My car got totaled - help me get what I'm owed
December 31, 2010 2:57 PM   Subscribe

My car got totaled in an accident two days ago. I'm looking for advice from those who've been through this process before. How can I make sure to get the most money for the replacement car from my insurance?

For example, the manager of the auto-body repair shop where I brought the car told me to get together all the receipts for recent improvements I've made to the car, but not to mention any of this to the insurance company until they officially declare my car totaled. He said they will reimburse me for the winter tires that I bought about a week ago. A friend of mine also told me that the insurance will likely pay for a rental car while I'm waiting. I'm looking for similar advice. What specific things should I be doing now to make this go smoothly and make sure I get what I'm owed?

Possibly relevant info: I live in Massachusetts and my insurance company in Liberty Mutual.

posted by smokingmonkey to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You'll only get a rental car if you paid for that coverage.

My experience is that there really isn't much you can do in terms of the price you are offered. They really don't care much about the condition of your tires, recent repairs, etc. They're going to use whatever book value the car has and offer you that with any adjustments made due to your extent of coverage (deductable).

If the offer is lower than you expect, let your agent help you, that's what you pay him to do.
posted by HuronBob at 3:04 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine also told me that the insurance will likely pay for a rental car while I'm waiting

Is this included in your insurance policy? I don't know about Liberty Mutual, but the insurance companies I've had include rental reimbursement as a separate line item you have to choose and pay for. Check your insurance documentation.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:06 PM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't say who was at fault or any other circumstances of your accident, but I'll share my experience:

I was on a motorcycle (stopped!) when I was hit by a drunk driver. His insurance company (Progressive, which was also my insurance company) happily paid for the Blue Book value of my destroyed motorcycle, but it quickly became clear that they intended to dick me around on the substantial medical costs that were starting to accumulate.

Despite being fairly anti-lawsuit but having exhausted every other avenue, I called a lawyer.

My lawyer was visibly annoyed that I had already settled for Blue Book; he claimed he could have gotten double that from the insurance company. But 6 months later I got a check for much more than I had paid in medical expenses and everyone was happy. Happily, my insurance rates didn't go up.

tl;dr: If it wasn't your fault, call a lawyer ASAP.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:26 PM on December 31, 2010

Massachusetts is a no-fault state, you probably won't be getting paid for any medical costs by the other driver's insurance (and, I know you didn't mention injuries) as suggested by coolguymichael.
posted by HuronBob at 3:30 PM on December 31, 2010

if it was NOT your fault, the other driver's insurance should cover a rental for at least a few days. also, were you making payments or do you own it outright? find the title to your car if you don't know where it is and you own the car.

do not talk to the other insurance company directly. that's what you pay Liberty Mutual for.
if you can afford it, get a lawyer on your side now. ask Liberty Mutual and the lawyer about the recent improvements thing.

again, don't sign a damn thing, NOT A SINGLE THING from the other insurance company without having Liberty Mutual or a lawyer look at it. not a statement, not anything.

don't pay for a rental car thinking you'll get reimbursed, either.

sorry this happened to you. best of luck!
posted by sio42 at 3:37 PM on December 31, 2010

Just got totaled earlier this month!

- Don't talk to ANYONE other than insurance co. and mechanic.
- You'll only be covered for rental if you had that specific rider on your policy.
- You CAN contest the final "totaled" amount. State Farm tried to take off $800 for "prior body damage" - when I sweetly gasped, "Really?! WHAT prior body damage, guys?", they were nice enough to take that OFF of the estimate, which ruled.
- You will just piss everyone off if you try to claim injuries or pain/suffering unless there REALLY WERE injuries/pain/suffering. Play it honest, yo. :-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 3:40 PM on December 31, 2010

For example, the manager of the auto-body repair shop where I brought the car told me to get together all the receipts for recent improvements I've made to the car,

"improvements" maybe (ie: stuff that would actually add value to the car), but not required work/repairs. I had a car totaled a while back (100 percent NOT my fault) less than a week after I'd had a faulty wheel bearing replaced. Insurance didn't cover it as they said the car would not be worth the blue book value if I hadn't had it repaired.
posted by philip-random at 4:09 PM on December 31, 2010

More details:

I don't own the car. I took out a loan which I was paying off every month. I bought it 3 months ago. It was a 2004 Mazda3 Hatchback.

