Car crashes can be awful. Typically, you are dealing with physical injuries and damage to your car. Your medical care usually starts in the emergency room or with your family doctor. But, who helps you get your car repaired or replaced?
Well, that depends on who is deemed to be at fault. If the other driver is obviously liable, then you should contact their insurance company and request either an estimated cost of repairing your vehicle or the replacement value. If you are 50% or more at fault, or if there is a real issue as to liability, then you should deal with your own insurance company.
If your car is damaged but not totaled (where the cost of the repair exceeds the value of the vehicle), you will need at least two estimates from local repair shops. To make a claim against the insurance company, first call the agent for their contact information. Then, mail, fax or e-mail a dated letter to the agent with a copy of the two estimates.
It is also a good idea to send several photos. You should already have these if you followed Strategy #2: Document Your Accident. Remember to keep a copy of all correspondence for yourself. In most cases, the agent will want to view the damage before writing you a check. This can all be done in a matter of a few days.
If your car is totaled, the repair shops will indicate this on their estimates. Unfortunately, the repair shops will not typically determine the market value of your car if it can't be fixed. Instead, this will need to be negotiated between you and the insurance company.
One of the easiest ways to determine the replacement value of your car is to research your vehicle's value on Kelley Blue Book via the Internet. First, fill out the information regarding your vehicle under private party value. Then, choose the condition that closely matches that of your car. Remember, only 3% of all cars are deemed excellent (showroom quality); 23% of cars are very good; and over half of all cars only meet the criteria of good. You get the idea—don't expect to negotiate excellent condition value for an average car.
Insurance companies almost always have some leeway in negotiating value. While you are waiting for a decision or a check, you might inquire whether a rental car is available for your use under the policy.
Don't take too long in this negotiating phase because there could be a storage bill accumulating for which you may be liable.
Also, make sure that you have all the photos you need of the car. It may be hauled off shortly after your settlement on value.
Signing a Release
If asked to sign a release before payment, make sure you are only settling on the car. All other damages resulting from your accident should be reserved. When in doubt, seek assistance from an experienced personal injury attorney.
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