What do you do if your Car Insurance Company has written your car off? It’s a question virtually no one asks until something happens and you become overly stressed dealing with the situation. Scenario: Your car is parked in your driveway when all of a sudden BOOM the tree in the front yard falls on it (just happened to me…twice) …or maybe you were out on your way to work and someone was texting on their smart phone not paying attention and BANG they drove straight into the back of your car…or maybe you spun out of control and hit the wall bounced off and hit the light pole. There are 100’s of ways that you can write your car off, but, the question is – what do you do once it happens? Ya, you’ve gone through the checklist of steps that your car insurance provider has given you and they advise you they’re going to send out an adjuster and/or that you should send them some photos of the vehicle and now you’re playing that waiting game. You’re stuck waiting for a few days to a week in anticipation of what that dreadfully low number is going to be that they are going to pay you for the car you whole heartedly know is worth more; all while you sit there and go through new online insurance quotes looking for a new company as you grow more and more frustrated with the process.
Well, I just went through that nightmare and there are a number of ways you can insure that you get the maximum value for your vehicle when car insurance writes the car off if you so unfortunately are faced with the situation.
What do you need for the Car Insurance Companies?
- Ideally you have a file folder of all the maintenance you have done on your vehicle – to “prove” it was well kept to the car insurance company
- A camera (smart phone works) to take pictures of your vehicle inside and out!
- A computer with internet – you’ll be doing 5 quick google searches in which you will need to save a few links/pages
- Information about your vehicle – year / make / exact model / exact trim package / current mileage / VIN number / any specialty information on any factory upgrades your vehicle has – for example if you have factory GPS, but don’t have the “GPS package” you’ll want to be able to note that.
Alright let’s get started insuring you get the most value for your car that has or is just about to get written off by the auto insurance company. The following is going to address everything to do after you have already contacted your auto insurance company and provided them with the information they have asked for – they are assessing things and are going to get back to you on either fixing the vehicle or writing it off. This article deals with the insurance write off.
Step 1) Take pictures of everything
- Start with the damage – you’ll want good photos of this for both the insurance company and yourself. If you decide to try and buy the vehicle back from insurance and fix it yourself or through your mechanic, you’ll want to be able to refer back to the damage vividly – don’t rely on your memory
- Take pictures giving you a nice 360 degree coverage around the whole vehicle. Why? You want to be able to speak to the maintenance of your vehicle in comparison to what the insurance company will provide you with as “comparables”. You’ll be referencing these photos later in a case to the insurance company.
- Take photos of the inside of your vehicle. Are the backseats in great shape? Take a picture. Show the dash, the steering wheel, shift knobs, seats, etc. Why? You’re building ammunition for your appeal to the insurance company. If your steering wheel doesn’t have any wear on it, the seats aren’t torn, the dash isn’t cracked, etc – you want to be able to use this in your case to the insurance company showing your vehicle is of higher value than the comparable vehicles they provide in their estimate or vehicles found for the cost they are offering to pay you for your car.
Ideally you will take these photos before the car has been towed away, but, if it is already at a shop – go to the shop and ask them if you can take photos of the car for your records. You have a period of time where you can go and pick up your personal items from the vehicle, use this time to grab these photos if you already haven’t.
Step 2) Dig out the file folder
- Just make sure you have a list of receipts of any work you’ve had done on the vehicle – especially any major work you’ve had done recently that you will want to bring up. If your vehicle is modified, that type of work likely won’t count unless your car insurance company already knows about the work and is ok insuring you with the modifications, or unless your car insurance company is one that promotes/supports hot-rodding (there are a few). Just keep this folder handy for now.
Step 3) Hop on the computer
- Remember all that information you wrote down about your car? Year / make / model / trim packages / mileage / etc? Now you want to find the “true” market value for your well looked after car. I suggest you start by searching websites like Autotrader.com, craigslist, carmax.com etc. Put in your exact year and details into the filter sections and then click to re-sort the vehicles by highest asking price. Now take a look at what these cars offer, what their mileage is and how they compare to your car. You may not compare to the most expensive cars listed, but scroll about until you find 3-5 vehicles that are very comparable in upkeep, mileage and condition to your car. Save these pages and save the links for these cars. The average price of these 3-5 vehicles is what you want to try to get from your insurance company – because that is the value of your vehicle if you were to sell it before the write off.
