Are you getting the run around from an insurance company about car repairs after an accident?
The following guide is for people who’ve been in an accident and want to resolve their property damage claim. Our office is in California so some of the law and insurance terms may be specific to California. If you are not sure it is best to consult with an attorney near you. Likewise, this guide provides some general information but is not a substitute for attorney guidance.
The first thing that you should know is that your insurance company is not on your side. The goal of all insurance companies is to take your premium and pay as little as possible. Any information you tell the adjuster can and will be used against you. This is especially true if you have an injury claim along with the property damage claim. Be careful what you say because it will be used against you.
The insurance adjuster and other people you will be dealing with may be using specialized terms so it is a good idea to get familiar with them.
Glossary of Terms for Negotiating Car Repairs or Total Loss
Comp or comprehensive car insurance pays for damage to your vehicle caused by events like theft or vandalism but not collision or car crash related damage.
Collision covers your car in the event it’s in an accident with another vehicle. This includes repairs or if the car needs to be replaced.
Liability only means that you only have coverage for the vehicle damage that you do to another person’s car. If the other person is not at fault, your insurance company will likely not fix your car.
Rental coverage or rental reimbursement coverage is where the insurance company will pay for the rental of a vehicle while yours is being repaired or evaluated. Often it is limited by a daily rate and total number of days available.
Deductible is a payment that you have to make before the insurance company makes any payment.
Declaration Page – this is a page that the insurance company will provide to you that lists the different types of insurance coverage you have. You can request it from your insurance company if you are not sure what coverage you have.
Policy is the contract or document listing your insurance coverage and how it applies when it applies etc. Your insurance company will provide it to you when you request it. It can be helpful if there is a dispute between you and the insurance company about what services they should be providing.
Loss of Use. Loss of use refers to the loss you incur because you cannot use your car. It is similar to the cost to you if you were to rent a similar vehicle. This loss is more common when you use your vehicle for work or if it is a specialized vehicle that is not easy to replace.
Diminution in value refers to the drop in value to a car because it is has been in a prior accident. If you want to sell your car later, the buyer would know it was in an accident and you would get less money for that car.
Total loss usually means that the cost to repair is more than the value of the car. There are different formulas to compute this. Some insurance companies use the formula for example if the cost of repairs is 80% of the estimated value of the car
First Step in Negotiating Your Vehicle Property Damage Claim After an Accident
The first thing you want to do is report the accident. If there are injuries you want to report the accident to the police before reporting to your insurance company. Then you want to report the accident to your insurance company, open a claim, and then report it also to the other person’s insurance company and open a claim with them.
What if my car is at a tow yard?
You can to get your car out of the tow yard as soon as possible because they are charging you to stow it there. You should notify the insurance companies of where your car is and try to get them to move it. If there is a dispute as to who is at fault and you have collision coverage, ask your insurance company to move it. They will need your authorization. If you don’t have collision, you may have to pay for your vehicle to be towed to a repair shop.
Which repair shop should I take it to?
Insurance companies often recommend a repair shop but you’re not obligated to go there most of the time. If you have a repair shop that you prefer, that is acceptable also.
Understand that if the repair shop is on their approved list, the insurance company probably has an ongoing relationship with that repair shop. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they will do the best job. On the other hand, a shop that has a business relationship with the insurance company may be more streamlined to the claims process. Insurance companies also want to make sure that anyone they refer to will do a good job in repairing the car. So do your some homework on the repair shop like checking reviews online. Depending on the damage to your vehicle you may need more than one estimate.
Which insurance company should I ask to pay for the repairs?
Should you have your own insurance or the other person‘s insurance repair your car? That depends on a number of factors including who is at fault for the crash and what type of insurance you have. The first thing you want to know is who is at fault for the crash. If you are at fault for the crash the other person‘s insurance company will likely not pay for any repairs to your vehicle and submitting your request to them would be futile. If the other person is clearly at fault you can submit the repairs to their insurance company. You should know that they have no allegiance to you. Their goal is to pay as little as possible. Make sure you get a good estimate for repairs.
If the other person’s insurance company refuses to pay, find out why.
