Oh-oh. You just had a car accident that damaged your vehicle. You have collision coverage that will pay to fully repair the damage or replace your ride if its totaled, minus the deductible. You filed a claim. Now
here’s what you can expect to happen, along with some tips to make sure you get the best vehicle damage repair settlement possible.
A claims adjuster from your insurance company will contact you. During that first contact, be sure to get his name, all his phone numbers and your unique claim number. It doesn’t hurt to also get his supervisor’s name and phone number in case you have a communication problem down the road.
The adjuster will look at your vehicle. He may write an estimate on the spot or he may send you out for estimates. Most insurance companies have preferred repair shops that they believe can be trusted to do
good work at a reasonable price. In most states, however, you have the right to choose and use the repair shop of your choice. If you live in such a state and you don’t like the repair shop your insurer recommends, by all means exercise that right. If the adjuster writes an estimate on the spot, do not agree to it just yet. It is in your best interest to get an independent estimate.
What if the insurance company insists that you get multiple estimates? While one estimate is reasonable and necessary (and two may be a contractual condition of your policy), three estimates is a pain. If you don’t want to get multiple estimates, check your state insurance laws. You may have the right to ask that the adjuster send an appraiser to work with your preferred repair shop to negotiate an acceptable settlement. Never, ever accept a check from your insurance company until you are confident that the repair
shop you prefer can do the work for that amount.
What if, after the adjuster and your repair shop have agreed on a price, your repair shop finds additional damage that was not included in that price? Call your adjuster and have him work it out with the repair shop. If your shop refuses to release your car until they have a second check from the insurance company for the additional work, ask to sign an authorization form (every reputable shop has them) that says you agree to let the insurance company pay the shop directly for the additional charge. If you still encounter problems, pay the difference with a credit card and work it out with your insurance company.
Another common problem is when the insurer won’t pay for new parts or OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts. Sorry, but this is legal. Your insurer has the right to write the estimate based on used part or after-market parts. You have the right to inspect them to make certain they’re in good condition and reject them if they aren’t. You also have the right to insist on new or OEM parts, but understand that you’re going to have to pay the difference out of your own pocket.
What if it’s an old car and you don’t intend to fix the damage? You just want to pocket the cash. While most insurance companies will allow this, it’s still their prerogative to choose to do so. And they can also
decide how much cash you’ll receive. Some will fork over the full amount of the repair. Others may write a check for appearance allowance, which compensates for the loss of resale value to your car. Before you accept the appearance allowance, check with a used car dealer and get a written statement on the dealer’s letterhead as to the value of your car before and after the accident. You may have the right to the difference between those two amounts if you decide not to repair your damaged vehicle.
You also have the right to take your insurance company into small claims court. But you really need to weigh the benefits of getting the extra settlement you think you’re due versus the time and expense of trying
to collect it.
If you were injured in an accident, read Hold Out for a Better Auto Accident Personal Injury Settlement to learn how to get the best settlement.