Yes, You Can Settle Your Property Damage Without an Attorney
How to Settle Your Property Damage After a Wreck
If you recently had a wreck, I have good news: you can settle your property damage yourself in most cases. Because you can find objective repair estimates and vehicle comparisons to determine the value of your property damage claim you can do this yourself, unlike with a more subjective injury claim. With some understanding of how property damage works and some homework, you likely won’t need to hire an attorney. Read on to learn how to settle your property damage.
Immediately Following a Wreck
See our article, “7 Steps to Protect Your Rights After a Wreck” for information on what to do right away. When police respond, the responding officer should provide you with contact information and insurance information for the other drivers involved. Use the phone number provided in the contact info for the at-fault driver’s insurance company to call in your claim.
In case police do not respond, take photos of the at-fault driver’s license and insurance card. If the at-fault driver is driving someone else’s car, get their name, too. You will need this information to make an insurance claim.
You May Have a Choice: Your Insurance or Theirs?
To decide whether to claim on your own auto policy or on an at-fault driver’s policy, check what kind of coverage you purchased under your own policy.
Types of coverage you may have as required by law or chosen on your policy include:
- Required Liability Bodily Injury: pays people injured if you are at fault for a wreck. Oklahoma requires you maintain at least $25,000 in liability coverage.
- Required Liability Property Damage: pays for damage to others’ property if you are at fault for a wreck.
- Optional Comprehensive: pays for damage to your vehicle not caused by a wreck.
- Optional Collision: pays for damage to your vehicle caused by a wreck.
- Optional Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM): pays your injury claim if a driver who has no insurance or not enough insurance hurts you, your family, or your passengers.
- Optional Medical Payments: may pay providers directly or reimburse you for out of pocket medical costs.
Liability coverage pays when you are at fault for a wreck. Oklahoma requires this coverage for all Oklahoma drivers. UM and Medical Payments pay for injuries to you, your family, and your passengers. We will only discuss property damage in this post. Check our other articles for more info on UM and Medical Payments coverage.
If you did NOT buy additional coverage:
If you didn’t purchase Collision coverage, you must claim on the policy of the at-fault driver to settle your property damage. See below for information on how to Open a Claim.
If you did buy additional coverage:
If you purchased Collision coverage, you have a choice to settle your property damage. You may claim under your own policy or the policy of the at-fault driver. Oklahoma law prohibits your insurance company raising your rates for wrecks which are not your fault. You won’t need to worry about your rates going up if you choose to use your own insurance.
If you claim under your policy, your carrier will pay your claim less your deductible amount. For example, if you have a $500 deductible, your carrier will pay all but $500 of your claim. The carrier can pay a repair shop, your lender, or you. Your carrier will then attempt to recover what it has paid, plus your deductible amount, from the carrier for the at-fault driver. Advantages to using your insurance: it may pay your claim faster and with less hassle. Disadvantages: you will need to pay your deductible upfront (but may be able to recover it). Your carrier will not pay for diminution of value to your vehicle.
Open a Claim
Whether you decide to make a claim on your own insurance or the other driver’s policy, you need to call the insurance carrier to report the loss and request it open a claim for you. The insurance company will give you a claim number and likely assign an adjuster to your claim. The adjuster will want to get the facts of the wreck from you in a recorded statement, including:
- The at-fault driver’s name and policy number.
- Where and when the wreck occurred.
- Who caused the wreck?
- Details on how the wreck occurred.
- Were there any witnesses? If so, contact info for the witnesses.
- Were other vehicles involved?
- Did police respond?
- Is there a police report?
- Did anyone take photos?
- And more.
The insurance company will investigate the wreck to determine fault. Once it determines fault, it will need to determine whether to repair or “total” your vehicle.
Totaled or Repaired?
The decision whether to repair your vehicle or “total” it depends on how much damage your vehicle has and its value. The less damage done and the higher your vehicle’s value, the more likely the insurance adjuster will choose to repair your vehicle. If your car has a lot of damage or a low value, the adjuster likely will declare it a total loss, or “totaled.”
An adjuster for the carrier needs to inspect your vehicle. If the adjuster finds your vehicle likely repairable, you need to get one or more repair estimates. You especially want to make sure the repair shop discovers non-obvious or hidden damage and includes this in the repair estimate. Damage to the vehicle’s frame and undercarriage are often not evident from a visual inspection without putting the car on a lift.
You can choose your own repair shop. However, insurance carriers often provide a list of “preferred providers” or repair shops they work with often. Again, if your vehicle was hit hard, make sure the frame and undercarriage get checked.
Make Sure You Get Full Value for Your Vehicle
When the adjuster declares your vehicle a total loss, the insurance company must pay you “what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the vehicle before the wreck.” The insurance company then keeps the vehicle. You need to know your vehicle’s value to know if you received a fair offer.
Your car’s value is determined by six major factors:
By using online auto valuation sites for comparisons or “comps” and doing a little math, you can calculate a value for your vehicle. Be as exact as possible when gathering comps.
When using auto valuation sites DO: Input EXACT specifications for your vehicle and list the features yourself. DO NOT: “Fudge” on anything: the features, miles, condition, or other valuation factors; or use the “standard features” shortcut option. For example, if your car was in GOOD condition, do not state it was in EXCELLENT condition. Using the “standard features” shortcut option may either leave out features your vehicle had or add features it lacked.
