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It...it...flam - flames. Flames, on the side of my car, heaving...breath...insurance.
March 3, 2008 10:55 AM   Subscribe

My car spontaneously combusted. Please help me avoid getting burned by the insurance company! Of all the values out there, which one is the closest to what they insurance company will offer me, which one should I be aiming for and how should I go about getting it?

While joining friends for dinner on Leap Day 2008, my car literally burst into flames in the restaurant's parking lot for no obvious reason. I had taken my beloved 2001 Mercury Sable LS Premium, with CD changer, leather interior and moonroof into Midas at the beginning of February to replace the battery and get an oil change. They did their standard little once-over as well and said everything was in good shape, so I was stunned on several levels as I watched the fireman light his cigarette from the smoldering wreckage that used to be my car's hood. What's worse is I bought the car used in 2003 and still have around $3,000 on the 6-year loan.

After spending the weekend in mourning, I set about trying to find out how much I could reasonably expect from Progressive. I checked listings with Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book, NADA and through local car trader papers. I'm left with quite a range of figures (everything from around $3,585 for Edmunds' general trade-in value for 2001 Mercury Sables to $6,925 for NADA's retail value for the car with my specific options) and I'm not sure which ones are most accurate. I realize, since half the car looks like a bombed out apocalyptic nightmare, full retail value is out of the question. Bare-bones trade-in seems shockingly low, though, particularly given the extras the car had and how much care I lavished on it. I even have the maintenance records...or rather, I had them...in my glove box...which was attached to the dashboard...which the firemen impaled on their axe and hurled seemingly halfway across the parking lot.

This is the first time I've filed a claim with Progressive in the three years I've had them, and so far, they've been great. I filed Saturday morning, they called me back by 9 am the same day, I spoke with my specific claims adjuster this morning at 8:45 am and within a couple of hours has been contacted by Enterprise to let me know Progressive had my $40/day rental car reservation ready to go. So I'm hopeful they won't low-ball me, but I'm not even sure how I'll know if I'm getting a fair deal. Also, they'll only pay for three days of car rental after they tell me how much they're offering me so I don't have a lot of time to weigh options. While I can do without a car for awhile, longer than a couple of weeks becomes impractical to say the least.

How do I know what's a reasonable amount to aim for from Progressive and, if I think I'm being low-balled, how might I negotiate and increase in the offer?
posted by quakerjono to Work & Money (12 answers total)
 
I have had two cars totaled, including one due to spontaneous (if you can consider me ignoring a really bad oil leak 'spontaneous') combustion. Making claims on your insurance is when you find out if they're really "great" or not. Typically you find out they're not. Every time I have made a claim, I've been more or less screwed. Remember that insurance companies are in the business of making money, so they're nice while you pay your premiums, and stingy when they're asked to give you anything back.

I didn't carry comprehensive insurance on the car that burned, so I got nothing for that (in fact I had to pay to have it scrapped). For the one that was stolen and stripped, I was offered a "fair market value" based on sale prices of 20 "similar" cars in recent months in my area. The problem with this was that I owned a model in the highest trim level; i.e., it had a better engine, suspension, interior, and options than all of the models they used in their estimate. So, I got lowballed.

I spent six months arguing with them over this, and I got absolutely nowhere. Even telling them that they would lose my future business over a difference of about $1500 didn't phase them.

Basically what I'm telling you is that, in my experience, you don't have any "options." Unless you want to sue them.
posted by autojack at 11:19 AM on March 3, 2008


I realize, since half the car looks like a bombed out apocalyptic nightmare, full retail value is out of the question.

I just wanted to say that as long as you can prove that the car combusted through no fault of your own, shouldn't the insurance company treat this as accidental damage? If so, they should be giving you an amount equal to the worth of the car before the accident, not after. Therefore, the fact that it's currently in pretty bad shape shouldn't count against the value of your car. I can't imagine, from your description, that they wouldn't be totaling the vehicle. In terms of my personal experience with insurance, using the "before" value of the car makes the most sense to me.

