I hit a car but now it can't drive. What can I do?
March 31, 2011 1:27 PM   Subscribe

I hit a car but it is for reasons unrelated to the accident, not drivable. Do I have to use the car owners estimate? If I can't take the car to get an estimate, what can I do?

I hit my assistant's neighbor's parked car (a late 90's ford taurus) and caused some front driver side body damage. A couple weeks later, for reasons unrelated to the accident, the car was unable to start. The owner has an estimate for damage, but I want to get my own before i proceed. I'm having trouble finding a body shop willing to drive out and take a look at the car. What is my best recourse?
posted by punch_the_mayor to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your insurer.
posted by jon1270 at 1:31 PM on March 31, 2011

Is there a reason your insurance company isn't handling this for you? This isn't your job, it's theirs.

(Of course, if you're driving around California uninsured, that's a problem in itself)
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:31 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are big parts of this scenario missing.

- You hit the car
- Are you sure the non-starting is unrelated to the accident?
- Did you report it to the insurance?
- Was it reported to the police?
- What did the insurance/police say?
- Has it been driven since it was hit?
- What is being done about the damage?
- Is the assistant's neighbor saying you have a certain responsibility? What is that?
- Do you have insurance?
- If so, why isn't your insurance handling this?
- If not, you may have larger problems.

Generally speaking a body shop won't drive out to a non-starting car just to assess other damage. The routine is you get the car towed to a body shop. If you have AAA they can do this for a reasonable amount or you can pay a towing company to do this. Everyone else is right, if you're doing this legitimately, and you're in the US, insurance companies should be handling it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2011

What do you mean "have to use" the car owner's estimate? You don't have to do anything unless there's a judgement against you.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2011

Don't make this more of a hassle for the neighbor than it already is. You hit their car. I commend you for taking responsibility, but it's not their job to drive around and get multiple estimates for you, and you don't have the right to drive their car. Whether or not it starts at the moment isn't really your concern.
posted by dacoit at 1:36 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm handling this myself outside of insurance. The car was driving fine for a couple of weeks after the accident, but stopped working for reasons unrelated to the accident. But as I hit the car before it stopped working, I'm still on the hook for it.
posted by punch_the_mayor at 1:43 PM on March 31, 2011

The question of whether you "have to" use the owner's estimate is impossible to answer, because legally and contractually, you're obligated to inform your insurance company, and they'll figure it out. It's ethically acceptable to handle this on your own, but there's no legal guidance here because you're operating outside/against the law.

I am not a lawyer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:46 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, if you want to use an estimate, and you can't get the car to the body shop, then the current estimate is your only guidance, and you have to use it. Has the owner agreed to letting you seek an additional estimate? Would they agree to having the car towed in order to obtain this estimate?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:50 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

But as I hit the car before it stopped working, I'm still on the hook for it.

This makes no sense. If your neighbor is trying to get you to pay for damage you didn't cause, handling it outside of insurance isn't going to work so well.
posted by jon1270 at 1:50 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

...or did I misunderstand, and you simply meant that your problem is just the difficulty in getting a second bodywork estimate?
posted by jon1270 at 1:54 PM on March 31, 2011

jon1270: I believe he means he's still on the hook for the damage caused by him hitting the car, it's just that getting an estimate for that damage has been made more difficult by subsequent car-not-working problems, which he is not obligated to pay for the repair of.

Punch, your options are probably to use the estimate you have, or to get it towed (probably at your expense) to a body shop (and then probably towed back).
posted by brainmouse at 2:02 PM on March 31, 2011

You want to handle it outside insurance. Unless you hit the car incredibly hard (especially as it was driven after the accident) it is very unlikely you caused the non-starting. So here's my take:

The damage must have been light for the car to remain being driven. So I assume that you want a second opinion because the existing quote (done when the car ran, presumably) is too high for your assessment of the damage.

1 - the car cannot be repaired without getting to a body shop.

2 - You cannot get a quote that you are comfortable with without a body shop seeing it. The car can't get to one.

