Written-Off 721-Mile 2023 Rivian R1T Sparks Insurance Controversy

Totaled 2023 Rivian R1T 9 photos
Photo: Rich Rebuilds on YouTube | Edited
R1TR1TR1TR1TR1TR1TThe Infamous $41K Fender BenderR1T @ Hell's Gate
Even electric vehicle owners who agreed to have their driving monitored are dealing with insurance premiums that seem to go only one way—up. Apparently, it's not just inflation that's driving these companies to ask for more money. We're stuck in a vicious cycle, one that might remind some of you of the airbag craze. Fret not; there's a way out of all this.
Believe it or not, airbags for the driver and front passenger became mandatory in 1998. The federal government gave companies involved in the automotive industry seven years to prepare. The act that mandated airbags on new cars and pickup trucks was adopted in 1991.

Even though seven years feels like enough of a time window to allow everyone to be prepared, new car buyers still had to deal with some issues. Not all shops were willing to work on these cars. Or, even worse, they instructed the technicians to only work on units for which the owner (or the insurance company) accepted that they would have to replace all the airbags. Such an extensive repair could cost up to $10,000 or even more.

It seems like that's where we're at with all-electric vehicles such as the Rivian R1T with its McLaren 720S-inspired suspension setup, good looks, and tons of capabilities.

A YouTuber who has been advocating for the right to repair electric vehicles since 2016 found a young professional who has an in-depth understanding of what's going on behind the scenes. Rich Benoit of Rich Rebuilds tried to repair a Tesla outside of the automaker's approved network of authorized technicians and had a hard time doing it on his own. It wasn't only about sourcing parts (which was especially hard for no good reason) but also about getting access to the right diagnosing tools and specialized software without spending thousands of dollars. Tesla (and others that copied its practice) used to gatekeep a lot of information.

Photo: Rich Rebuilds on YouTube
Some still do.

It's still happening

Fast-forward to 2024, and fixing EVs is still problematic, even though EV makers are more willing to give people the right information. The US has more technicians who are able (and maybe even certified) to deal with most of an EV's problems, but now it's the insurance companies that stop these zero-tailpipe emission rides from achieving their maximum "green" potential. That's a mistake, and car owners are paying for it.

Besides having to cough up more money to be able to drive a car legally on public roads, it does the environment no good if we buy brand-new vehicles with no exhaust system, but only use them for a brief period of time. Mining for the high-voltage battery minerals, refining, transporting, and creating cells that are eventually arranged into a battery pack is a very carbon-intensive procedure.

In addition, it certainly is frustrating to hear that your EV is harder to repair than a conventional car. Many people have been told that battery-powered cars require little to no maintenance and have fewer parts than their internal combustion engine-powered counterparts. While those two things are true, what they aren't being told is that an EV could end up scrapped faster than a Nissan Versa.

The Infamous \$41K Fender Bender
Photo: Chris Apfelstadt on Facebook
A company that specializes in buying all the right software and tools to correctly diagnose and fix all types of vehicles gives us a sneak peek at what's happening behind the scenes right now.

A mystery

They received a totaled Rivian R1T with only 721 miles on the clock and had to figure out what caused this truck's premature death. The EV had been through a front impact and didn't turn on. They had to disassemble the front end to figure out if there was an electrical issue with the charging port or cables. The R1T has the CCS connector on the front left side.

After testing everything they could think of and finding nothing wrong, they started putting it back together with no hope of a simple fix. However, the young technician noticed that the battery management control module was disconnected. He plugged the sensing wire back in, and the EV started functioning normally.

Disconnecting that battery management control module does exactly what the firefighter cut loop does on a Tesla: it disables the high-voltage system.

After fixing the EV, they wanted to know what led the insurer to declare this slightly bruised R1T a total loss.

Photo: Rich Rebuilds on YouTube
Typically, a car is written off only if the repairs cost more than the vehicle's actual cash value (ACV). If you finance or lease, you might want to pay for GAP insurance because that's what covers the difference between the ride's ACV and what you still owe on your lease or loan. Ending up in an upside-down loan situation isn't pleasant, to say the least.

Back to the Rivian R1T, the technicians discovered that the insurance adjuster decided to total the EV because of a couple of studs. They believed that the adjuster suspected damage to the battery because of those studs. Since the high-voltage energy storage unit is the pickup truck's most expensive component, such a decision doesn't seem outrageous.

Intentional oversight?

However, they forgot one thing: Rivian may be a startup, but the company isn't selling poorly designed EVs. The Irvine-based automaker anticipated that some issues with the underbody shield could arise at some point, especially since it marketed its EVs from the get-go as adventure-ready pickup trucks (and SUVs, if we talk about the R1S). Besides using a thick layer of carbon fiber to protect the battery, the marque also installed it a bit higher. There's space between the battery and the studs. They can safely be pushed in without piercing the cells.

The kicker? Those replaceable bent studs aren't even close to the battery, as you can see in the photo gallery or the video below. They're part of the structure and are separated from what's inside by an aluminum cover.

Photo: Rich Rebuilds on YouTube
So, according to Benoit, the insurance company spent close to $80,000 to send this EV to the afterlife realm without properly checking if it could be fixed for less than its ACV. All they had to do was replace a few studs, fix the bent body panels, clean a headlight, and add a suspension accumulator. All that wouldn't have cost $80,000.

The technician Benoit interviewed said that collision shops don't want to deal with EVs but also blamed insurance executives for not showing any real interest in helping the industry prioritize repairs.

Positive vibes only

Still, the young man says there is hope, and it's coming from Europe. The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), an association of professionals working in the automotive industry, has a blueprint that could work in the US, and American insurance companies have already shown that they're interested.

R1T @ Hell's Gate
Photo: Paddle Pedal Pedals on YT
But until that becomes reality, high premiums will remain the norm, even for those drivers who agree to have their time spent behind the steering wheel monitored. There's still some discrepancy left between what insurers want to do, what manufacturers allow them to, and what technicians can or want to fix.

There needs to be more aftermarket support to stop carmakers from charging obscene prices for parts. On top of that, many insurance companies are still basing their decisions on data from the 2019-2022 period, which was completely hectic. The prices have stabilized somewhat since then, and supply chains are not that disrupted any longer. Part shortages are also not the norm anymore.

All in all, not polluting your local environment will cost a bit more for the next couple of years, but it could be worth it to jump behind the steering wheel of an affordable EV. Charging at home will remain more convenient than filling up with gas for quite a while, and if your ride has cool functionalities such as vehicle-to-load, you could have a silent generator in your driveway that powers the house in case of an outage.

The dual-motor Rivian R1T we told you about earlier is for sale, and it could be yours for just $46,800.

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About the author: Florin Amariei
Florin Amariei profile photo

Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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