If you submit to your insurance company, they may ask that you pay your deductible. Sometimes you can get that waived if you were not at fault for the crash. Your insurance company also wants to pay as little as possible. If you were not at fault, your insurance company will likely try to get the cost of repairs from the other person‘s insurance company anyway.
Computing total loss of your vehicle after a car accident.
There are different ways of computing total loss. Commonly, the test of whether your vehicle is a total is is whether the cost of repairs is more than the value of the vehicle. Sometimes it’s a percentage like 80% of the value of the vehicle. Sometimes other costs are factored in. Sometimes it’s a matter of whether the repairs can be done safely and the repaired car can be operated safely.
If you feel like your car is a total loss, but the insurance company just wants to do repairs, you may want to speak to the mechanic who can explain why or why not it is a total loss. If you feel like the car is a total loss but the mechanic disagrees, you will want to get another estimate.
Who keeps the car after a total loss?
If you want to keep your car after the total loss, you can usually work out in arrangement with the insurance company. Sometimes people want to keep their total loss car to salvage the parts or try go forward with repairs and drive it as a salvage vehicle. The total loss value of the car is usually the value of the car minus the deductible if applicable and the amount that your car could’ve been sold out at a salvage yard. Often times you can also get license and registration fees. If you purchase a car you may be able to get the sales tax associated with that purchase.
Negotiating Diminution in Value.
If it’s determined that your car can be repaired, your vehicle value may be diminished because it has been in an accident. It’ll show up on car history reports if you want to sell your car later. In order to properly determine the diminution of value you will need to have an appraiser report from an expert third-party who can confirm the value of your car without an accident and the value of your car after the accident. You will likely have to pay that appraiser out of pocket.
Negotiating Child Car Seats After A Car Crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association recommends that child car seats be replaced in certain accidents including moderate and severe accident. For this reason if you have a car seat in the vehicle be sure to notify the insurance carrier so that they can reimburse you. Know the make and model so that they can reimburse you for a similar make and model child car seat. Sometimes they may try to give you money for a less expensive car seat.
Negotiating Other Property Damage.
You may be able to recover for other damage done to property in your vehicle. This could include work tools, computers, or cell phones. In order to properly make a claim for these items you will need to show proof that you had the property in the car during the crash, that it was damaged, and proof that you own the property like a receipt.
What if you don’t have collision coverage?
Sometimes people buy insurance policies with only comprehensive coverage which would not cover damage to their own vehicle not related to an accident. Sometimes people buy insurance that does not provide coverage for damage to their own vehicle. If you were in an accident without the right coverage, and you were the cause of the accident, then there is likely no way you can recoup the cost of repairs or the total loss of your vehicle. If you were in an accident without the right coverage but someone else was the cause of the crash you will have to make a claim to that person‘s insurance. Your insurance company will not likely help you.
What if the other side has no insurance?
If you’re in an accident with someone who has no insurance then your best option is most likely going to have to recover from your own insurance company. If you have collision coverage then you should make a claim with your insurance company. If you’re in an accident with someone who has no insurance and you do not have collision coverage then you will not be able to recover from your insurance company. You may want to look into the assets of the person who hit you and determine whether a lawsuit against that person makes sense. It may also make sense to do a small claims case.
Do I have to pay the deductible?
If you’re in an accident and it was clearly someone else’s fault you may ask your insurance company to waive the deductible. This is because they’re going to recover the money from the other person‘s insurance company. Your insurance company may not waive the deductible under certain circumstances like if you were at fault or there is an issue with the other person‘s insurance company.
The importance of the police report when negotiating property damage after a car accident.
If police responded to the scene, they will likely have taken a report including statements from the parties involved and any witnesses. This can be helpful for you later if there’s a dispute about who is at fault for the crash. If you’re talking to an insurance company and they start bringing up issues regarding who is at fault, get the police report. Often times, as a person involved in the crash, you can go to the police station and pick up the police report. This is immensely helpful if you’re negotiating with the insurance company on your own or intend to hire a lawyer for injuries.
Who pays for rental coverage?
Rental coverage may be covered by your insurance if you paid for it or the other person‘s insurance company. Typically the insurance company that is handling the repairs is also the insurance company that will provide for rental coverage. If you do not have rental coverage you’ll need to ask for it from the defendants insurance company.
