Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dealing with Car Accident - Part 2

One important thing - always try to get a witness who can back up your side of the story of the accident. I know it is difficult as nobody wants to get into all that hassle. However, without a witness, it is going to be your story against the other driver's. In most cases, the insurance companies fail to attach fault completely one driver. They end up holding each driver at fault and you end up losing your deductible. Not sure if that affects your insurance premiums in the future.

In my case, I say I was very fortunate. One gentleman who saw the accident happening, waited for me to complete all the formalities, walked over to me and provided his contact information and told me that he would be available if I ever needed his witness statement. Very nice of him. Are there such people still in this world? I was left wondering. With his witness, I am hoping that I will be able to have other driver admit fault and thus not lose my deductible. Let's see. Insurance companies are still working on that.

After you have taken care of the car and have it towed away, come home and begin the insurance work. Insurance companies have 1-800 number for 24 hour claim services. Before calling them, note down important details. Call insurance company and file your claim. You will get a claim number. Hang on to it.

Open a new manila folder and it is going to be your 'the file' for accident related paperwork till all is settled. If you want, make a copy and have a copy folder also. All paperwork goes in here. Every time you make a call or receive a call from insurance company or any other related communication, throw that into the file. Every time you get a call, make a note on plain sheet of paper with date, time, person, summary of the call and drop it into the file. Arrange the papers by date for easy reference.

Normally when you call to file the claim, if you have car rental substitution on your policy, insurance company will set you up with the rental car from a company that they work with. Normally they work with Enterprise Rent A Car which maintains locations all over. With Enterprise Rent A Car, you need not have to far to rent a car. Enterprise Rent A car also comes and picks you up, gives you a rental car and you are all set.

It appears rental car agencies would like to get their share of the pie by giving you a car that costs slightly more than than your rental limit. If your rental limit is like 30 dollars a day, they normally have only cars which cost 2-3 dollars more than that. Ask them to give you a car which is less or equal to your rental limit. If not, take the car but ask them to call you once they get a car which is within your rental dollars limit. If you are okay paying extra, then it is fine.

One thing that you want to make sure is about where to get your car repaired. You have right to get it repaired wherever you want although the insurance company may recommend a shop which is one of their pre-approved. For minor damages, anyone is fine. But, if you have serious damage, you want to go to a body shop which works on cars similar to yours. Call your car dealer and ask for a recommendation. Normally, car dealers send cars to a third party body shop with which they deal exclusively. If you do your homework and know such a body shop in advance, it is actually a good idea to have your car towed that place in the first place. In anyway, you should plan to get your car to the desired body shop at the earliest.

Getting your car to the desired body shop, you have to be careful. Because the insurance companies are required to provide one tow per accident. So if you have already used that to have your car towed elsewhere, you need to either use your AAA tow or pay up from your pocket if you want it towed elsewhere. In my case, I had used AAA first time, so the insurance company had no problem to tow my car the body shop of my choice. It again involves few more phone calls. You need to first call the body shop where your car was originally towed to and ask them to release the car. Secondly you need to call the body shop of your choice and ask them to tow it to their shop. They may require you to sign some forms which releases them of their liability. It's pain but you can do most with fax or phone or just driver over to the shop and finish it off. Once you give them the necessary paper work, they will work with the other tow shop and get your car. Then let the insurance company know where the car is for them to do the inspection. Do it promptly and quickly as insurance companies naturally want to avoid storage charges body shops charge. Insurance companies want to make sure that if the car is at a body shop, it better be being worked. If your car is totaled, they would like to remove it from the body shop at the earliest and move it to junk yard which charge much lesser storage fee, it seems like.

From here on, things get less hectic. Insurance company sends their people to inspect your car and you will get to hear from them soon. Since my car was declared total loss, I can not write about the repair experience. Not at least for this accident. Total loss from insurance company's stand point is that they do not believe that car can be repaired to its original condition within reasonable limits. They use their data to determine if it is worth for 'them' to repair your car. Your opinion does not count. So, they offer you a choice. Either you can take a check and give up the car. Or you will still get a check and also your car and it's your responsibility to do whatever you wish with your car. For most people, it makes sense to give up the car and take the check for the entire amount than taking on the headache of getting the damaged car, getting the salvage cert later, lesser check etc. For severe front end collisions, if the insurance company says your car is a total loss, it makes sense to give up the car. It is too much headache and waste of time to deal with the car which insurance company has chosen to write off.

Once you decide how to proceed, the insurance company moves the car out of the body shop and your car is gone for good. There is one more opportunity to take anything you may have left it in the car. If you are in doubt, go to the body shop immediately, take out any thing you forgot and then release the car. I never got to see my car after the day of the accident. That's why I said in the previous post that you may not see the car again.

After a few days the insurance company adjuster will call you with the amount they have come up with for your total loss. Just listen to them and do not make any commitment to agree to the amount. Prior to that you need to work out the price you are willing to accept. First find the fair blue book value for your car. Most the blue books, let you adjust for miles, color, locations etc. Once you get the blue book value, add your tax and registration fees. This is the price you may have to pay to get a comparable car. Also remember to add any items such LoJack, new tires any fancy accessories etc. Always remember that your price should be adequate to 'buy' a comparable car. If you just look at the blue book value, you will be pleasantly surprised that insurance company gave you a better than expected deal. So, you need to make sure that you added accessories, tires if new and most importantly taxes. Develop a range with upper and lower limits you are willing to accept from the insurance company for your total loss. In my case, what insurance company offered was close to my lower limit and close 1000 dollars less than my upper limit. I asked them pay my upper limit. We negotiated and they agreed to give me 600 hundred more. The adjuster normally has discretionary power to go up to 500-600 dollars without requiring any additional authorization. They want to close your case quickly. So, it makes sense to work it quickly and take the best offer. If your first offer was too low, you may have to take the negotiation to the full level. Insurance companies do a good job of compiling and sharing with you all the data they used to come up with the price for your car. If you want to battle it out, make sure your data and calculations are in order.

There is more too dealing with car accident. I will write more in part 3.


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