A good number of motorists out there absolutely love their cars, and are heartbroken when they are damaged in a collision. At Sussman & Simcox, we frequently speak with clients who seem more focused on their wrecked vehicle than their own injuries. Unless the matter actually has to be litigated, our firm typically does not need to get involved in the property damage process, and thus does not take a fee out of the repair/total loss dollars, as the client would never be made whole on their vehicle.
We routinely give background guidance to clients during the often complicated vehicle repair process. This guide will help to answer many of the recurring property damage questions we have heard from new clients over the years. If you read through this and still have remaining questions, feel free to call.
Recovery of Your Property Damage: Who Pays?
After a collision, there are two potential sources of recovery for your property damage. If you purchased collision coverage on your own auto policy, then you can contact your insurer and have your car estimated and repaired under your own insurance.
One issue with using your own coverage is that you may incur a “deductible,” which you selected when you purchased the auto policy. If your deductible is $500, then your carrier will pay the body shop to repair your car all but that last $500, which you will then have to personally pay to the body shop to get the car released. There is a process that your insurance company can use to try to get you reimbursed for your deductible by the opposing insurance company, but even if successful, the process can take months.
If the insurance company for the other driver has “accepted liability” for causing the collision, then you have the option of opening a property damage claim with the other carrier. Unlike your own auto coverage, when the other side is paying for your property damage, there is no deductible for which you are responsible. The claim rep from the other carrier will typically provide information on where to bring the car to get the process started.
Other items of expense typically covered under a property damage claim include towing, vehicle storage, and any item of personal property in the car that was damaged, often eyeglasses and even phones. On this last point, receipts and photos of the items will strengthen the claim. If your vehicle had car seats/booster seats, they should be replaced after any collision and should be included in a property damage claim even if they look undamaged.
Obtaining Rental Coverage
If you have your vehicle repaired under your collision coverage, and you have rental coverage on your policy, then your insurer will typically get you set up in a rental while your car is being repaired. But note, your own policy may set a maximum time period, daily rate, or total dollar limit on how long you can keep the rental at their expense, like 14 days or $1000. Check the terms of your policy. If your car is heavily damaged or there are some scarce parts that the body shop is waiting on, the repair process may take longer than you thought, and you may exceed the maximum limit on your rental. At that point, the carrier will cut off the billing and you will be responsible for the extra time in the rental car.
If you can get your car repaired by the other insurance company, there is generally no fixed limit on the length of time you can stay in the rental car, other than your time in the rental must be reasonable and for reasons related to your damaged car.
Getting an Estimate of Damage and Repair
Once a property damage claim is set up, the first step is preparing an estimate. While many of the big insurers used to run their own collision estimate centers, drastic cost cutting has stopped this practice. The common estimate options are now: 1. Take your car to a body shop of your choosing or one recommended by the insurer to have an estimate prepared, 2. The carrier will send a “field estimator” to where the car is, whether your home or storage lot, to do an initial assessment and pricing of the repair cost, or 3. Many carriers now force the victim to download some app to their phone, walk around and take various photos of their damaged car, and then upload the photos to the carrier’s designated website. The carrier will then prepare an initial estimate from those photos that can be handed to the body shop.
After the estimate is prepared, and the body shop receives authorization from the insurance company, it will commence repairs on the damaged vehicle. It is not uncommon, especially with the superficial “photo estimates” described above, for the body shop to find additional damage once the mechanics start to remove body panels and bumpers. In that case, it will prepare a supplemental estimate, detailing the pricing for the parts and labor for the additional damage, and get it over to the insurance company for approval. At Sussman & Simcox we ask clients to make sure to get copies of all initial AND supplemental estimates, as these can be useful for other aspects of an accident claim.
Diminished Value Loss on Your Vehicle
Even after your car is fully repaired and back on the road, you may have suffered a diminished value loss. What does this mean? With nationwide databases such as CARFAX, your vehicle is now in the system as a vehicle that was previously damaged and repaired. If you go to sell it, a cautious buyer might obtain a CARFAX history report on your vehicle, which would reveal the prior collision damage.
Diminished value recognizes that a buyer would rather purchase a vehicle that was never in a collision than one that was in a collision and required repairs. Who knows . . . the repaired car might now have those dreaded aftermarket parts discussed earlier and the repairs might have been performed by some sketchy body shop. So if two identical vehicles are for sale on the same used car lot, and one was never in a collision, and the other had been damaged and repaired, what amount of a discount would have to be applied to the repaired vehicle to entice a buyer to choose that car over the other. That is diminished value.
We recommend that a client consider a diminished value claim if the damaged car is a newer year, has lower mileage, and has significant damage. A little bumper scrape will not likely lower the residual value of the car. But a substantial rear-end collision with frame damage to the trunk will be noted as such in the CARFAX report, and could lower the residual value of the car in a meaningful way. If you are going through your own coverage, make sure your insurer has not tried to exclude diminished value claims on your policy.