Also, if I were you, I'd be pretty thankful I wasn't inside that car right about now. As bad as your beloved Sable looks, you could be looking a lot worse right about now. Also, I love the movie Clue too. That is all.
posted by theantikitty at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2008


"fair market value" based on sale prices of 20 "similar" cars in recent months in my area.

I won that argument by finding a different set of comparable vehicles and faxing a bunch of papers back and forth. It felt like a big victory at the time, but really it was a lot of work and anger over not very much money. But yes, it is sometimes possible to prove that their valuation of the vehicle is not accurate; this is easier if your vehicle is unusual, or if there are big regional or seasonal variations on price, etc.
posted by Forktine at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2008


Check a few different sites, kelly blue book, edmunds and NADA. Also, check the classified ads and craigslist for similar cars, so you have as much information to support your claim as possible. If what they offer you falls withing the range of retail prices, consider yourself lucky and take it. You might be able to squeeze a little more out of them, but you're not exactly negotiating from a position of strength.
posted by electroboy at 11:41 AM on March 3, 2008


Also, ask about how they figured out the amount. If they used Choicepoint to determine the value, ask for a copy of the report.
posted by electroboy at 11:43 AM on March 3, 2008


Awesome Clue/Madeliene Khan ref.

That is all.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:12 PM on March 3, 2008


I think progressive uses the average of kelly bluebook and primark redbook. When I had a to deal with them for a totaled vehicle, they were really great. The only snag was they wanted to deduct because my car didn't have an option that wasn't actually an option on my car, but I argued with them untill they called nissan and confirmed that it wasn't an option. I literally had a check in my hands 3 days after the car was totaled, and one of those days was a sunday.
posted by duckstab at 12:38 PM on March 3, 2008


I even have the maintenance records...or rather, I had them...in my glove box...which was attached to the dashboard...which the firemen impaled on their axe and hurled seemingly halfway across the parking lot.

Provided you used the same repair shop for the majority of your maintenance, these records shouldn't be too hard to reconstruct. At a minimum, I'd go back to the Midas and get another copy of the maintenance records from that visit ... and don't tell them why, at least until you have the records in hand. Its completely possible that Progressive is going to want to talk to (and maybe find a way to pin this on) the folks at your Midas, FYI.
posted by anastasiav at 12:53 PM on March 3, 2008


This exact same thing happened to my mother's car. It was like a 1993 Sable Wagon, and it just lit itself on fire in the parking lot one day while she was shopping. After she answered a page at the store, the woman at the customer service desk asked "Would you like us to call the fire department?" By the time I saw it, the engine block had melted itself into a solid undifferentiated wad of metal. It was pretty spectacular. The fire department did a sort of investigation, but never came up with a decent explanation of why it happened.

So, I can't really help with the insurance issues – I was pretty young when this happened – but I can tell you that you're not the only person this has happened to, despite what the insurance company might try to tell you.

This particular car came back to haunt us when some petty arsonists threw molotov cocktails into my dad's car while it was parked in a commuter rail parking lot. Suffice to say, the insurance company was extremely skeptical when that report came in. "You've had two cars in three years go up in flames? Hmmmmm." I didn't help the situation, either, because I had spent the whole night tying up the phone line downloading some game, so the police couldn't get through to us to tell us what had happened. Oops.
posted by heresiarch at 1:54 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you wind up feeling like you haven't been fairly compensated, contact your state board of insurance.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:54 AM on March 4, 2008


Thanks for the advice, folks! Wish me luck.
posted by quakerjono at 2:40 PM on March 4, 2008


They are most likely going to lowball you, as they didn't build all those big offices by writing checks ;-)

Anyway, I would pay most attention to how they calculate the value of the car. If there is anything that is different about your car vs. the average of your make/model you might have problems.

My dad rear ended someone is his 94 Jetta and they offered him something like $1000 because it had ~250k miles on it. All they did is pull up the 94 formula and enter '250k miles' and 'fair condition'. The fact that it had a GTI transmission, a newer rebuilt engine, awesome suspension, and that it was a pretty awesome car before it rear ended someone wasn't factored in. Also, $1k was half as much as the "Needs body work, recently overheated" cars being sold in our area.
posted by sideshow at 5:02 PM on March 4, 2008


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