I am still amazed that people in general are often more concerned about their vehicle than they are their own well being. Time after time, its easier to settle a claim for injuries than it it for an automobile. You need to see the vehicle the same way the rest of the world sees it. You need to see it as "sheet metal and screws". No one is going to pay you more for your vehicle because you named it or went on your first date in it. So, unplug your emotional attachment and get down to business.
Look at what the experts say about your vehicle.
When I started handling total losses, the Internet was not near as developed as it is now. We relied on books mainly. Now, there are plenty of guides on the Internet to help you. One of the best is www.nadaguides.com . Go to that site, plug in all the information about the car. Don't assume or skip over options, features or mileage. Its all important. See what values it gives you. Often you will want to take an average of these values. Similar sites are www.kbb.com and www.edmonds.com .
Other sources to check are www.cars.com and www.autotrader.com. These are not guides, but site where others are trying to sell cars. So, you can get an idea of what others are "asking" for the vehicle. Remember, "asking" is not the value of the vehicle. Its above the value of the vehicle.
No one is driving a vehicle that is "Retail Ready", around in traffic. This is the condition of the vehicle as it sets on the lot, or just before it gets to the lot. So, don't assume that you are going to get the "Retail Ready" value for your car. Look at the condition of your vehicle and factor that in. Be honest. That dent that you did not get repaired may come off the value of the vehicle. Be prepared for that.
What is owed.
The insurance company owes you the Actual Cash Value or the Fair Market Value (same thing) of your vehicle. They do NOT owe you what it costs to go buy another one, just like your. Typically, that vehicle does NOT exist. Nor do they owe you what you owe on the vehicle. Also, the older a vehicle is, the harder it is to determine the value. Why? Because there are fewer and fewer vehicles to compare it to.
They plan to have to negotiate.
Often they try to give you "the number". This means, "Hey, we've evaluated this and this is what the vehicle is worth. Don't argue with us, we know more about this than you do." Well, "the number" does not have to be the final number. Often there's items they've missed or the comparable vehicles they have is old data. Either way, don't be surprised by their first number if its lower than you expected. Talk to them about it. Request a copy of their evaluation. They typically have some "wiggle room". Especially if their hurried appraiser missed a feature, as often happens.
Advise them of maintenance.
Just because you just spent $250 on brakes does not make the car worth $250 more. When you look at the value of a vehicle, you assume that it can stop properly. However, if you just spent $800 on tires, that will have some impact due to the life of the tires. You need to be able to show them what you've done to maintain the vehicle. A $1,000 transmission job will most likely increase the value some, because it increases the "usable life" of the vehicle. But again, the $1,000 transmission job does not add $1,000 to the value of the vehicle. It adds some, but its not a "dollar for dollar" increase.
Know a little about their methods.
Most insurance carriers use a computer program to generate the value of their total loss vehicles. This is typically "CCC" or "ADP". Request the evaluation. It will be 8-12 pages long. Review the options they show for your vehicle. If there are "comparables" noted on the evaluation, call those dealers. Often that information is so old, the dealer has forgotten about the car. Sometimes they will flat out disagree with what they reported told the original person who called them from CCC or ADP about the vehicle they had for sale. If you question the evaluation long enough, you will find something to you can use.
Are you "upside down"?
When I started handling total losses, most folks did not "over finance" their vehicles. Now, it seems to be common place. The insurance company does not owe you for what's on the note. That is not the Fair Market Value of your vehicle. If you are upside down on your vehicle, check to see if you have "gap" insurance. It covers the excess note on the vehicle. If you don't have gap insurance, many dealers will "transfer the collateral" from the old vehicle to the new one. So, you were upside down by $5K on the old vehicle and they simply tack that on to your new note. Make sure and get gap on the new one.
Car rental is for "reasonable transportation". Not for something identical to what you had. Typically they will keep you in a car for a reasonable amount of time. But, if you drag this process out, expect to lose the rental car. Under common law, they don't even owe you rental once your vehicle is determined to be a total loss, but this is an area they are usually nice about, since it has become industry practice to leave someone in a rental while the paperwork is being worked out.
Typically, while you are going through this process, your vehicle is sitting on someone's tow lot. Be careful with this. There's a lot of tow lots that charge ridiculous amounts for storage on vehicles. I've dealt with many folks who have not resolved their total loss in a timely manner and had to "surrender" the car to the tow lot to satisfy the storage fees. Always be mindful of where the vehicle is located and who is picking up the storage tab.
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