Get four or five comparative values. You can find plenty of websites to help using search terms like “value my car.” Use traditional valuation sites (Kelly Blue Book, Auto Trader, Edmunds.com, Cars.com, CarFax, NADAGuides) or newer options (CarGurus, TrueCar).
Be sure to save each of the valuations you run as a comp. You can print a paper copy, print to PDF and save as a digital document, or use the print screen option to save a photo. Since you may need to send these comps to the insurance company, keep them handy.
If you can find a similar vehicle on a dealer’s website, you can use it as a comp as well. Values listed on dealer sites will often be higher than values provided by the valuation sites, so can help you get the best settlement for your car. Just make sure you are comparing “apples to “apples,” and the vehicle is really very similar. Then save the dealer vehicle as a comp like above.
Do the math:
Once you have four or five dollar amounts from dealer websites or online valuation sites, average the values (add all the values, then divide the total by the number of comps you used). You ultimately want to come up with a “value range” for your vehicle with a variance of no more than $500. For example, if you find the average value to be $4,250, a good range for your car is $4,000 to $4,500. Use this value range as a guide to negotiating with the insurance company to settle your property damage. Insurance won’t pay the top value of the range and cannot pay the bottom value. You want to come to an agreement near the middle of the value range. Send your comps to the adjuster if you need to prove they have undervalued your car.
What if the At-Fault Driver Does Not Have Insurance?
If the other driver does not have insurance, you need to make a claim on your own insurance to make a recovery for your loss. While you can sue an uninsured driver for your property damage and win, the likelihood of you making a recovery without insurance is very low. If you do not have coverage to pay your claim, you likely will not recover your damages. Please see our other insurance articles for more info on coverage we recommend.
What If I Still Owe on My Vehicle?
Unfortunately, what you owe on your vehicle has no relevance to its value. You may owe more on your car than its worth for various reasons. If you bought a new car not long before the wreck, you may not have paid down the balance enough to keep up with the drop in value new cars take. When you purchase your car from a “buy here, pay here” lot, they may “gouge” you on the vehicle’s price. If you owed on a previous car and rolled the old loan into the new one, you will owe the total of the two cars less what you have paid down. No matter the reason your car’s value is less than what you owe on it, your loan balance does not figure into your car’s value.
If you got a loan when you bought your car, the seller likely put a lien on its title. The proceeds from your wreck settlement will be paid to the lender first, to satisfy the lien, so that you will only receive money if your car is worth more than you owe.
If you owe more than the settlement amount, you will still have to pay off the lender unless you purchased GAP coverage when you bought the car. GAP coverage will pay the difference between what you owe on your car and its value when you are “upside-down” on your loan. If you still have your auto purchase paperwork, check to see if you bought GAP coverage and make a claim on it as well as on the regular auto insurance coverage.
Can I Get a Settlement and Still Keep My Car?
Yes, if you negotiate it with the insurance company. The carrier may agree to pay you less money and let you keep your car. Sometimes the carrier may agree to make a “buyback” arrangement with you. Taking less money and keeping your car can be advantageous if the vehicle’s transportation value exceeds its dollar value.
Can I be Paid if My Car’s Blue Book Value is Reduced by the Wreck?
We call this “diminution of value” to your vehicle. Yes, you can recover diminution if you make a claim on the at-fault driver’s auto policy. Your own carrier won’t pay for diminution to your vehicle. However, you will need to provide before and after comps or some other way to prove the amount your vehicle’s value was reduced by the wreck and repair, and negotiate with the insurance company.
Should I Get a Rental Car?
If your car is being repaired, you can ask the at-fault driver’s carrier to provide a rental while your car is in the shop. If you claim on your own policy for the repair and have rental coverage, ask for a rental.
However, if your car is totaled, beware of rentals. The carrier is required to pay you “what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the vehicle before the wreck,” NOT “what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller for the vehicle before the wreck plus a rental car.” If the carrier pays hundreds of dollars to a rental car company, it may reduce the amount it pays to you.
A Word About Bad Faith
We don’t see true bad faith in this kind of claim very often. If you are making a claim on the at-fault driver’s policy, you DO NOT have a contract with the carrier. Without a contract, you do not have a bad faith claim. If the at-fault driver’s carrier refuses to pay your claim, you may need to sue the at-fault driver (not the carrier) to get your damage paid.
If you are making a claim on your own policy, your carrier has a duty to deal fairly and in good faith with you. Its failure to do this is what we call “bad faith.” But we still don’t see this very often.
More often we see people who don’t understand the claims process, don’t know the value of their car, or have gotten “cross” with their adjuster. Generally, we see disputes over the value of the claim, rather than true bad faith. Making an effort to be pleasant and reasonable in a tough situation may go a long way toward getting your claim resolved.
To Sum It Up
We put A LOT of information in this article designed to help you settle your property damage without needing to hire an attorney. While we hope you never need it again, we recommend you bookmark this page. Additionally, forward the page link to anyone you know who has a wreck. We hope that armed with a little information, you can settle your own property damage!