John Spevak:

July 18, 2014 

In previous columns, I told the story of my car leaking coolant in an out-of-town parking lot, then getting one of its windows smashed by a thief, and then leaking oil after it was towed back to Los Banos.

Today I’m going to talk about my challenges in submitting insurance claims for these mishaps. I am writing these columns as a public service, hoping my readers can benefit somehow from my bizarre experiences.

In the 40 years I’ve been a customer of my auto insurance company, I’ve had good experiences when filing claims. However, my claim submission this time would be different because my company had just installed new software and a new customer response system.

In my initial call to the appropriate number, a claims representative (let’s call her Mary; I’m using alternate names throughout this story) gave me two claim numbers – one for the single-car auto accident that damaged my cooling system and oil pan, another for the window smashed by a grab-and-go thief. Then she told me told someone would call me back.

About 36 hours later, I received a call from Ed, who said he was working on my window repair (he told me he was not assigned to engine repair, however). We agreed on a pre-approved mobile glass shop. All I had to do was call the shop and someone would come out to the Los Banos repair place (where the car was awaiting oil pain and cooling system repairs) and replace the window.

I called the glass shop and talked with the owner, Mark, who said, “Sure, we’d be glad to do this. Just have the company send me a claim form.”

I called the insurance’s 800 number. This time I talked with Shelley. (Each time I called I talked with a different person. That’s the way the new customer response system works.) “Shelley, Mark in the glass shop needs a claim form faxed to him.”

“I don’t know what Mark’s talking about,” she said. “We don’t use claim forms. I’ll call the shop and talk with Mark.”

I asked Shelley about the repairs on the other claim. She checked. “Oh, yeah, I see it on my computer, but that’s another department. Call this other 800 number and ask for team 109.”

The next day I called team 109 on my engine repair claim. This time it was Brenda, who read on her computer that the insurance company would need to send an estimator to the repair shop, since it was not a pre-authorized shop.

I didn’t hear from anyone for a while, so I called back the 800 number, punched in my team number and talked with Jenny. She checked and said, “My computer is telling me we can’t send out an estimator. You live in a rural area, where our estimators don’t go. I’ll call your repair man.”

At the end of the day I called my repair shop, where my mechanic told me that Jenny from the insurance company called and asked him to take photos of the damage, fill out a bunch of forms, upload them on a computer and send them to her. My mechanic said that sounded more like an estimator’s job. Jenny hung up on him.

I decided to call Jack, my local insurance agent. “Doggone that new system,” Sybil in the office said. “I’ll send Jack to take the photos.”

The next day, I called the repair shop. Jack had come to the shop and taken the photos. But later that day, my mechanic said an estimator from the insurance company showed up anyway.

I called the 800 number the next day and talked with Martha. Martha connected me to Edna. After a long discussion with her, Edna finally approved the claim.

Eventually the mobile glass shop repaired the window and my mechanic completed the other repairs. After a $200 deductible was subtracted, I received a check in the mail for $403.

I talked with my local agent after all this was over. He was going to contact the national office personally and suggest the company get a different claims system and go back to the old way of serving customers personally and promptly.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, a California Newspaper Publishers Association Blue Ribbon Finalist for 2013, are encouraged, and can be sent to

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