An auto accident in Pottstown can impact your life in many ways. In addition
to the initial shock of the collision and the lasting pain of injury,
you may also be dealing with the loss of a vehicle, likely your most useful
asset and an essential part of your life. Getting your car or truck back
on the road, or getting a replacement vehicle, is often a top priority
and absolute necessity.
If you purchased collision coverage on your own insurance policy, you typically
have choices when involved in an accident caused by the negligence of
another driver. You can either rely on your own insurance company or that
of the other driver to inspect your vehicle and pay for the loss. While
many insurance companies will try to push you toward their preferred shops,
under state law you have the right to have your car repaired at the shop
of your choice. It is important to understand that most insurance carriers
have a list of “preferred shops” which have agreed to repair
vehicles within the insurer’s financial guidelines. The insurer
and the participating repair facility will generally issue a repair guarantee
if you agree to participate in the insurer’s repair program.
Once you have chosen which insurance company will adjust the claim and
which shop will do the repairs, an agent or designee of that insurance
company will inspect the vehicle and catalog the damage in order to estimate
the cost of repair. They will also catalog your vehicle’s pre-accident
condition, mileage, and options to arrive at a market value.
If the cost of repair exceeds a certain percentage of the vehicle’s
market value, the insurance carrier may elect to declare your vehicle
a total loss which will require the insurer to pay you the fair retail
value of your vehicle. In some cases, the vehicle’s structure may
be so badly damaged or twisted that the repair facility may declare the
vehicle a “structural total loss,” which means the vehicle
is unlikely to be reasonably and safety repaired no matter how much money
is spent attempting to restore the vehicle. This may be particularly true
with new or high-end vehicles possessing a relatively higher “total
loss” threshold due to the vehicle’s higher market value.
For instance, while a repair estimate of $15,000 will most likely result
in a total loss appraisal for a new Honda Civic, it will not ordinarily
result in a total loss appraisal for a new BMW, even though both vehicles
may have sustained similar structural damage, such as a twisted frame.
It is important to know that a structural total loss appraisal is rare
but if there is significant structural damage, and the insurer insists
upon repairing the vehicle, special attention may be required to be certain
the repairs are done properly so that your vehicle is restored to within
the manufacturer’s original specifications. If the insurer insists
upon repairing your heavily damaged vehicle, you may have the option not
to apply your insurance proceeds toward the repair of your vehicle. Instead,
you might consider applying the value of the insurance proceeds toward
paying off the balance of any loan on your vehicle and/or simply purchasing
another vehicle and selling your damaged vehicle to a salvage yard. You
may suffer a financial loss but you will gain peace of mind.
Never permit your insurer to bully you into repairing your vehicle if you
suspect heavy structural damage. If your insurer insists the value of
your claim be paid directly to its business partner in the collision repair
industry, get a second opinion from an independent repair facility. You
may find that the repair estimate of the insurer’s recommended repair
facility is too low due to hidden confidential discounts most repair facilities
are required to give the insurer to be included in the insurer’s
recommended list of repair facilities. You may also find that your vehicle
is a structural total loss. If you do decide to participate in the insurer’s
repair program, insist that the insurer inspect the repairs before the
vehicle is returned to you. In addition to being certain all damaged parts
have been replaced or properly repaired, you may also insist that the
alignment be checked to be sure it can be brought back into proper alignment.
If not, there is likely unrepaired structural damage.
If the insurer declares your vehicle an economic total loss, the insurer
will determine the vehicle’s market value by looking at similar
vehicles that have been recently sold within a certain geographic radius
of your location, averaging those sale prices, and then applying certain
deductions for the particular condition of your vehicle and its particular
options. If you feel the insurance company has set your vehicle’s
value too low, use the internet to search for similar vehicles currently
listed for sale at a higher price and present those listings to your adjuster.
Finally, there is the issue of a rental vehicle. Most insurer’s attempt
to cut short any rental period. There is nothing wrong with the insurer
seeking to limit your need for a rental vehicle. Nevertheless, insurers
will often attempt to cut short your rental coverage, particularly when
your vehicle is declared a total loss. In such instances, the insurer
may tell you that it will only pay for 3 days of rental after your vehicle
is declared a total loss. That is not reasonable. Insist that you are
provided at least three days from the date you receive a check to purchase
a replacement vehicle. In the meantime, you should begin your search for
a replacement vehicle as soon as you learn of the total loss appraisal.
Do not wait until you receive your check as you do have a duty to mitigate
or reduce all your damages, which includes finding a replacement vehicle
promptly. This applies even if your insurance policy provides for 30 days
of rental coverage. You are only entitled to a reasonable rental expense,
not necesarily the full 30 days.
While our Montgomery County auto accident attorneys are unable to handle
collision-damage-only claims, we are happy to assist our injured clients
in understanding the adjustment process, getting fair treatment, and getting
their cars back on the road.