WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER THE UNEXPECTED CAR ACCIDENT?
This is a general guide about what to expect after a car accident where your vehicle has been damaged.
How Much Should I Get for My Car?The short answer is that you are entitled to the fair market value of your car. I know, I know, that isn't very helpful. So, here's some more about the fair market value and how it's calculated.
The fair market value is what the car could have sold for to a willing buyer just before the accident. Some of the factors considered are the year, make, mileage, previous damage and general condition of your vehicle prior to the accident. If you want to get an idea of the general price range, try looking your car up on Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com), NADA's Used Car Guide (www.nada.com), or other similar websites.
Service, repair, and maintenance records are useful when trying to establish the value of your car. Try to have these available when negotiating the value of your vehicle with the insurance company. Generally, you should only bring these items up when asked, or after you get an initial offer to help show that the offer should be higher.
Who Pays for My Car?You can submit a claim for property damage compensation to the insurance company of the driver who was at fault in the accident. Typically, that company will pay for the damage to your vehicle and any other property lost, destroyed or damaged in the accident, unless they are contesting who was at fault in the accident. HOWEVER, be very careful that any release you sign pertains only to property damage, and does not affect any injury claim you may have. You should have an attorney review ANY release document or settlement check before signing or cashing. You don't want to think that you got a great settlement on your car (say $6,000 for example), only to find out that the settlement included your injuries and bills, which could mean tens of thousands of dollars that you should have gotten.
On the other hand, you might submit a claim to your own insurance company for the damage to your vehicle. Generally, you can only do this if your policy has "collision" coverage on the vehicle. An advantage of having your insurance company pay a property damage claim is that it will probably pay your claim faster than an at-fault driver's insurance company. If your own insurance company pays the claim, your company can seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver's insurance company later.
In some circumstances, it could be necessary to file a claim with your own insurance company. For example, when:
o The accident was with a hit-and-run driver.
o The insurance coverage of the person at fault is not enough to cover your damages.
o The at-fault driver had no insurance coverage.
Even if you settle with your insurance company, they can seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver's insurance on your behalf for any deductibles. It could take up to six months, or even a year, to get your deductible returned to you. Alternatively, you could pursue the at-fault driver's insurance company for equipment or property damaged or destroyed in the accident.
Will the Car Be Repaired or Is It a Total Loss?A vehicle is considered a total loss if the repair cost AND salvage value is more than its fair market value. The salvage value is its value immediately after the accident. If the vehicle is not a total loss by this standard, then the insurance company will generally pay to have your car repaired. The insurance company usually will obtain bids from auto wrecking companies that want to buy your car for its scrap value. If your car is considered a total loss, you may be able to "buy back" the salvage from the insurance company. Rather than pay the insurance company out of your pocket, the insurance company can simply deduct the salvage value of the car from the market value of your car. In that event, you may need to apply for a salvage title from your state's motor vehicle department.
How is the Cost to Repair My Car Calculated?An at-fault party must pay for all reasonable and necessary repairs to your vehicle, if it is not a total loss. The insurance company might request that you drive your car to their repair shop to obtain an estimate of damage. If your vehicle was badly damaged, the insurance will usually send an adjuster to inspect your vehicle at its current location. You must provide any necessary information that they request. You can get your car repaired at any repair facility of your choice, and you cannot be required to have repairs made at any specific shop. However, don't begin repairs until the insurance company has completed their inspection.
Will I Get a Rental Car?The at-fault party must provide a rental car comparable to your own vehicle during the period in which your car is inoperable. Ask your insurance adjuster to recommend a rental car company with the best rates. In addition, some insurance companies have a direct billing arrangement with a rental company and they may pay for the rental car directly, rather than reimbursing you.
How Long Can I Keep the Rental Car?If your car is unsafe to drive, you are entitled to a rental car from the time of the crash until a reasonable time to make repairs. However, if your car is safe to drive, then you are entitled to a rental car only while your car is undergoing repairs. If your car is totaled, you are entitled to a rental car up until the time the insurance company decides to declare your car totaled, plus an additional 3-7 business days to enable you to purchase a new car. If your insurance company is providing a rental car, your insurance policy will control the duration, the type, and the cost of a rental car. Your own insurance policy probably limits the expense per day as well as the maximum number of days.