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The insurance company won’t offer me “fair value” on my totaled car. What can I do?

It is surprising how even seriously injured people frequently seem more concerned about resolving their property damage than managing their physical injuries. I understand their frustration. It is very aggravating to not have transportation after an accident due to someone else's carelessness. If you aren't getting paid what you believe fair to resolve your property damage claim, what can you do?


When totaling out your car, insurance companies must pay you enough that will allow you to purchase a similar replacement vehicle according to the market price for your vehicle within your geographic area. The insurance company is usually the one that tells you the market price by telling you what they will pay you. They arrive at this figure by running the specifics of your car through their proprietary software. Insurance companies spend millions of dollars developing algorithms that pinpoint the value of similar replacement vehicles in your zip code or regional area.



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The more common the car, the more certain the market value will likely be. If your car is uncommon, use price points from different markets to argue for more money.



A good rule of thumb is that the newer and more common the car, the more certain the value will likely be. It is hard to dispute the value of something that is commonly sold. This is true even if you just spent $3,000 on upgrading your transmission and getting new brakes. Those improvements were unfortunately lost when the car was wrecked. If you have a common car that is under five years old, you are likely going to be stuck to the insurance company’s valuation.


I have had success helping clients dispute the market value of less common and older cars. By definition, a rare vehicle is not commonly sold in the marketplace. Finding similar replacement vehicles is difficult when the market is confined to a smaller geographic area. The result is that fewer vehicles are used to determine your market price.

If you expand the region of the market beyond your zip code, the price points will become more diverse. Use the high value from other markets to argue for a higher value. Send the insurance company as many of these as you can. This should give you a solid foundation to win your argument for more money! The more direct similar that you have, the better chance you have at getting more for your car.


Remember that when determining the total value of your car, insurance companies do not have to pay you the Kelly Blue Book rate. Many people get upset when they see the Kelly Blue Book rate higher than what is offered to them. Keep in mind you are likely using the free version of Kelly Blue Book. The insurance company is using a figure from their own system. They spend a lot of money to ensure that their data is more accurate and responsive to market trends than what you see listed on Kelly Blue Book.


Also remember that insurance companies do not have to pay you the value of your car note. What you owe on the car and what the car is worth are two separate things. All vehicles depreciate over time, newer ones more rapidly, which leads these two numbers to often be different. If you owe more on the note than what the car is worth, the insurance company will pay the company that lent you the money off directly. You will then owe the difference between the note and the market rate of the car.


I cannot stress this enough: When taking out a car loan, buy GAP insurance. Gap insurance covers the difference in price between the market value of your car and what is owed on the note. For only a few dollars a month, you will be protected from having to continue to pay out on a car that you can no longer drive! I have seen so many people unprotected over the years that I cannot stress this enough!


Most personal injury attorneys represent clients only on their bodily injury claim. Property damage is almost always handled separately by the client directly. As your attorney, I will send the adjuster written permission to contact you directly to speak to you on a limited basis about the property damage of your car at the beginning of your claim. Adjusters are expressly asked to not discuss with you fault or your injuries. When resolving your property damage, it is important to remember that you have a duty to mitigate expenses your vehicle may be incurring at the tow lot. It is best to co-operate with the insurance company in getting this moved to a location without fees.


While I do not represent you on the property damage recovery, I am more than happy to use my experience to help streamline the process for you as efficiently as I can.

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