Help navigating insurance with a slightly smushed old(er) car
October 7, 2019 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I was in a car accident and am working with insurance to repair my car. I haven't been through this process, and would love some help. Old(er) car edition.

I was recently in a 75mph hit and run accident on the interstate with someone who was maybe drunk, or maybe just much worse at weaving in and out of traffic than they thought. They did not stop after they hit me, but there were witnesses and a police report was filed. Accident was in Massachusetts, I live in Rhode Island. Luckily everyone is fine, but my '09 Toyota Matrix (~150k miles on it) came out a little worse for wear, picture here.

I have both uninsured motorist coverage and collision with a $250 deductible so luckily I am covered one way or the other. HOWEVER, I have never actually had the pleasure of using car insurance and I don't know what I am doing. I own the car outright, I had planned to drive it into the ground, likely another 4-5 years.

The adjuster just came out and looked at it, his estimate for the damage is $3,150. The market value of the car seems to be in the $4,500-$5,000 range, so I don't think it will be totaled but I think it will be close.

I have the following questions:

-I assume the $3,150 is just a preliminary estimate (it took him all of 5 minutes). If I take it to a body shop and they start the repair and find that the cost will be higher, what happens then? Does insurance adjust their payout? Could it be totaled at that point?

-If it is totaled but the damage turns out to be primarily cosmetic, I would be interested in keeping it. I don't care about the resale value. It seems like this is a little complicated and the process varies from state to state. Does anyone have experience doing this?

-I don't really care about whether the car looks nice, only whether it is safe to drive. It's an older car, if I have to choose between making it beautiful vs driving a safe but ugly car and pocketing a couple thousand bucks, I'll do the latter. Obviously some work needs to be done on it, but if I take it to an auto body shop would they be willing to give me a quote only for the damage that is structural/safety related? If so, should I take it to a couple shops to get estimates?

-Should I be working with my insurance company to make sure this goes through my uninsured motorist coverage vs my collision coverage? Does it matter in terms of whether my rates will go up?
posted by geegollygosh to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been down this road many times, except for the uninsured motorist bit:

- Your insurance company should provide you with referrals to local body shops that they prefer to work with, although you can generally take it anywhere. I usually go with the place the insurance company suggests, since it's their dime. Take it to the shop along with the estimate and give them your adjuster's information. If the estimate ends up low the shop will negotiate that with the insurance company until they either arrive on a plan of repair both the shop and the insurance company can live with, or until the insurance company decides it would cost too much and and decides to total it out.

- If the insurance company declares that it is totaled, they will pay you the entire "fair market value"/"replacement cost" of the vehicle, and it becomes the insurance company's property. Essentially they're buying the wreck from you for (probably not quite as much as) the price they think you could buy it for if it wasn't wrecked. They generally aren't interested in selling your totaled vehicle to you or to anyone but a scrapper or salvage yard, because of liability issues. I lost a very beloved car this way, and once you have engaged the insurance company, I'm not sure what you can do to defend against this possibility, aside from terminating your relationship with the company and shouldering the entire cost of repair yourself.

- If you want a "safety only" repair then I think you have to go outside of your insurance. A shop will certainly do this for you, but it's not going to fly with the insurance company; you'll have to pay for it out of pocket. Since you're already past the point of having a claim open, you're probably going to have to go with what the insurance company wants to do, or drop them; they will be unlikely to be willing to continue to insure the vehicle unless the claim is processed to their satisfaction.

- Given the circumstances, I would not expect the insurance company to find you "at fault" for the accident, and if they know who hit you, they're possibly getting ready to sue them over it. It still might be worth ensuring that the details of the situation are crystal clear with an agent, though. Note that even if you aren't at fault, your insurance company might still try to raise your rates and/or drop you entirely after totaling a vehicle.

P.S.: Often insurance companies will total something out if the cost of the repair exceeds 50% of the market value - so you may be much closer to the line than you think :( But, $3,150 also sounds like a lot to fix things based on the picture you posted, unless they think the axle / suspension components need to be replaced.
posted by jordemort at 11:10 AM on October 7, 2019

If you take it to a body shop and they start repairs but find more damage once parts have been removed, then they file a supplement with the insurance company. They will send an adjuster over to see the damage and they will authorize additional money for the repair.

If the car it totaled, then the insurance company will give you the actual cash value of the car before the wreck. This will likely be below Kelly Blue book and more in line with a similar car with similar mileage on Craigslist or Facebook. If they total your car, you usually will have the option to buy it back from them at the salvage price. You will get a new title that shows your car was in an accident and totaled (a salvage title). That will make it nearly impossible to ever sell and it will only ever be eligible for liability insurance. I've done this on a low value car with minor damage that was not economical to fix.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 3:39 PM on October 7, 2019

I hit post too soon.
Say they total your car and you agree to a settlement of $4500. You will ask what the salvage value is and they will take that out of the settlement and let you keep the car. Say it's $700. You will get a check for $3800. The body shop says they can do the minimum to make it safe to drive for $1000. You would have them do that then pocket the other $2800.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 3:44 PM on October 7, 2019

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