Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Submitting Car Insurance Claims, Taiwanese-Style

Note: What follows is probably not that far off the mark from how insurance claims are sometimes filed in the U.S. or other countries, but Taiwan is the only place I’ve purchased a new vehicle. I’m not trying to be biased here, just report what I’ve heard and experienced.

I took out a year of comprehensive insurance on the new car I purchased last March. Now, with the insurance expiring in 9 days and me not planning to pay out that kind of money a second year, a Taiwanese friend who knows a lot about cars and how the system works here recommended that I have some scratches and a minor dent from where somebody dinged the car removed by having the car shop repaint a door or two, etc. wholly at the insurance company’s expense. After all, that’s what I paid for.

Today when I paid for another year of reduced insurance with a different (local) carrier, I explained to them the situation and showed them the marks on the car. They knew the previous year's insurance was purchased with someone else so I figured I'd get straight answers. They told me, that, just like in the West, any claim would first have to  be reported before any work could be done. But then the XiaoJie took me aside and explained that I could get around this by having a friend come forward to claim falsely that his car and mine were involved in an accident and then have him file with me to get the repairs done for free.

I wasn't willing to go that far, but when I went by the dealer later in the afternoon to ask their take on the same situation, I was told they could repair up to 4 scratch marks/dents, etc. without having to have any claim whatsoever filed. So this is what I am going to do.

Later, I was talking with another friend who told me their friend had been in a situation where a driver hit their parked car, dented it badly, and then fled. Because there was no second car to report, there was absolutely nothing they could do to have the damages paid for. Explaining this to the Laoban of their car shop, he told them to move away from their car. He then rammed his car into their car. Both vehicle owners were then able to file a claim without losing any money.

Interesting how the system works in a place where societal  "rules" are different, where people scratch other peoples’ backs in reciprocal arrangements due to Guanxi relationships.

On a related note, this past week I had some interesting conversations with locals on another topic. The local middle school here has had a very bad reputation for the past 8 years or so, resulting in many, many parents sending their kids to junior high schools in nearby towns. In order to do this, they must 轉戶口 (transfer household registration). When I asked how this was possible, I was told that all that was necessary was to have a friend in another town willing to let them use their address (this must really throw off accuracy in government reporting of population and registration data).

On a second related note, the girl from the car insurance company above who took me aside to explain a possible solution to my problem reminds me of last spring, when I had to pay taxes in a ridiculously high tax bracket (tripling my taxes for the year?) just because I missed being on-island half of the previous calendar year by just a week or so. All the workers at the counter thought this was extremely unfair since I just missed the deadline by a few days, and since my salary came from the United States anyway and so should not have to pay any taxes. The governmental worker disappeared behind closed doors, talked to her boss, came back out again, and took me aside. She then explained that if I chose not to pay that year's taxes, the chances were next to none that I would ever get caught. So that was her recommendation. However, there was a small chance that a customs worker doing a random check at the airport might discover I had not paid, etc. I paid them all the same (especially since I get reimbursed by my organization anyway). The shocker was  being told I could get away without paying by someone who actually worked for the tax office! I guess learning a little Taiwanese these past two years is helping me to assimilate a little more into the culture... Don't want to entirely go native though.