What if someone else was driving my car and got into an accident?
Insurance policies have different definitions for who is a covered driver while using your car. If there’s a dispute about whether the insurance company will provide coverage because someone else was driving your car, ask for a copy of the policy. Ask the adjuster to point out the section that states that the person is not covered. Some people, like members of your household may be specifically excluded. You may need to consult with an attorney.
What if I was driving someone else’s car and got into an accident?
If you were driving someone else’s car, and you borrowed it with their consent, you should be covered but you need to check the insurance policy to be sure. For example, your insurance coverage may apply when you use a rental car. Look at the policy language or ask your insurance agent.
What if there is no visible property damage after an accident?
Sometimes there may be damage underneath the vehicle, or damage that’s hidden from view. State of the art bumpers can bounce back and hide damage to the vehicle. If it was a strong impact or you feel that there is underlying damage you may want to take it to a mechanic and have them remove the bumper and check underneath the car. If there is actually no damage you may have to pay the cost of the mechanic to provide you the estimate.
When negotiating property damage, should I answer questions about injuries?
When you are negotiating the property damage the insurance company may also have questions about your injuries. It can be dangerous to answer questions about your injuries particularly if they’re severe or if you’re planning on hiring an attorney because anything you say will be used against you. For example if you give a recorded statement that you were not injured but in reality you’re suffering some aches and pains that could develop into something worse later, that statement will be used against you. For this reason you should be very careful about answering any questions about injuries and possibly not answering those questions by telling them that you are thinking about hiring an attorney.
What if the car accident was a hit and run?
if you were involved in a hit-and-run accident it is important that you notify the police right away. If the police find the person that hit you, you can make a claim with their insurance. If the police are unable to find the person. you will need to make a claim to your insurance. If you do not have the right property damage coverage for your own vehicle then there’s not much you can do.
Will my insurance company help me?
More often then not, your insurance company is not going to go out of their way to help you. They will not find and interview witnesses unless it helps their bottom line. If they are going to be on the hook for something like you were at fault and they will have to pay the other side’s medical expenses, they might do more. The important thing to remember is that they work for the insurance company and the goal of the insurance company is to pay out as little as possible. Their interests are not aligned with their own.
What about pain and suffering when I’m negotiating property damage?
If you were hurt in a car crash I recommend that you speak with a personal injury firm like our office. Sometimes minor injuries can become much worse and cause long standing chronic problems. You don’t want to sell yourself short or negotiate a small personal injury settlement then realize that you’re more hurt than you thought. Most attorneys including our office will provide a free consultation.
What If I don’t have insurance?
If you don’t have insurance you’re in violation of the law, known as prop 213 in California. You can read it at California Civil Code Section 3333.4. If you were driving without insurance, you’re limited to recovering economic damages. You can still have your car repaired and medical bills paid for but you will not be able to recover for pain and suffering or non-economic damages related to your injuries. You can read the code section here.
Do I still have to make payments on my vehicle if I think it’s a total loss?
Most likely yes. You are responsible for the vehicle . The contract to purchase the vehicle is separate from the lawsuit for repairs or for the total loss. You should notify whoever you’re making the car payments to about that issue.
If you have gap insurance that may provide coverage for the difference between the amount the insurance companies check and the amount you owe on the car loan. If you don’t have gap insurance, you are still legally obligated to make monthly payments until that loan is paid off. The fact that your car is a total loss does not change the agreement you have to pay for the car. That’s why gap insurance is so important.
Will the other person’s insurance pay for my rental car?
It depends on their insurance coverage. Typically the at fault other driver is responsible for the cost of a reasonable rental car and there’s no fixed limit for the amount of time. It is typically based on how long it takes to fix your car as opposed to your own insurance which may have caps including the daily rate and the length of the rental. It can be difficult dealing with the other side insurance company and they may resist paying rental for your vehicle.
Do I file the diminished value claim with my insurance company or the other person‘s insurance company?
It depends on your whether you have coverage for that and your preference. Sometimes using your insurance company is faster but they may ask for the deductible. The other person’s insurance company may pay if there’s no liability dispute. You will also need to get the car appraised.