Published January 24, 2019 in Warp & Woof
How Painful Can a 5-mile-per-hour Collision Be?
Wrestling with GEICO and Koons Body Shop
This is a No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (NGDGU) story. One sunny, thoroughly pleasant, Sunday afternoon in October, near the end of the fall election campaign, I was eager to get my Arlington Dems canvassing commitments behind me. I had signed up for a three-hour shift that afternoon, showed up at the staging home, collected my turf map, clipboard, pen, and (I thought) my handout materials. It was the same routine I had followed the day before, from the same home base. I checked Google Maps for directions to the turf neighborhood, threw everything in my car, and headed out.
Reaching the neighborhood, not unfamiliar to me in North Arlington, I found a parking space on the street.
As I collected my clipboard, turf map, and began to walk toward the first door on my map, I realized that I FORGOT the handouts! I would have nothing to leave at most of the houses (canvassing always seems to find the bulk of voters not home, or just refusing to answer their door). I knew going back would delay my mission. But, after evaluating how long I thought it would take to cover the turf, I decided to do it anyway to collect my packet of handouts.
That was my fatal error. The delay was long enough for me to feel rushed, and embarrassed, when I retraced my route back to the base. Also, it used up battery range on my Chevy Volt EV, something which inexplicably still causes me anxiety (it shouldn’t, as the Volt has an “auxiliary” gasoline engine which extends range to 200+ miles). In any case, I impatiently set out again for the turf neighborhood following a slightly different route. The sun was getting lower now. It was the 4-way stop at Little Falls Road and Harrison Street that got me.
I was southbound on Harrison. I stopped, let the car to my right, heading northeast on Little Falls, proceed through the intersection. There was a second vehicle behind that one, a late model Toyota Highlander (bigger than me). Its driver had the bright sunlight obscuring her view to her left (me). Virginia rules of the road, which I have always followed, allow for only one car at a stop sign at a time. If vehicles are queued up at the sign, they must advance only to the sign, not proceed into the intersection without stopping. The Highlander behaved as if it were in tow behind the first car and didn’t stop. But I had proceeded into the intersection after that first car. Collision resulted: Highlander front bumper connected to Volt front passenger door and right front wheel well.
Speeds probably didn’t exceed five miles per hour. There were no injuries, no air bags deployed. But, lots of damage to little Volt, very little to big Highlander!
As we moved out of the intersection, we became aware that a witness had also kindly stopped to assist. This was good for me, not so good for the other driver. As I tried to reach somebody at GEICO, the witness (an attorney with the firm of a family friend) said he “saw it all” and called the police. But they would not send a car. I needed a tow, the Highlander did not.
We were all very polite. I made sure the other driver was all right. Her husband then arrived. After we exchanged information, including a business card from the witness, they all drove away. I called my wife, then waited for my tow.
GEICO has a desk at Koons Body Shop in Falls Church, within easy walking distance of my house. But it was a Sunday afternoon. So, I rode along, filled out a form, sealed it with my keys in an envelope, dropped it in the after-hours slot. I collected my canvassing materials, walked home, then took them all back to the base in our other car – no canvassing from me that bright October Sunday!
Next day I was contacted by Koons and my GEICO insurance adjuster. By Tuesday, I walked back to Koons, picked up my estimate — $9000 (Yipes!). I had a $500 deductible, and the adjuster initially indicated a shared liability, meaning I would be out the $500. GEICO allows me $900 for car rental while my vehicle is being repaired. The adjuster did some math in his head estimating how many days that would last. Seemed like I had plenty of time, he thought. He was wrong.
The next serious miscalculation was caused by my own vulnerability in this stressful situation. The Enterprise rental agent managed to sell me a $20/day insurance policy for the rental car. After my experience of the last two days, I felt I couldn’t say no – despite her assurances that the decision was mine, entirely optional. Also, my GEICO adjuster failed to calculate fees and taxes added onto the per day Enterprise rental (which he also underestimated). That $900 allowance would only last a month. I didn’t see my Volt again for seven weeks.
Costs were mounting fast. The first break in my favor came when I insisted that GEICO contact my witness – they had not done so previously. This resulted in the liability adjuster (the other driver was also insured by GEICO) declaring the liability to be entirely on the other driver. Victory! Now, the $500 deductible, at least, would be against her policy. Witnesses are good.
I was left to struggle with Koons Body Shop. Why was it taking so long? Well, they said, the parts had to be shipped piecemeal. Many front suspension components were needed. This took time. But my $900 rental allowance would be running out soon, not to mention the daily rate insurance that I was paying.
All the parts were received and installed, including a new battery for the electric drive. But then the system had to be fully charged (it doesn’t come that way, apparently). This led to another delay when Koons couldn’t seem to charge it. They towed it to Koons Chevrolet at Tysons Corner, where a certified Volt technician could give it a try. But I knew from previous service experience there, the circuit-riding Volt technician is only at their dealer two days per week. When he arrived, he was able to charge the vehicle. Koons Chevy then towed the still unassembled, still unpainted car back to the Body Shop in Falls Church. When I complained about the delays, that I was now paying a daily rate for my Enterprise Ford Fusion Hybrid (economical, yes – but not zero gas like my Volt), Koons offered me a “loaner” (technically another rental, but free). I accepted.
All this time, I had been unable to speak with the Koons estimator who failed to return any of the phone messages I left her. She was “very busy” said her manager, and updates on the status of my car were not forthcoming.
While waiting for completion of all the work on my Volt, I will admit to enjoying that loaner. The Ford Escape with the optional “big” EcoBoost engine was a blast to drive! Of course, the penalty for that fun driving was reduced fuel efficiency compared to the Fusion, but it was just temporary.
One day, returning from an errand on Lee Highway, I was felled by one of those “traffic calming” protruding curbs. Both left tires destroyed! Perhaps this wouldn’t have happened on a car I was more familiar with. It happened to me driving a loaner. I had long suspected that someday I would be caught by those fiendish safety features Arlington traffic engineers were installing around the county.
I called AAA for a tow to the AAA Service Center not more than a block-and-a-half from Koons Body Shop. They accommodated me with the cheapest tires that would fit, no alignment. I was still out $380. I read the fine print of my “rental” contract only after the tires were already installed. It said I was supposed to return the car to Koons after any such incident – they wanted the money for repairs!
In the end, there was no additional cost to me for violating the terms of my contract. I believe I had extracted enough contrition and apology from the Koons Body Shop manager that he felt he couldn’t lean on me. So, after seven weeks, I finally reclaimed my beloved Chevy Volt. It appeared none the worse for wear. I was out only about $1100 for an accident that was not my fault, but which would have been truly catastrophic without the insurance coverage.
The whole experience did enlighten me about new car choices when I start shopping again later this year. I learned that bigger cars crush smaller cars in collisions. I learned that fun-to-drive dynamics may come with a penalty in fuel economy. But despite the greater fuel efficiency of that rental Ford Fusion Hybrid, and its safety advantage, I’m not too thrilled by big cars. Give me small and maneuverable over hulking tank or limo, any day.
These things I’ve learned. But, venturing out by car to do good works. That remains sacred.