Your vehicle has been damaged. What are your rights?

When you are in an automobile accident, injury to your body is a separate claim from that of damage to your vehicle. Regarding the damage to your vehicle, you know your car better than anyone. That’s why in most cases you are able to deal directly with the insurance adjuster for the repair or replacement of the vehicle.

In most situations, the following information should help you speed up the process of having your vehicle repaired and/or replaced. Whenever problems arise, however, you are always welcome to call us directly at (480) 838-7000 for further information.

Q. Do I have to wait until my bodily injury claim is settled before I have my vehicle repaired or replaced (assuming it is totaled)?
A: No. In most cases the vehicle can be repaired or replaced within a few weeks after the accident.

Q. Should I use the collision coverage on my own policy?
A: Yes! Your insurance company has a greater duty to deal with you in a fair and good faith manner. As a result, your vehicle should be repaired or replaced more quickly and with a better end result. Note that oftentimes your insurance agent will discourage you from doing that. It is better to insist that your company repair the vehicle or replace it. Your carrier will then go against the other driver’s company for reimbursement. The only negative of using your own insurance company to have your car repaired or replaced is that you will be out your deductible amount for a short period until the adverse insurance company sends you or your insurance company a check.

Q. Will my rates increase if I use my own collision coverage?
A: Generally speaking the answer is No because your company will be reimbursed by the adverse driver who caused the accident.

Q. What if I don’t have collision coverage on my policy?
A: If you don’t have collision coverage, then you will need to deal with the adverse driver’s insurance company directly.

Q. Can I get my car fixed and then put a claim for reimbursement later?
A: No. Be sure to have the insurance company (whether it is your own insurance carrier or the adverse driver’s insurance carrier) review the car in its original state of damage. It is also a good idea to take your own photographs of the vehicle from all angles and maintain those pictures until everything is resolved.

Q. Can I force the insurance company to paint my entire vehicle?
A: No. If only part of the vehicle is damaged, then their responsibility is to paint only that part of the vehicle. Most shops today can pretty well match paint even vehicles whose paint has faded over the years due to the sun.

Q. How will I be paid for my vehicle?
A: Generally speaking the insurance company will issue a check made payable to both you and the repair shop. If there is more than $2,500 dollars of damage, your lien holder may also be notified.

Q. Can I choose where my car will be repaired?
A: Yes. Generally speaking, we recommend that you go to a repair shop operated by your make and model dealership or an insurance-company preferred shop to help make the claims process easier.

Q. Once repaired what if I find other damage later?
A: We suggest you drive the car for a couple of weeks and make a list of all items which are not correctly repaired or newly discovered items and return the car to the repair shop. The repair shop will contact the insurance company who will come out and review the car and if all agree that the damage is the direct result of the accident, they will issue a new work order for the supplemental repairs.

Q. Can I demand that the insurance company consider my car a “total loss”?
A: No. The general rule is that if the cost of repair is less than the actual total cash value prior to the accident, the insurance company has the option of simply repairing it.

Q. If my car is “totaled” am I entitled to a check in order to buy a brand new car?
A: No. The law simply requires the insurance company to pay you the amount the vehicle was worth immediately prior to the accident which, therefore, takes into account depreciation, the condition of the car, mileage and fair market value, etc.

Q. If my vehicle is a total loss, how does the insurance company determine cash value?
A: Generally speaking there are different sources for what is referred to as “fair market value.” One source is the classic “Blue Book.” Another source is the Classified Ads in the newspaper or the Internet. A third source is car dealers. A fourth source is the Auto Trader magazine and other publications of that type. The bottom line is, however, that the negotiation is an aspect of how much you obtain for your vehicle if it is a total loss.

Q. How will I be paid for my vehicle if it is a total loss?
A: If you own the car free and clear, i.e. if there are no liens or loans on the vehicle, you will be given a check made payable directly to you. If there are any liens on the title, then in all probability the check will be made payable to you and the lien holder.

Q. Is my vehicle worth more because I just had it painted or I put new tires on it?
A: Probably not much, but bring it to the attention of the insurance adjuster and provide copies of the bills.

Q. My car is totaled. Am I entitled to the tax and registration fees I paid on it?
A: Yes.

Q. If my car is totaled and I am given a check for the value of it, can I keep the old car anyway?
A: Yes, but the salvage value of the vehicle will be deducted from the check.

Q. What if the amount of the loan I have on the vehicle is greater than the fair market value of the vehicle?
A: This is a terrible yet common situation to be in. Situations of this type are referred to as “being upside down.” Basically, in a situation where the car is worth less than the loan against it, it is because you may have paid more than the car is worth at purchase time. You will remain obligated for the amount between the loan and the amount you paid for the vehicle. (Gap insurance can help this situation, if you have it.)

Q. Is it possible in an “upside down” situation to avoid owing money?
A: Yes. Sometimes lenders will allow a “substitution of collateral” which would help you get into another vehicle. Also, repair shops will sometimes repair a “totaled vehicle” for the amount the insurance company is willing to pay you for the vehicle.

Q. Am I entitled to a rental car?
A: Yes, but it’s generally basic transportation, not necessarily a fancy, expensive rental car. Exceptions to this general rule include persons who are disabled and/or persons who need a specialized vehicle for work use.

Q. Must I sign a “release” for repair or replacement of my vehicle?
A: Generally speaking insurance companies don’t require signed releases for repair or replacement of a vehicle. In the unlikely event the insurance does request this, do not sign any release until you are satisfied with the repairs, and your towing bills and rental bills have been paid in full. Also, do not sign any type of release that relates to your “bodily injury claim” or simply uses the words or phrases similar to “any and all claims.” By doing so, you might waive other rights unnecessarily!

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