“No” is not always the final answer in many claims situations, but you may have to do some homework to get the best possible settlement.
The car that you bought new several years ago is probably worth more to you than it would be to someone else since you know its quirks, and how well it has performed over time. Not to mention that it has never been in an accident until now.
If someone runs into your car and totals it, tort law says that they only owe you the value of that car immediately prior to the accident. But what is the value? You and the insurance company adjuster may be far apart in determining that figure. If the adjuster’s offer is lower than you believe it should be, the burden is on you the owner to prove that the car is worth more than the adjuster is offering.
The value should be what it would have cost an unpressured buyer to purchase that vehicle from a reputable dealer—same/similar condition, age, options and mileage—immediately prior to the loss.
Adjusters will often use an auto valuation service such as CCC Valuescope (link below), as a guide, but it may not always produce precise answers. This tool can also be used by the policyholder to make sure that all features and options on the vehicle are properly included. http://dash.sca-appraisal.com/clientForms/CCC%20Auto%20Evaluation%20Form%20(Generic).pdf
Start by checking with area auto dealerships for vehicles of similar make, model, options, age, mileage and condition to see what’s out there. Tell them your vehicle was in an accident and you would like to find another like it to avoid buying brand new.
Print out a Carfax to show that your vehicle was never in an accident prior to the loss.
Organize all of your maintenance records to show the adjuster that the vehicle has been maintained as recommended, demonstrating that the usual preventive maintenance such as oil changes has been done as prescribed. If you recently had major work done that extends the life of your vehicle (e.g. 4 new tires; changed timing belt & water pump) you may be able to provide receipts for the work and have that cost added to the adjuster’s valuation.
Go online to find the numerous sites offering used autos for sale, such as www.cars.com, www.carsdirect.com and www.carmax.com. Print out offers for sale of autos similar to yours that support your position to show the adjuster.
If presenting all of this evidence still doesn’t produce the desired results, consider this approach with the adjuster: “I know it’s not your responsibility to find me another vehicle, but since we cannot reach an agreement on the value, please tell me where I can find a vehicle similar to mine for what you are offering, because I have been unable to do so.” If the adjuster can point to one or more good examples that will significantly diminish your position. But if they cannot, press forward that this cements your point that the offer needs to be higher.
These same steps can be used when dealing with your own insurance company adjuster if your vehicle is totaled in a collision or comprehensive (theft, flood, fire, etc.) loss.
If you are still far apart, most policies provide for each side to select an impartial 3rd party to establish a fair market value. If all else fails, the state insurance commissioner’s office may offer some guidance. Here is the link to the Virginia Bureau of Insurance on filing a complaint. https://scc.virginia.gov/boi/complaint.aspx#A3
Information about the Author: Mike Cash has been in the insurance business for 40+ years, specializing in the production and servicing of large commercial accounts. He has advocated for many clients and others to help them recoup the full value of their vehicles in a variety of claim situations. Mike is a graduate of James Madison University and holds the Certified Insurance Counselor designation.
Senior Account Executive