- For your own good also scroll through the cheaper cars and note the types of issues with them – ripped seats, maintenance issues like holes in the exhaust, needing a new battery, needing shocks, ball joints or tierod ends, mentions of needing a tune up or some TLC. Just take note of the deficiencies of the cheaper priced vehicles at this time in a little notepad.
Step 4) Receive the car insurance quote to write the car off.
- Inside this quote they will generally provide you with 3 vehicle comparisons to your car to defend how they have come to the conclusion of the money they are willing to pay out. Each car will have a VIN number displayed along with the mileage and some information about the car. There are a few things you want to do here:
- Make sure the vehicles have the same engine as your car – if you have a 3.8L V6 for example make sure the comparable also has a 3.8L v6
- Take the VIN for each vehicle and go on your manufacturer’s website. Many manufacturer like Chevy have an area where you can plug the VIN of a vehicle in and decode the options it came with – you can usually find a VIN decoder through a google search as well. If your manufacturer doesn’t have this readily available, stop by your nearest parts department at the dealership and ask them to print you the options that those vehicles came with based off of the VIN insurance provided you in the quote. What you are doing here is continuing to build your case against wanting more money from the insurance company. In our case, we found that the comparable vehicles did not have the same engine as our write off (had the cheaper more readily available engine), they did not have a leather interior and premium package as our car had, the rim package etc was all different. These things matter and unless you challenge them, the car insurance companies will be happy to pay you less money.
Step 5) Write the email
- The Car insurance company upon giving you your quote for the car will also give you a number of days to respond to it with both a phone number and an email. Take the email route – having things in writing is much better and usually insures small details are documented.Using the information you gathered from above, politely thank them for taking their time to assess the value of your vehicle, but explain that you do not agree with the valuation they have provided and this is why:
- Outline first if their comparable vehicles has discrepancies with engine or trim/package models in comparison to your vehicle – this is a big factor from the start and will work well in your favor.
- Your vehicle was in great shape and you have photos showing the type of condition of various aspects of your vehicle (interior etc that despite the damage show little signs of wear)
- You have all the records of maintenance for the vehicle showing it was meticulously maintained throughout its life and in your search for a replacement vehicle this is not something that is evident in the cars at the price point of the valuation they have provided.
- Provide the links or saved PDF documents of the pages from the 3-5 cars in your area that you found priced higher than what they are offering. Outline that these are similar to the condition that your car was in prior to the write off and that the cost to purchase these vehicles is higher than the valuation they have deemed for your car.
- Now tie your notes in (from your notepad that you jotted in) from the cheaper priced vehicles. Outline that the cheaper priced vehicles had maintenance issues or work that needed to be done to safety / certify / pass emissions tests and otherwise get them roadworthy where as your vehicle did not and that those costs need to be factored in and accounted for.
- Conclude the email with a counter price – but make the counter price reasonable. Yes, they will come back and try and knock your counter price down some, but, if you go on the extreme high side of the highest priced vehicle on the market and it is football fields away from being anywhere near their quote you are doing yourself a disservice. They’ll end up dismissing you as being “out to lunch”. Instead, explain that you have taken the average cost of the 3-5 vehicles that you provided them in your email (the current one you are writing) and would like that amount as payout as you believe it to be a more accurate and fair price for your vehicle.
For anyone that has been involved with procurement processes through their own workplaces before, you’ll know that an industry standard is to get 3-5 quotes. You’ve done the ground work and if you followed the above steps you have made a very strong argument in your favor to get the maximum value for your written off vehicle. This is not scamming the car insurance companies, this is simply ensuring you get what your vehicle is truly worth in the market around you for the condition that it is in – not what some book value says that is only obtainable through wholesale pricing by the dealer that you’ll never realistically be able to get. Remember, the car insurance companies aren’t in business to lose money. We increased our write off valuation by approximately 26% by doing exactly the above and that just covered the costs to replace the car. The price the car insurance company wanted to give us for everything would of put us in a vehicle that needed around $2k in TLC / repairs / maintenance . Know your value and fight for what it’s worth in the real market and don’t be taken advantage of – you’ve paid for it through your car insurance premiums.
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