will increase premiums after the first at-fault claim in five or more years. Most insurers which offer accident forgiveness make their clients do penance. They drop the policyholder to a lower claims-free or star rating, which will result in an increase in premiums for several years. The increase is simply less than drivers would suffer if their
insurers demoted them to a zero star or zero claims-free rating.Some will raise premiums by more than 50 per cent.

Further claims, or a combination of claims and convictions for driving infractions, could result in the insurer refusing to renew your policy.

Convictions for driving infractions can affect a policyholder's right to what insurers call accident forgiveness, as well as the ability to buy the optional claims protection feature.

"Good drivers" should get a break and not be saddled with large premium increases after a small claim. Always check to make sure you are getting the best rate out there by going to

Claims Protection
(It can be bought - it's also called Premium Protection or Accident Waiver )

Most insurers will sell drivers claims or premium protection. The majority of drivers would qualify to buy it, but many have not bothered. This protection would allow you to maintain your "good standing" with your insurance company after an at-fault accident. The cost is usually around $35 to $50 dollars, which is like "buying insurance for your insurance."

This means your renewal after an at-fault accident will show the same star rating and there will not be an increase in premium, as a result of the claim.

The claims protection is usually removed immediately after the claim and a second accident would not have this protection. Further claims, or a combination of claims and convictions for driving infractions, could result in the insurer refusing to renew the policy. In some cases, claims protection will entitle the policyholder to an extra at-fault claim before
the insurer will refuse to renew the policy. This protection could disappear, however, if the policyholder reported an at-fault loss even if he or she paid for the damages personally.

Here's which Insurance Companies offer Accident Forgiveness and Claims Protection

There is NO clear delineation of what an insurer can and cannot do to you with regards to Accident Forgiveness or Claims Protection. "A uniform standard of forgiveness would undermine the stated goal; to foster a more competitive market" reports the Finance Minister Greg Sorbara. Personally, I don't agree with the Finance Minister on this one, says Lee Romanov.

Here is the most comprehensive chart available indicating which insurance companies offer Accident Forgiveness or Claims Protection and their conditions:

( Courtesy of Lee Romanov,


Impaired driving convictions appear on your driver abstract, affecting your driving record and insurance rates.A 90-day licence suspension is automatic, then your licence is returned to you until your court date, often four to six months or more from that day.If you're convicted, there is a minimum one-year licence suspension.The conviction of a Criminal Code offence and licence suspension, and the fact that the latter is alcohol-related, appear on your driver abstract for three years.If an accident occurred, it would stay on your claims history for six years.The licence suspension will affect your insurance rate for six years.

Courtesy of Lee Romanov--Lee Romanov is the founder of

Safety Alert for Canadians: Hood Opening Due to Safety Latch Corrosion

Transport Canada has received numerous complaints regarding hoods that suddenly open while vehicles are in motion. When this happens the driver's view is partially or completely obstructed by the hood and an accident could occur.

Here are some facts:

All vehicles are equipped with a primary hood latch system and with a secondary latch, known as the safety latch.

In most of the opening hood complaints Transport Canada investigated, the safety latch stuck open due to corrosion, rendering the latch inoperative.

Vehicle manufacturers recommend the lubrication of both the primary and the safety latches. Consult the maintenance procedures in your owner's manual for more details.

The corrosive condition of our Canadian winters, combined with a lack of proper lubrication, contribute to latch failures. Many manufacturers acknowledged the importance of the situation and issued recalls on certain models to address the problem.

Our recommendation:

Check the operation of the safety latch mechanism every rime the hood is opened and lubricate it at least every 6 months.

For further information, contact:

Public Complaints,
Recalls and Investigations,
Road Safety,

1 (800)-333-0510 toll free in Canada, or in Ottawa region (613) 993-9851


Vehicle writeoffs return to haunt

By Maryanna Lewyckyj

When an insurer decides to write off a badly damaged vehicle, you might think it would go directly to the scrapyard.

But insurers write off about 200,000 vehicles in Canada each year -- 90,000 in Ontario -- and one of them, or its clone, just might end up in your driveway.

In recent weeks, I've heard from three people who unwittingly bought vehicles that turned out to be insurance writeoffs.

Two of the motorists bought from dealers, while the third bought his vehicle privately. All three purchases involved sport utility vehicles.

Unfortunately these cases aren't isolated flukes.

Lax controls in recent years have made Ontario a dumping ground for rebuilt writeoffs and stolen vehicles disguised with the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) of out-of-province wrecks.

Over the years, I've detailed the following horror stories:

* In 1998, Phyllis Lamont paid a private seller $22,500 for a 1996 Ford Explorer. Nine days later, police seized the Explorer, which was a stolen vehicle masked with a false VIN. Lamont was stuck with a loan for a vehicle she didn't own and no recourse other than costly court action.

* In 1997, Sherry Gonsalves bought a 1996 Neon costing $11,700 from a Toronto-area dealership. She later found out it was a writeoff and the dealer agreed to take the Neon back. However, when I called the dealer posing as a customer and asked about the same car, I was assured it had no damage.

* In 1997 and 1998, Toronto Police identified 1,100 re-vinned vehicles.