So the owners car doesn't work. To my mind, if they don't want to fix it from starting, they don't want it fixed too badly. I'd - nicely - say "Well, I'm not comfortable with the quote you provide but you are unable to get the car repaired or further quoted until it is fixed from the engine issue. Let me know when it's running again and I'll source a body shop we are both comfortable with when the car is mobile again".

It's not your fault the car is not running, therefore not your problem it can't be taken to get a decent quote. If it isn't running, it doesn't matter if the bodywork is bent, so the issue is moot until the owner sorts out their own issues - the mechanical problems, to my mind.

However, if you get any grief for this, your only recourse is to hand it straight to your insurance company who will likely send an assessor to the car or take the exact same stance. That's all you can do, but I'd politely refuse to progress any further until the car is in a position to be either quoted or repaired. Is there a possibility that they need the money form the crash to pay for the repair? Cos that ain't your problem.
posted by Brockles at 2:02 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jus to clarify, I'd flat out refuse to pay for towing to get a better quote, but I would price the quote against the cost of towing for my reference. It is technically your right to demand an additional quote, but it's also technically your requirement to use insurance. Tricky ground. I think you're justified in digging your heels in, though, if their quote is high. I certainly would.

In addition, bear in mind that anything much more than $1500 would likely come close to a value that would write the car off. Consider that in your sums. $1500 is a hell of a lot of bodywork, though.
posted by Brockles at 2:06 PM on March 31, 2011

The extra that it will cost you to tow the car to a body shop and then back to the person's house, or pay a body shop to go out there and make an estimate, is probably more than you'd save by getting a second estimate - either way, if they have a place that they want to use (or say they do) and it costs $x at that place, the easiest thing for you to do would be to pay them $x if it seems like it's in the ballpark. Essentially, $x is what they are offering as a price to be done with this now.

You could try to take some good photos and a copy of the first estimate over to a body shop that I trust and ask them to eyeball it and comment on whether the estimate seems totally off.

I am a lawyer - not yours! - and I actually took a whole semester on insurance law - I don't remember anything about it being against the law not to go through your car insurance provider, but maybe that's a California specific thing or something I just don't remember.

That said, I don't know if at this point it would be easier to go through insurance or not, but I do recall my agent telling me years ago that handling something outside of insurance opened up a whole bunch of liability - something about the insurance not covering additional claims if an accident wasn't handled through them? I'd call your insurer anonymously and inquire.

I can tell you that if it were my car you hit and you took Brockles' approach, I would tell you to give me your insurance info right now and we can handle it that way, because I don't want to hear about how you're not going to pay for the damage until I get the car running - two separate issues, don't confuse them, even though in principle I tend to agree with Brockles.
posted by mrs. taters at 2:09 PM on March 31, 2011

...and by the way, how would the car get fixed if it isn't running?
Can you take good clear photos to a few body shops to see if they are willing to give you a range of pricing.
then if that matches the car owners price or comes close you will feel better paying it.
posted by calgirl at 2:22 PM on March 31, 2011

It would help to know the estimate, your estimated extent of the damage (Are we talking about a scrape, heavier damage?), why the car's not running.

Body work/part replacement gets expensive pretty fast and there's often damage not readily visible so you wouldn't be the first person to be surprised by a high estimate that's entirely legitimate.

Have you looked around online to see what people say about the shop that made the estimate.

(If the car's not torn up, it could be that the person is thinking, "I'll get the money for the damage and use it to get the car running," which one can argue is questionable, but you hit their car.)
posted by ambient2 at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2011

Insurance companies often hire independent appraisers to come out and look at vehicles to determine the cost of fixing the damage. I just had someone else's insurance company hire one of these appraisers to come look at my car because their preferred repair shop was really far away. So, I would look online for an independent appraiser and ask them to come out and look at the car.
posted by echo0720 at 2:43 PM on March 31, 2011

By how much do you think their estimate is too high? If it's even in the ballpark, I would just get this off your hands ASAP by making them a reasonable offer. You're benefiting from the fact that you're not reporting this to your insurer, while the other party is potentially losing by forgoing the sure thing of an insurance payment for the damage. In other words, presumably you've enlarged the pie you're splitting here, so I would split the benefit, pay them now and wash your hands of this mess before they start claiming you're the reason the car doesn't start, etc.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:51 PM on March 31, 2011

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