Arthur Liebling Attorney and Counselor at Law
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How to Get Your Car Repaired without a Lawyer

You can have your car repaired without a lawyer! Even though a lawyer is representing you for your personal injury claim, you can usually settle your property damage portion of the claim yourself faster, easier, and cheaper than with the aid of a lawyer. By settling the property damage portion of your claim as quickly as possible, you can avoid aggravation, avoid unnecessary storage fees and avoid the unnecessary loss of your vehicle’s use.

After you have been discharged from the hospital, you can locate your vehicle by contacting the police who will tell you which company has towed your car. Arrange for a friend or relative to photograph your wrecked car and retrieve your personal belongings. Your license plate should be removed if you believe that your vehicle has been totaled. An injured person should always try to avoid contact with an insurance company adjuster, therefore, it is usually wise to have a friend or family member handle everything. The insurance company would love to find out that you have been taking pictures of your car or removing the license plate.

It is critical for a friend or family member to get good pictures of your vehicle's damage prior to any repairs. (Good digital photos or 35mm photographs work best). Make sure the damaged areas of the vehicle are photographed so that a jury will be able to see the full extent of the damage to your car. If an airbag is deployed or there is interior damage, be sure to photograph those areas as well. If you are lucky, you might see the other vehicle, or vehicles that were involved in the crash at the same tow yard. If so, take several photographs of their damages as well. Hopefully, a trial will not be necessary, but it is far better to be safe than sorry and taking pictures to preserve important evidence is critical to preserve the value of your claim.

Which Insurance Company Will Pay?
If you have collision coverage, your insurance company should pay for the damages to your vehicle no matter who was at fault. If you do not have collision coverage, the other driver's insurance company should pay your property damage provided you were not at fault in the accident. A property damage insurance adjuster or appraiser from the claims office will usually negotiate and pay your claim. When speaking with them, do not discuss the details of your personal injuries and never provide a recorded statement. It is best to tell them that your attorney will be handling your bodily injury claim and that they must contact your attorney with questions about your injuries.

If you have collision coverage with your own insurance company, it is usually best to deal directly with them. While you will be required to pay your deductible (if any), you may recover it later from the person who caused the accident. Sometimes your insurance company will get your deductible back for you. You should not be afraid to make a claim against your insurance company because you are fearful that they will increase your premiums. Your insurance company is not allowed to raise your rates or cancel your coverage as a result of a claim unless the accident was partially your fault. They may, however, raise your premiums for other reasons.

Most insurance companies want to settle property damage claims as quickly as possible so that they can close your file and go on to the next claim. Therefore, you can speed up this process by knowing the property damage claim number, knowing where your vehicle is located, knowing in advance where you want your car repaired and by having a friend assist you.

Property Damge When the Other Party Has No Insurance
If the owner of the car that caused the crash has no insurance, you can send a copy of the crash report to the Department of Motor Vehicles with a letter telling them about the uninsured car owner. The Department of Motor Vehicles will then suspend their drivers license for failing to have the minimum automobile insurance required by law. Their drivers license will then be suspended until they pay up to $10,000.00 in damages, enter into an agreement with you to pay the damages or file bankruptcy.

Where to Have Your Car Repaired
Generally speaking, the auto manufacturer dealerships are a good place for an initial repair estimate since they are best qualified to work on your vehicle. This is especially important if you have a leased car. By having the repairs done at the dealership that leased the vehicle to you, you can avoid extra charges for damages at the end of the lease term. It is hard for them to say that the repairs were not done properly and that you owe them for damages since they did the repair work themselves.

While factory dealerships are a good place to start, many other body shops can also provide excellent service. Look for a body shop with a good reputation in your community and ask for recommendations from friends. Once you find a body shop that you want to repair your vehicle, submit the estimate to the insurance company. If the insurance company thinks that the estimate is too high, let the body shop and the insurance company haggle over the price. The body shop should be on your side and they should want to get your car fixed properly. They should be able to recognize when the insurance company is trying to cut corners. Remember, you do not have to use the body shop recommended by the insurance company. Sometimes they can do substandard work or use substandard parts. You are entitled to have the same kind and the same quality parts that were in your vehicle prior to the accident and if your car is brand new, then brand new parts will be required. On the other hand, an older car would not necessarily be entitled to brand new parts. If part of your car needs painting, the insurance company is not required to paint the entire car. They must however, make sure that the portion of your car painted matches the rest of the car reasonably well.

How Much Will They Pay to Repair Your Car?
The insurance company will pay (until the policy limits are exhausted) the lesser of:

a) the actual cash value of your car, or
b) the amount necessary to repair it.

If the cost of repairing your car exceeds 80% of it's value, the insurance company will total your car and pay you it's actual cash value. You will then be required to sign documents that transfer your car's title to the insurance company, so in effect, they will have purchased your wrecked car.