* In 1999, provincial transport officials discovered 50,000 vehicles with the same number were registered in more than one province. Some numbers were cloned four or five times.

Although Ontario launched a mandatory branding program to red-flag wrecks on March 31, 2003, the province is already a minefield of hidden writeoffs and thefts with "twin VINs."

Because Ontario was late to introduce mandatory branding (B.C. and Quebec have had strict rules for years), shady sellers knew vehicles that would be red-flagged in other provinces could be easily registered as "clean" in Ontario.


For example, a seller in Quebec could rebuild a writeoff, bring it into Ontario, and register it here with no structural checks and no disclosure of the Quebec history.

Although a voluntary branding program has existed in Ontario since 1998, violators faced no penalties. That changed on March 31, with new fines of up to $20,000.

"The program Ontario now has is far tougher than any other province," said John Norris, executive director of the Collision Industry Action Group, a trade group of bodyshops.

If a vehicle has been branded in another province, that brand will carry into Ontario when the owner goes to register it.

A vehicle with a "rebuilt" brand must undergo a structural inspection in Ontario before it can be put on the road. However, the rules aren't retroactive, so motorists are still at risk of unwittingly buying a bum vehicle.

"Ontario's branding program is an important step forward, but I want to caution consumers not to rely on it exclusively," says Laura Gordon of the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, the province's dealer watchdog.

If the seller says a vehicle hasn't been in an accident, the buyer should get that assurance in writing on the invoice. Vehicles with major damage may still not fit writeoff rules.

Even with a written promise, the buyer should have the vehicle checked for mechanical and structural soundness. A vehicle can pass a safety standards certificate check and still have major problems not covered by the certification.

Gordon also advises buyers to obtain Ontario's Used Vehicle Information Package before any sale, including a dealer sale.

Buyers can use the UVIP to try to contact as many previous owners as possible and ask whether the vehicle had been involved in any collisions or has had major problems.

Contrary to popular opinion, the typical consumer can't always spot a rebuilt car a block away. The whole goal of the collision industry is to make vehicles look as good -- or better -- than they did before a crash.

But looks can deceive. A sub-standard rebuild may not track properly, causing handling problems and premature tire wear, or it may not provide optimal crash protection.

"It could be a deathtrap on wheels," Norris said. "You won't know until you have an accident, and by then it's too late."

BASF Offers Top Tips to Help Keep Your Car Finish Looking Better

At its Coatings Research Center, BASF recreates extreme conditions in order to test, and ultimately improve, how your vehicle's paint withstands the tests of time. Paint panels endure endless baths of corrosives, temperature fluctuations ranging from 22 degrees below zero to 194 degrees Fahrenheit, and a barrage of pebble-like missiles to test chip resistance.
"We use the laboratory to recreate and to accelerate the extreme conditions that vehicles can experience. We can simulate several years of adverse environmental conditions in a matter of weeks. By doing this, we develop improvements more quickly," said Joseph P. Gdowski, Global Technical Director, Coatings, BASF Corporation. BASF is a leading chemical company whose products include coatings for new cars and for body shops.

Gdowski noted that undercoatings, paints and clearcoats all have been dramatically enhanced in recent years. These enhancements have very nearly made rust a thing of the past. But keeping your car's finish looking like it just pulled off the lot can still be helped by basic maintenance.

The clearcoats that constitute the top coat of a car's finish are somewhat like the plastic lenses in glasses. While clearcoats have been significantly enhanced over the years, they can still be scratched and the polymer film that makes up the clearcoat can be damaged by bird droppings, tree sap and acid rain, for example.

Here are BASF's top tips to keep your vehicle's finish looking like new.

- If location, location, location is the mantra of real estate, then wash it, wash it, wash it is the mantra of keeping paint looking new longer.
- Do not wipe a dirty or dusty car with a dry rag, and don't wash the car with a stiff bristle brush. Hand washing is best. Brushless car washes are good too. Even traditional car washes with brushes are preferable to not washing.

- No matter which method you choose, wipe off all water spots with a soft cloth or chamois after washing your car.
- Do not park under trees in order to avoid tree sap and bird droppings.
- Avoid driving on gravel roads whenever possible. Also be careful about following other cars or trucks too closely. It's not only a safety hazard, but small stones could chip your paint.
- Avoid scraping ice or snow from painted surfaces; remove snow with a soft brush designed for that purpose.
- Immediately wipe off spills of antifreeze, washer fluid or gasoline.

Behind The Scenes At The Collision Repair Shop

If your vehicle has ever been damaged in a collision, you no doubt had someone say that outdated cliché: Your car will never be the same.

Chances are, it wasn't your insurance company representative or an employee of a collision repair shop who said it. That is because every day they see collision-damaged vehicles returned to pre-accident condition - both structurally and cosmetically.

So what does it take to repair your vehicle properly after an accident? It's not an easy process because of today's complex vehicles and high-quality paint finishes.

Here are the steps your vehicle goes through after you leave it at the collision repair shop.

First, the shop prepares a detailed estimate or work order, indicating all of the repairs that are needed. In some cases, this requires removing some of the damaged body panels or other parts to accurately assess all the damage.

