Getting Your Car Back After a Montgomery County Auto Accident

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.

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