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How Should I Handle My Car Repair or Total Loss Claim After a Car Crash?

It may not always make sense for you to hire a lawyer to represent you for a car repair or total loss claim following a car crash.  Situations in which a person may want to hire a lawyer for their property damage or total loss claims are:

  • Diminished value claims (i.e. when a newer vehicle is damaged and has a lower value following repairs as a result);
  • A unique or rare vehicle, with a difficultly placed value, is damaged or totaled; or
  • When lost income is tied to the damaged or totaled vehicle (i.e. when the car is used as part of a ride-share program, tow trucks, business fleet, etc.).

If your crash involves any of the above scenarios, we urge you to talk to an attorney immediately. Otherwise, more often than not, a person whose car is destroyed or damaged in a car crash will lose money if they hire an attorney and pay them a fee for their efforts.  This leaves the victim in a difficult position: how do they obtain a reasonable outcome of their property damage claim without the benefit of counsel? 

 

The following information is provided with the sole intent to illustrate different methods a person may use to handle a property damage claim on their own.  Also, it is important to note that all of what follows assumes that the other driver was responsible for the car crash you were involved in.

1) Reporting the Claim

The first thing you will want to do is report your claim (i.e. call the insurance company, tell them you were in a car crash, and ask to open a property damage claim).  This, of course, raises the initial question: whose insurance do I use?  If you have collision or comprehensive coverage through your own car insurance policy, these coverages will most likely cover any tow and storage costs, rental costs, and total loss settlements.  However, pursuing the property damage claim through your own insurance may result in increased premiums (i.e. your monthly bill with your insurer may go up) and you most likely will have to pay a deductible.  If you are forced to pay a deductible, you can always ask your own insurance company to pursue reimbursement of this amount at the same time they seek reimbursement from the other driver’s insurance company for any amounts they pay on your behalf (a process called “subrogation”).  You may want to go through your own insurance company if you find them easy to deal with or trust that they will act fairly and efficiently.  If, however, you do not have collision or comprehensive coverage on your car (or prefer to pursue your claim through the other driver’s insurance company), then you simply report the claim to them.  When reporting your claim to the at-fault driver’s insurance company, be sure to only answer questions about your property damage claim.  If you were injured in the crash and they begin to ask about your injuries, tell them you are seeking legal advice for your bodily injury claim and whichever attorney you hire will ultimately answer any questions they may have. 

2) Getting Back on the Road

The next step will be getting a rental car.  Every policy is different.  However, one thing is almost always certain: the insurer you file your claim through will cover reasonable rental car charges.  Ask the insurer right away about getting a rental car while your car is either being repaired or a total loss amount is being negotiated.  Generally, policies will cover reasonable rental charges for a vehicle similar to the one you were driving when the crash occurred (so you won’t be able to rent a Porsche if you were driving a Honda).  It’s also likely that you will only be given a rental car for a reasonable period of time.  Reasonable is a subjective term, but a good rule of thumb is to not keep the rental car after your car is repaired or your total loss is paid. 

3) Having Your Car Repaired or Being Paid for its Total Loss

Next is getting your car repaired or having it deemed a total loss.  Remember, you have the option of taking your damaged car to any mechanic or body shop you choose.  See ORS 746.280.  An insurance company cannot force you to take your car to a particular body shop.  (Insurance companies may offer incentives to you if you take your car to specific mechanics or repair facilities, but ultimately you have the choice of where to take your damaged car.)  When making this decision, choose a mechanic, dealership, or body shop you know and trust. 

It is important to remember that ultimately it is not your job to get your mechanic’s bill paid or to negotiate the repair bill—it is the mechanic’s.  Ensure that whichever mechanic you take the car to is familiar with property damage claims and will handle all aspects of getting your car fixed and their bill paid.  At the same time, ask the mechanic if they will work with the insurance company to arrange for your rental car.  Many mechanics will coordinate your rental car along with all aspects of the repair.  So, this process could be as simple as getting your damaged car to the body shop, picking up your rental car, dropping off the rental car when your car is fixed, and then picking up your newly repaired vehicle. 

But what if your car cannot be repaired?  Typically, if the cost of the repairs exceeds the value of the car, the insurer will deem it a total loss.  At this point, they will make you a settlement offer for your totaled car.  More often the not, the insurer’s first offer will be inadequate.  The question we get most often is how do I get more money for my totaled car?

When negotiating a total loss claim, the key is to find objective data points demonstrating why you should get more money for your totaled car; specifically, comparable cars in your area.  For example, if you live in Portland and your totaled car is a 2015 Toyota Camry in good condition with 100,000 miles on, you need to go online and find what other 2015 Toyota Camrys in good condition with 100,000 miles on them are selling for in the Portland-metro area.  Try to find three of these “comps” with sale prices around what you feel is fair value for your totaled car and then use them as the basis to make a counter offer.  Also, if your car has recently received any specific and special upgrades or modifications (for example CarPlay, upgraded stereo equipment, special tires, etc.), make sure that the insurer is accounting for them.  You will most likely not get a dollar for dollar reimbursement (as they are depreciating assets), but you should ask for them to be considered when negotiating a total loss settlement.

4) Final Thoughts

Please note that there are numerous issues that this article doesn’t address: gap insurance, leases, buy back options on totaled cars, etc.  This article is intended to simply give Oregonians a few practical tips on how to manage what can be a difficult task.  Other research is always recommended, and you may still wish to consider consulting with an attorney. 

Finally, keep in mind financial risks do exist, even if you are the victim in a car crash.  For example, you may be responsible for excessive rental charges if you fail to return the car on time, excessive tow lot charges if you do not report your claim in a timely manner, or you may lose out on your claim options all together if you either fail to comply with the terms of your insurance policy or fail to make a property damage claim before getting into a subsequent crash in the same car. 

Navigating the property damage claim following a car crash can be both frustrating and challenging.  However, armed with the right knowledge and taking the proper steps can give you the ammunition you need to fight back against aggressive insurance practices. 

 

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