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This section will answer common questions about your rights, and what you can expect from the insurance company. If you have been involved in an accident, the first step is to report the claim to the insurance company of the driver who caused the wreck. The insurance company will handle the claim differently depending on whether your car can be repaired or must be replaced. The property damage portion of your claim is often handled differently from the personal injury claims.

RENTAL CAR

Who pays for the rental while my car is being repaired?

The insurance company for the person who caused the wreck is required to provide you with a rental car. If you caused the accident, or there is not another person to blame, you must look to your insurance policy to determine if rental coverage is available. Many insurance contracts do not provide rental coverage for their own customers.

Do I have to purchase any extra insurance on the rental car?

The insurance company will not pay for extra insurance you purchase from the car rental company. Your own insurance carrier should cover you while driving the rental car. Call your insurance agent to be sure you are covered while driving the rental car.

Who can drive the rental car?

Normally, the rental car agreement only covers one driver. You will have to pay extra charges for having family members drive the rental car while your car is being repaired.

Where should I rent a car?

Insurance companies often receive a discount with car rental companies. Ask the insurance adjuster handling your claim where you should obtain a rental car. The insurance company has to pay the cost for the “reasonable incurred rental cost of a substitute vehicle.” Clearing the rental car company with the adjuster will avoid the possibility of paying extra for your rental car. Sometimes, you must pay the rental car bill first, which reimbursement coming from the insurance company later.

GETTING YOUR CAR FIXED

Can I demand that my car be repaired?

Normally, the insurance company has the sole option to either repair or replace your car. It is usually a question of cost efficiency. That is, if it costs less to replace your car than to repair it, the insurance company will declare your car a “total loss,” and take action to replace your car.

Can I choose my own repair shop?

In the event the insurance company chooses to repair the car, you have the absolute right to decide who will repair your vehicle. Many insurance companies will evaluate the cost of repairing your car separately and independently from any repair shop. The insurance company will then work with the repair shop of your choice, to get your car repaired.

How do I prove what damage was caused by the accident?

Sometimes, the insurance company will claim that some damage to your car existed before the accident. Similarly, accidents often generate mechanical malfunctions. It can be difficult to determine if a mechanical problem was caused by the wreck or by normal wear and tear. Therefore, it is important that you prove the connection between the auto accident and the damage you are claiming. Ordinarily, mechanics and body repair persons can help you determine the age of body damage or the cause of a mechanical failure. They can help you convince the insurance company that the auto accident caused the damage.

Can I demand original manufacturer parts?

The insurance company must return your car to the condition it was in before the accident. Because your car was probably not new, the mechanic may use refurbished or reconditioned parts. However, you have the right to demand original manufacturer parts so that, if your car is a Ford, you should receive genuine Ford parts.

WHAT IF MY CAR IS DECLARED A TOTAL LOSS?\

What is a total loss?

A “total loss” is when it costs more to repair than replace your car. If your car is declared a “total loss,” the insurance company buys your car for its market value. A rental car must be provided until the adjuster makes a reasonable offer. The difficulty is determining market value. Sometimes it takes a week or two before an offer is made, so remain patient. The insurance company has 30 days to process your claim.

Who pays for towing and storage costs?

Normally, the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident will pay the reasonable towing and storage costs of your car. They will continue to pay the storage costs while determining whether your car is a “total loss.” If the insurance company declares the car a “total loss,” they will move the car from the repair shop to a wrecking yard or a free storage area. You will be called before your car is moved. If you refuse to allow the insurance company to move your car, you will have to pay the storage costs from the day of your refusal forward. If you want to keep the vehicle, you can pay to have it towed to your home.

How is the value of my car determined?

You are entitled to the “fair market value” or the “actual cash value” of your vehicle. Insurance companies usually determine fair market value by referring to the “Blue Book” or a similar publication. Generally, the insurance company is trying to determine what your car was worth immediately before the accident. Once they make an offer, it is up to you to either accept their offer, or show them why your car is worth more money.

If you think your car is worth more than the amount offered, check with the newspaper or the Auto Trader for the sale price of cars the same make and model as yours. Cut out the ads and send them to the insurance adjuster.

You are “upside down” on the loan for your car when you owe more money than its fair market value. There are many reasons why people are “upside down” on the loans for their car. Sometimes they are “upside down” because they purchased an extended warranty. Ordinarily, an extended warranty can be canceled, and you are entitled to part of the money you paid for the warranty. For example, if you purchase a five-year warranty and your vehicle is declared a total loss in the second year, you are entitled to a refund of 3/5th of the purchase price of the warranty.

Unfortunately, the adjuster will not pay more money to you simply because you are “upside down” with your car loan. They are only obligated to pay the “fair market value” of your car.

Can I recover for recent repairs to my car?

When an older car is involved in an accident, it is hard to recover the cost of recent repairs. New tires or a new engine only slightly increases the value of a vehicle. If you have receipts for the new motor or transmission, show them to the adjuster. Simply giving the adjuster the receipts may prompt a better offer.

The insurance company told me I could keep my car if I pay the “salvage value.” What is “salvage value?”

When you are offered a “total loss” settlement, the insurance company buys your car. If you wish to keep the wrecked car, you may purchase it back from the insurance company for its salvage value. The adjuster can deduct the salvage value from the settlement and you can keep the car.

Are there any other damages for which I can expect the adjuster to pay?

The insurance company should reimburse you for:

  1. 3.00% tax on the actual cash value of the car that is totaled or some will wait to you purchase a new car and pay what is less;
  2. The cost of the tag transfer fee.

Can I sue in small claims court?

If you are unable to agree with the insurance company or other driver, and you do not have collision coverage, you can sue in small claims court. Small claims courts are designed to handle cases where the amount of the dispute is $5,000 or less. Information about the forms to be used, and the filing fee can be obtained by calling the court directly.

Do I need an attorney to file in small claims court?

Small claims courts are designed to allow people to handle disputes on their own, without an attorney. Therefore, you do not need an attorney to file with small claims court.

What happens after the other driver has been served?

Once the court receives confirmation that the other driver has been served, or received, with a copy of your small claims affidavit, a trial date will be set. At the trial, bring any documentation that backs up your claim, and any witnesses to the accident who can tell the judge what happened. You will have the opportunity to tell your story to the judge. The judge may ask some questions of you and your witnesses. Once you are finished, the other driver will get to tell his side of the story. If you were injured in the accident, you will have to make a claim for both your injuries and the damages to your car. You should always talk with an attorney before making this decision. If you file in small claims court on the property damage claim, you may later be prevented from pursuing your claim for personal injuries in a separate lawsuit.

PROPERTY DAMAGE CLAIMS GENERALLY

Many people find the property damage portion of their claim very frustrating. They may be “upside down” or believe their car is worth more than the insurance company believes it is worth. It is an extremely frustrating time as you are not only in physical pain, but your ability to get around has also been limited. However, it does no good to get upset with the adjuster. The best way to get a better offer is by showing the adjuster additional information proving your car is worth more than offered.

We hope you find this information helpful, and that you can resolve your property damage claim quickly and fairly. If you have additional questions, please feel free to e-mail us or call our Raleigh insurance attorneys at Whitley Law Firm at 1-800-785-5000. We are proud to service clients all throughout North Carolina from our offices conveniently located in Raleigh and across the state.