Also, I have no idea who was at fault. The whole thing is pretty hazy to me. I'm fine. The other driver broke their arm and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

And by improvements I'm really only talking about the (expensive) winter tires I bought a week ago.
posted by smokingmonkey at 4:23 PM on December 31, 2010

Also, I have no idea who was at fault.

Who was ticketed, or was there no ticket. You should probably request a copy of the police report. And, since there were injuries, follow the good advice above not to talk to ANYONE other than your own insurance agent, I would probably even go a step further and hire an attorney to talk to my own insurance agent/company.
posted by HuronBob at 4:30 PM on December 31, 2010

oh my.

if you do not own the car, then any money will go the lender. they won't give it to you, since it goes to the title holder, not the person driving the car (you).
did you have gap insurance? that was the only thing that saved my broke ass when my car got totaled a year ago.
posted by sio42 at 4:41 PM on December 31, 2010

Massachusetts is a no-fault state, you probably won't be getting paid for any medical costs by the other driver's insurance.

I forgot to mention: The money didn't come from the other guy's insurance company; it came from mine. (Yes, it was the same company, but they paid as my representative -- not his.)

Who was ticketed, or was there no ticket. You should probably request a copy of the police report.

Important questions, and very good advice. Even before the lawsuit, I needed to original police report number repeatedly. This will become even more important if the other driver decides to come after you.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:43 PM on December 31, 2010

I received a higher settlement when my vehicle was totaled by gathering data on similarly priced vehicles in the...gasp...classified ads. (This was in 1993.) That vehicle, a VW camper, is rare though. New tires don't quite make it.

What you might do also, if I recall the process, is buy the vehicle back from the insurance carrier for the salvage value and then try to recoup some extra cash by selling said tires. In other words, e.g. they give you settlement of $5000, you buy back for $500, then you sell for salvage of $500 plus sell the tires for $200 e&.
posted by Dick Paris at 4:52 PM on December 31, 2010

when the adjuster came to value my car, he already a list of all the similar cars for sale in a 100 mile radius. not that it isn't a good idea, but they might do that research for you.
posted by sio42 at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2010

yes, there is an option for you to have rental coverage on your insurance policy in ma. you choose how much per day will be paid toward a rental. i had this option for $15/day when my car was undrivable for several weeks due to a collision a few years ago, but it was the *other guy's* insurance that paid. full price, not the $15 that was part of my policy. also, it was paid outright for me, rather than reimbursed after the fact. i only spoke to my insurance agent about this, and i have no idea how it got arranged, but i didn't need to do anything except pick up the rental.

in fact, i always called my insurance agent about everything. if the other insurance company called, i didn't answer or call back unless specifically instructed to by my agent.

important here though was that the other guy completely admitted fault and i had a police report from the scene, corroborating his admission as well as a ticket to him. he also called his insurance company almost immediately after the accident to admit fault. if the other guy is at fault, your insurance company will not be putting out any money for the car or expenses, and thus shouldbe only too helpful to get you all the $$ you deserve.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:17 PM on December 31, 2010

After our car was totaled, we went to the body shop and replaced the snow tires ourselves with the stock tires because they wouldn't have paid for the upgrade (I have the same wheelset and we bought the exact same car again, so it was worth taking the tires.) I am also in MA with Liberty Mutual. They did offer us more than I thought they would, though, and honestly a bit higher than blue book IIRC, and ours was a one-car accident in which my husband was totally at fault.
posted by kpht at 5:50 PM on December 31, 2010

File a claim with both your insurance company and the other driver's insurance company. Yes, it's twice the time/effort/hassle, but in my experience, the settlements can vary widely (and your insurance company may not have the better offer).
posted by taconic at 9:05 PM on December 31, 2010

