Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a BMW S1000XR, Honda Grom and a 1999 Kawasaki ZX-6R. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, a KTM 1050 Adventure, Yamaha MT-10, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

 

 

Legally, we all need to have insurance for our motorcycles if they’re ridden on the road (and that includes byways / green lanes), but we hope to never have to make a claim. If you are involved in an accident – whether there’s another person involved or not – there’s a good chance you might need to find out just how good the service that you’re paying for is.

Motorcycle insurance is typically bought through a broker – the best will have access to the largest range of underwriters, which from a customer’s point of view means you’ll be most likely to get the cover you need; one underwriter might specialise in custom bikes, while another might give great rates for multi-bike policies.

If it comes to making a claim, the damage to your bike will be assessed, then repaired or written off, depending on how bad it is. We spoke to 4th Dimension, one of Europe’s leading motorcycle repair and claims handling specialists, to answer some of the most common questions…

 

What happens when I call my insurer to make a claim?

All insurers will encourage you to report an incident as promptly as possible, even if you aren’t sure whether you wish to claim. They will make a recommendation of a preferred repairer for you to use, and you can choose to have your bike repaired wherever like, but it’s well worth considering how experienced a repairer is with dealing with insurance companies and potentially complex accident damage – do they have the facility to fully assess all of the potential problems?

Using the insurers’ approved repairer can speed up the claim process and also gives you the comfort of their support and a means of recourse should anything not go according to plan.

 

What does it mean for a bike to be ‘written off’?

Wherever you decide to have your damage estimate produced, the insurance company will then have an independent engineer look at the damage. It’s important that this person understands motorcycles, as a car requires very different repairs; from paint finishes to structural safety.

Based on the market value of your bike, the underwriter will have set a proportion of the value to determine if a repair is worthwhile, or if the bike should be ‘written off’. In this case, the owner is given money up to the market value, and the machine is sold for salvage.

If any vehicle – motorcycle or car – is written off, it’s given a category. Until October 2017, this was from A down to D…

 

Category A

Vehicle must not go back on the road, and all parts must be destroyed

Category B

Vehicle must not go back on the road, but serviceable parts can be salvaged

Category C

Vehicle deemed a total loss by insurer; it could be repaired, but the costs including VAT would exceed the vehicles pre-accident value (PAV)

Category D

Vehicle deemed a total loss by insurer, though it could be repaired, and the costs including VAT would NOT exceed the vehicles pre-accident value (PAV)

 

Category C and D motorcycles are often seen for sale – the level of damage they’ve suffered will depend on the market value of the bike when the accident happened. A 15-year-old machine that was written off with category C damage could, for instance, have very minor scrapes compared to a newer bike (of higher value) that might have more serious issues yet only be deemed a category D.

In a bid to make buying salvaged cars more safe, the Association of British Insurers has dropped categories C and D, replacing them with S and N for ‘Structural’ and ‘Non Structural’ damage. A car written off as category S could have a twisted chassis or a collapsed crumple zone, whereas one in category N might have been written off by the insurer for cosmetic damage, or problems with the electrics. However, there could still be issues with the steering or brakes for example, so it should not be considered as safe to drive.

On motorcycles however, there is no category S. If an assessor writes a bike off due to damage to the ‘steering assembly’, the ‘swingarm assembly’, structural damage to the frame, tampering with the VIN/engine number or irreparable engine damage, it will be deemed an A or a B, and will never be seen back on the road.

On the one hand, this means it should restrict the sale of some potentially dangerous salvaged bikes, but on the other, an assessor who doesn’t understand bikes might make a very different call on what they deem to be structural damage, seeing machines taken away from their owners when they could have been repaired.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

The assessment team at 4th Dimension have many years of experience in every brand of motorcycle

 

Bikes get written off for things like a scratch on the frame, don’t they?

Yes, but only if the repairer doesn’t, for instance, have the capability to carry out a cosmetic repair, or when the damage is poorly assessed by the inspecting engineer. But it doesn’t have to be like this – underwriters are not pushing to have bikes written off, and this is where an experienced assessor can make the difference between your bike being scrapped, and it being returned to you.

It is the case that some companies looking to repair a motorcycle only consider new replacement parts, whereas – with consultation with the customer – 4th Dimension for example has specialist repair methods that can be used in order to stop a bike being written off, for instance where the customer is very keen to save it.

 

Can I opt to have my bike written off?

No – if accident damage can be repaired within budget, it will be, but corners will not be cut to make this happen. Where a repair cost is close to the boundary of being written off, 4th Dimension points out that it would consult with the customer, with a view to using its unique and specialist repair methods to save the machine being scrapped.

 

When are parts on a crashed bike replaced, and when are they repaired?

Any insurance is in place to put you in the position you were in before the vehicle was damaged, be that with the motorcycle in the condition it was, or with you being in the same financial position.