If Your Car Is Totaled
If your car is totaled, the insurance company will determine it's actual cash value based upon a comparison with other vehicles of the same year, make, model, options, condition and mileage. In the event that you and the insurance company do not agree on the value of your car, you need to prove it's value by comparison to similar cars. Your comparisons will help you to explain why the insurance company’s offer is substandard and why they should pay you more. You can find comparisons in the Auto Trader, classified ads, at car dealerships, NADA books and now even on the Internet. Finding out as much information as you can will help you to negotiate a better price. As a last resort, you can tell the insurance company that you want them to purchase the replacement vehicle for you since some insurance companies use car locating services to find a car similar to yours. In other words, they will find a car with the same make, model, year, options and mileage and they will buy and deliver it to you. This option resolves any arguments about the value of the car since the insurance company replaces it for you.

You Are Entitled to be Paid for the Tag, Registration and the Taxes
If your car is totaled, you are entitled to be paid for the sales tax and the registration fees. Generally, the insurance company will pay for sales tax after you have purchased the replacement vehicle. If you buy a vehicle that costs more than your wrecked one, the insurance company will pay sales tax only on the value of the wrecked vehicle and if you buy a less expensive one, the insurance company will keep the difference in sales tax, only paying what was actually spent on the vehicle.

If you owe money on your vehicle, the insurance company will issue a check payable to you and the finance company. Once the finance company receives payment, they will send the car title to the insurance company, then the finance company will pay you the amount that remains after your loan has been paid. If, however, you owe more on the car than the amount paid by the insurance company, the finance company will keep all of the money and seek the difference from you. Unfortunately, you cannot recover this financial loss from the other driver and the most that the insurance company is obligated to pay is the actual cash value of your vehicle regardless of your financing situation. Therefore, beware of ‘upside-down financing,’ which simply means that you owe more for the vehicle than it is actually worth.

If Your Car Can Be Repaired
The insurance company may request that you bring the vehicle directly to them for an estimate. Many insurance companies have drive through facilities that will appraise the damages while you wait. However, when your vehicle is not drivable, they will go to wherever it is located.

Hidden Damages
After the insurance company has appraised the damages, they will usually issue a check to you and/or the selected body shop. Remember, do not sign a full release for the property damage until the vehicle is completely fixed. If your car is in a body shop chosen by the insurance company and hidden damages are discovered, the insurance company will write a supplemental check for the additional repairs. However, if your vehicle is in a body shop that you selected, they will need to notify the insurance company of any hidden damages they discover and get authorization for the extra repairs. Otherwise it is you who will be charged for the additional work.

How to Avoid Problems Between You and the Body Shop
If your vehicle is being repaired by a body shop that you selected, the insurance company may refuse to pay part of the repair bill and you could end up paying the money out of your own pocket. Furthermore, if the shop is slow in making repairs, the insurance company may only pay for a rental car for a limited number of days, and you might have to pay for the additional rental yourself. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to select a shop from the list provided by the insurance company since this will enable you to complain to the insurance company for any problems that might arise from delays. However, if you have decided to have the work done at a particular repair shop, they need to have a clear understanding with you that they will be responsible for any delays and that they will have to negotiate with the insurance company over any repair bill for hidden damages. In addition, they must agree to leave you out of any negotiations with the insurance company if they want to fix your car. Furthermore, they must be willing to accept these risks. To protect yourself, be sure to get this agreement in writing with the body shop!

Renting a Car
You are entitled to a rental car similar to your own car. If you rent a better car than your own, the insurance company will not pay for the difference in the upgrade and you will be responsible for the difference. Telling the rental company that an insurance claim is being made should help get you the best rate. You should ask your insurance adjuster to recommend a rental car company with the best rates. In addition, some insurance companies have a direct billing plan with a rental company and they might pay for the rental car directly, rather than reimburse you at a later time.

How Long Can You Rent a Car?
If your car is unsafe to drive, you are entitled to a rental car from the time of the crash until a reasonable time to make the repairs. However, if your car is safe to drive, then you are entitled to a rental car only while your car is being repaired. If you car is totaled, you are then entitled to a rental car up until the time the insurance company decides to declare your car totaled, plus an additional 5 business days to enable you to purchase a new car. Any rental expenses beyond these periods will most likely be at your expense. If your insurance company is providing a rental car, your insurance policy will control the duration, the type, and the cost of a rental car. Most insurance policies limit the expense per day as well as the maximum number of days.

If You Cannot Rent a Car
The insurance company is not responsible if you cannot rent a car because you are not old enough or you do not have the necessary credit cards or you cannot get insurance. They are only responsible for paying what is called the ‘loss of use’ of your car. Sometimes, the loss of use can be the cost of cab fare, which can far exceed the cost of renting a car. Therefore, be sure to save all of your transportation receipts!

Loss of Use
If you decide not to rent a car, the insurance company is still responsible for the loss of use of your car which is generally the cost of renting a similar car. If you own more than one car and you have the benefit of an extra car to drive, you are still entitled to the loss of use of your car. Hence, the insurance company is not entitled to a windfall because of your fortunate situation.

Property Damage Releases
Most property damage claims are settled without a release and you should never finalize your property damage claim until all bills for towing, storage, rental, repair, sales tax and tag registration fees have been paid. For your protection, it is important to show any releases to your attorney before signing them. Furthermore, never sign a release of ‘all claims’ or ‘your personal injury claim’ because these releases are both unfair and illegal. Remember, it is illegal for an insurance company to withhold settling your property damage for the purpose of pressuring you to settle you injury claim. If this should happen, then contact an attorney immediately.

Art Liebling