When mine was totaled a quick letter from my lawyer got me $4K more from the insurance company on the value of the car AND they added the cost of replacing my iPod and cell phone which were both destroyed in the crash. Your results may vary, of course. This is just my plug for having a lawyer in your corner.
posted by Mimzy at 7:21 AM on January 1, 2011

when the adjuster came to value my car, he already a list of all the similar cars for sale in a 100 mile radius. not that it isn't a good idea, but they might do that research for you.
posted by sio42 at 7:56 PM on December 31

They are supposed to do this. If you dispute the offer, you can ask the adjuster to request the appraiser to "expand statewide," meaning to collect recent sale data on cars like yours throughout your entire state. This is helpful if you live in, say, Gainesville and cars like yours sell for a lot more in, say, Miami.

PS if you have "rims" on the car, and you haven't yet sold the original steel or alloy wheels, tell the appraiser where they are, as they will add thousands to the value of your car, compared to "rims," which will depreciate your car's value.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:59 AM on January 1, 2011

My car was totaled last summer. I also have Liberty Mutual insurance. I love(d) my old car and naively thought they'd fix it (the damage was only to the passenger side doors). I have had Liberty Mutual insurance for 30+ years (I used to be a claims adjuster with them). I was not at fault in the accident (other driver ran a stop sign). I was completely unprepared for the level of aggressive and rude "tactics" used by both my own carrier and the other carrier (Allstate). I was educated (quickly) that insurance companies start out seemingly quasi-reasonable and then they'll blindside you with a ridiculous low figure for your car. Back in my day, adjusting a total loss was also a harangue, but in today's economy insurance adjusters are crazy over the top to keep costs down.

Your car is younger than mine was, so it's conceivable that you might have better luck than I did. I had to fight tooth and nail for weeks to get them to bring their offer up. I carried collision on my old car, so rental reimbursement was included (I believe Liberty Mutual offers rental reimbursement as a standard with collision coverage). At first it seemed logical to handle it with my own company and then have them subrogate Allstate. Liberty Mutual was so awful to me (no exaggeration) and they treated me as if it was a joke/crime to drive an older car. I kept saying things like, I used to work for Liberty Mutual, I've been a policyholder for 30+ years! It didn't matter, every time I phoned I got a different adjuster (they call it the total loss "team"...anyone on the "team" can help you).

Eventually I took my case to the other side (Allstate) and though they were just as rude and arrogant they finally upped the offer. I had to do my own research to prove to them that my car was worth 4 times what they offered. I sent them repair bills (that they scoffed at) and all manner of other receipts to prove to them my car was better than the JUNKERS and parts cars they tried to use to value my car. This was a ton of work and took me weeks. (You have to check classifieds and come up with an average that is better than the silly average they will arrive at).

What I wound up doing is taking (the paltry) sum Allstate finally came up with and I kept the car. Now I have a "salvage title" and I have to decide whether or not to have the car fixed on my own. If I have the car fixed (by adding my own money to do so) I still have a car that has a diminished value (because of the salvage/and or reconstructed title) and I was not made whole from the accident.

I was inches away from changing my insurance from Liberty Mutual to anything else...but in the end I realized ALL insurance companies are AWFUL in a total situation (unless you are hurt..then they are probably better). Insurance companies are ridiculously aggressive about not paying what they's a game and a joke to them.

By the way, you're first order of the day is to become unfuzzy about whose fault it is. You can get better treatment from the other side (of course) along with a rental car...if it was not your fault.
If it is your fault and you owe money on the have a long row to hoe.
posted by naplesyellow at 10:20 AM on January 1, 2011

Let the insurance company declare it is totaled, and let them make you an offer. It will be around the blue book. Then mention the tires, and present a receipt when requested.

My car was totaled in 2004. I had just bought new tires, new brakes, and a new stereo? Hell, I even mentioned the extras that were on the car (heated seats/etc) that the blue book didn't account for.

Good luck.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:01 PM on January 4, 2011

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