Insurance companies pay out a typical market value, ie the price that bike would be for you to buy (minus your agreed excess of course). While it does take into account the service history, maintenance etc, motorcyclists in particular will too often be frustrated by the fact that it can be extremely hard to find a bike as good as theirs for what its actual market value is.

If a motorcycle is damaged in an accident, an assessor will look at what it would cost to put back to the state it was in before. In 4th Dimension’s case, this is carried out by a team who will take the time to strip the bike, and measure the frame’s geometry if needs be after a heavy accident. A quick tyre-kicking exercise could miss work that needs doing and delay the repair down the line while arguments are had over who pays for potentially missed work, or result in a simple “Nah, it’s had it mate – write it off”.

The cost of any work will need to be within the threshold given by the insurer. For example, a motorcycle might have a market value of £8,000 and a repair threshold of 75% – £6,000. If it can be put back to the same standard as it was before the incident within that cost, it will be. If not, it’ll be written off.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

Bikes are safely stored at 4th Dimension while waiting for parts to be delivered

 

4th Dimension produces a detailed estimate for the insurer – if it’s agreed by them, work can begin. From there, all the skills are in house. The technicians will be able to replace and repair parts for any machine, from a classic Harley to the newest R1M. There are 17 techs on site, from a range of backgrounds, including many trained by Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, BMW, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Ducati and Harley Davidson, as well as two scooter specialists. One was a head technical trainer with a manufacturer, while another was previously a MotoGP mechanic.

Some machines might need the skills of the ‘specialist repairer team’, who could pull the dent out of a Thundercat’s tank if necessary, or repair a fairing. This is key, as our example of a 75% threshold on a machine that’s got a market value of, say, £1500, leaves just £937.50 (after VAT as well) to do the repair. If replacement was the only option, this bike would most likely be written off, regardless of how much the owner wanted it back.

While a brand new Ducati Panigale with a cracked fairing might simply have a replacement, an early Honda CBR600 could need to have its fairing repaired in order to avoid being scrapped. The point is, both bikes would leave the workshop looking as if the panels were brand new.

These same engineers are able to rebuild exhausts, repair bare-metal bodied scooters or even work with custom parts. Consider the owner of a bespoke café racer with a one-off frame: if necessary, 4th Dimension could repair any crash damage and have that motorcycle, which the owner put their heart and soul into, safely back on the road.

If pre-painted replacement panels aren’t used, the paint team will be able to match any finish, thanks to the experienced refinishers, three walk-in paint booths/ovens, and an airbrush room. All repairs have to be geometrically correct, structurally sound and cosmetically perfect. If anyone of these can’t be achieved, then a repair can’t be undertaken.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

The paint team can match any finish, be it OE or custom… and that includes airbrush work

 

My bike has a specialist paint finish – surely that can’t be matched?

Every motorcycle has very specific paint issues to deal with. An example is many of the classically-styled bikes currently available, which often have two or three colours, as well as hand-painted coach lines. These finishes are what make assessment by a car expert so difficult, as they require much more specialist work than the typical four-wheeler – these are basically ‘custom’ paint.

A Harley-Davidson about to be returned to its owner was in the workshop at 4th Dimension; with two tones of grey (with a subtle purple tint) plus coach lines, and despite the accident damage requiring every panel to be repainted, this was not an unusual job for the company. Nor was the Triumph Tiger, which had a fully bespoke paint job, including painted logos instead of graphics – 4th Dimension matched this exactly.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

These are just two of many custom paint schemes produced by 4th Dimension

 

Unlike the car industry, there aren’t really any useful paint guide swatches for bikes – rather than mix to a specific formula, any bike painter will need to mix the ingredients by eye. Many OE paints will look significantly different depending on how the finish was applied, not to mention the fact that factory paint is rarely perfect or even consistent, so 4th Dimension has built its own library of colours over many years, which gives them a perfect starting point before working to the exact finish.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

Matching motorcycle paint finishes is unlike the process involved in car repairs

 

As Phil Howe, 4th Dimension’s paint shop manager explains: “People are often surprised at just what’s possible, so it’s not uncommon for customers to be worried that we can’t match their paint. We did have one gentleman tell us that there’s no way we could repair the race-replica paint job of his machine, until we pointed out that we’d been the guys who did it in the first place.

“Equally, it’s not unusual for someone to say that their bike was factory perfect and mint before the accident, but little do they know that when they bought it they hadn’t been told that it had been crashed before, and we’d repaired it.”

 

Up close with 4th Dimension’s paint

BikeSocial examines the quality of one of the UK’s leading repair specialist’s work

 

Is repair of motorcycle parts as good as replacement?

A replacement tank would be guaranteed by the manufacturer for 12 months. 4th Dimension stands by its repairs to the extent that it gives a lifetime warranty on any repairs (that means for as long as the owner keeps the bike).