The next step is to order the parts listed on the initial estimate or work order. (Additional parts may need to be ordered during the repair process if unforeseen damage is found.) The shop and insurer involved should explain what types of parts will be used: new parts ordered from the manufacturer of your vehicle, used parts ordered through an automotive recycler, or new parts manufactured by a company other than the manufacturer of your vehicle. The shop and insurer can explain the pros and cons of using each type of part.

If your vehicle was hit hard in the accident, the repair shop will likely use a measuring system that checks various points or your vehicles structure against a measured drawing or "blueprint" of your vehicle. A hydraulic pulling system can be used to bring all the vehicles measuring points back to where they should be. The shop may measure your vehicle several times during the repair process to make sure it is within the recommended tolerances of just a few millimeters.

Severely damaged parts are replaced; others can be repaired. A trained technician can repair sheet metal and plastic parts so that it can be difficult if not impossible to tell they were once damaged.

The vehicle is then ready to move into the shop's paint department. Here the areas that are going to be refinished are prepared; repaired areas are finely sanded, primer and corrosion protection products are applied, and areas that won't be refinished are "masked off" and protected.

Then the painter uses a paint mixing system to match your vehicles finish. A paint code on your vehicle provides the starting point, but it generally requires a trained painter's eye to tint the paint for the ideal match. The paint is sprayed on inside a paint booth designed to keep dust and other contaminants off the new finish. The booth can then be heated to dry or "bake" the new finish according to the paint manufacturer's drying recommendations.

Once refinish work is completed, the vehicle is reassembled including all trim pieces, decals or stripes. Any new glass that is needed is usually installed at this point.

If the damage is severe, or if the vehicle was spun or hit in a tire or wheel in the accident, the vehicle's wheel alignment will be checked. This helps catch any potential problems with the vehicles steering or suspension parts, and ensures that all four wheels are aligned properly as the vehicle moves down the road.

Finally, the vehicle moves to the shop's detailing department for a thorough cleaning inside and out. Any minor imperfections in the new paint surface can be removed by polishing and buffing. A final check is made to ensure all work meets the shop's standards, the final paperwork is prepared for the vehicle-owner and any insurer involved, and the vehicle is ready to go.

Throughout this process, the shop often will be in contact with the insurance company, if one is paying for the repairs. The insurer may want to review the shop's estimate and look at the vehicle before or during the repair process. In some cases, the shop may have to wait for an insurer inspection or approval before completing additional repairs that are needed but weren't included on the initial estimate.

How do you find a shop that knows how to make sure all these steps are followed when your vehicle comes in for repairs? Insurers and shop owners alike say the key is looking for evidence that the shop's technicians have been properly trained. One sign to look for is the I-CAR Gold Class Professionals® designation. This designation signifies the business has completed a significant amount of I-CAR® training. I-CAR provides the industry's most comprehensive collision repair training, covering virtually every aspect of the repair and repainting process, from accurately assessing needed repairs, to detailing the vehicle after repair work is completed. I-CAR established the Gold Class designation to help consumers identify shops that have invested in proper training.

For the location of an I-CAR Gold Class shop near you, call 1-800-ICAR-USA or call 1-800-565-4227 in Canada.

Motorists' Rights
It's your Car- It's your choice!

Choosing a Collision and Refinish Center

As the owner of a motor vehicle damaged in an accident, you have the right to choose the shop where you wish to have your vehicle repaired. This is the Law!

Do I Need More Than One Estimate?

No. Do not waste your time or that of several shops receiving estimates. Select a repair facility that you feel comfortable with, then notify your agent or insurance company, or ask the shop to make the call on your behalf.

Your insurer, or adjuster may have to inspect file damage. This can be done at an insurance drive-in claim center or at the shop you have chosen.

Notify Your Insurance Company

Before authorizing any repairs notify your insurance company or agent, and tell them where the damaged vehicle can be inspected.

Is the Work Guaranteed?

Most collision and repair centers guarantee their collision work to some degree, which may not include the paint job. Ask to see a copy of the shop's guarantee and have any information you do not understand clarified.

Qualified Collision and Refinish Centers

Look for signs that indicate repair technician training and certification. Membership in professional trade associations and the Better Business Bureau indicate the shop is keeping up with the latest repair procedures.

Know Your Shop

Make sure the shop you choose:
-Maintains a reliable, professional reputation.
-Is properly equipped and organized to meet today’s more technical repairing needs.
-Maintains specialized equipment and systems at peak performance.
-Have technicians that are thoroughly trained and certified. Shop cleanliness can say a lot about the technicians' attitudes, so can friendliness and atmosphere. If you feel comfortable with the shop and it's people, chances are you'll be satisfied with their work.

Inspect the repairs

Before driving away:
-Check the appearance of the repaired area - close-up and from a distance.
-Examine the paint for color match, texture and overspray.
-Take a test-drive to check mechanical repairs.
-Check that the vehicle is clean.
-If you are not satisfied, mention your concerns immediately.

Dear Potential Customer -If you would like us to repair your car please say so. We would be glad to call your agent or broker on your behalf.