All of the engineers working in the repairs department are fully qualified structural-standard welders, as well as experienced body-shop specialists from the automotive world. In the specialist repair team, Darren for instance won national panel-beater of the year, while Charlie is a trained aluminium panel specialist, as well as a BMW-trained specialist.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

When parts are repaired, like this Thundercat tank which Charlie has carefully pulled a dent out of, 4th Dimension guarantees them for as long as you own the bike

 

The small print in my policy says pattern parts can be used in my repair.

While the use of non-OEM reproduction – or pattern – parts is common across car and bike insurance policies, it’s far less relevant to motorcycles. You might also hear the term ‘green parts’, which refers to recycled parts. Because of the much smaller market, there simply aren’t companies knocking out many pattern parts for bikes. While you might find pattern levers and mirrors for instance, the savings aren’t worth considering for insurance companies, especially with the risk of poor-quality construction.

One thing that might prevent a bike being written off is the use of green parts; here a structurally perfect piece – reconditioned to factory standard – might be used to keep the cost of repair within the underwriter’s threshold, or might be an option when a manufacturer simply doesn’t have the parts available; it’s not unusual to see new parts no longer available for motorcycles even as young as seven or eight years old.

 

Why can a bike sometimes take more than a couple of weeks to fix?

There are two main reasons for delays in repair: One is the time taken for the repair to be authorised by the insurer, which can be particularly lengthy when making a claim against another person’s insurer rather than your own. These delays can occur because sometimes the other insurer’s policyholder has not reported the accident so they only have your version of events and won’t proceed until they have spoken to their policyholder. There can also be long arguments about who was actually was at fault; what seemed straightforward at the scene can become complex later when the other person has had time to think about their version of events.

4th Dimension has a dedicated claims team that promises to manage and progress the claim and help deal with the issues with the other party and/or their insurer as quickly as possible.

The other reason for delays is simply parts availability. As the bike market is that much smaller than the car market, it doesn’t have the same infrastructure or turnover of parts; it’s quite normal for even common parts to be supplied from European warehouses. When parts aren’t available there, they often have to be shipped, from perhaps from Japan or the US, which can take weeks or even months.

4th Dimension has unique relationships in place that allow the team to source parts directly from the manufacturers, so wait times can be drastically reduced. But still, some manufacturers – for instance in Italy – can be known to shut down for as long as six weeks. In these cases, 4th Dimension promises to work as hard as possible to find a supplier.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

A dealer can quote for repairs, but a specialist will be able to offer all the services under one roof

 

If my bike’s damaged, do I have to put it through the insurance?

No – of course, you could carry out repairs yourself. However, when an accident isn’t your fault, a third party will likely be involved. It’s not unusual for some incidents to be paid privately, but be sure that you get a reliable quote for any work being carried out.

While your local dealer can offer a quote for repair of any damage, their labour times could be expensive, and if any paint or repair work is needed, they may have to sub-contract the processes. A specialist company like 4th Dimension has every facility under one roof, as well as the skills needed to work on any brand.

While the third party might not want to get their insurance company involved, always remember that it’s your bike, and as the victim, you want to make sure you’re not left out of pocket, or with a motorcycle that just doesn’t feel the same.

 

Do I have to send my bike where the insurance company tells me?

No – it’s your bike, and you have the choice. However, again remember that your local dealer or mechanic is unlikely to have the facilities to carry out important structural and geometric checks, and perhaps not all the stages of a repair themselves (unless it’s a simple part replacement; the potential to see a machine written off due to potentially unnecessarily high costs could be a factor. Working with your insurer also means they’re warrantying the work directly.

Also remember that if a third party is involved, you should not feel pushed into doing what they, or their insurer, say; if you’re insured with a reputable company, contact them immediately and they’ll be able to step in to make sure your bike is not only repaired to the standard you expect, but that it’s done as quickly as possible.

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

4th Dimension measures the exact geometry of the bike, so you know it’s as good as the day it left the factory.

 

Will my bike feel the same as it used to when I get it back?

This again is where using a specialist repairer comes in. We all know how the slightest thing can leave you doubting your bike’s handling and performance, so in its initial assessment of a motorcycle, 4th Dimension can perform structural analysis and crack testing if you’ve had a heavy accident, including X-raying the bike. The team can measure your frame to compare it to the manufacturers’ own measurements and tolerances with equipment so precise it’s even used by factory BSB teams to assist when something “doesn’t feel quite right”.

When you do get your bike back it will be exactly as it was before the accident, and possibly even cleaner too…

 

Repairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQRepairing your bike after an accident | Motorcycle insurance FAQ

4th Dimension thoroughly valets all the bikes it works on, before returning them direct to the customers

 

Meet the team at 4th Dimension

BikeSocial talks to some of the experts at the UK’s leading motorcycle repair specialists

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