It is bad enough to suffer personal injuries caused by a car accident. Damage to your vehicle can also become a pain if you do not know what to do or how to do it. If your car was damaged in a wreck, it is our hope this information will help educate you about your rights and obligations when seeking repair of your car.
First and foremost, we suggest that you deal with the insurance claims adjuster in a professional and courteous manner. Your goal is to either get your vehicle repaired or, if the vehicle is a total loss, get the most money you possibly can for your property damage loss as quickly as possible. This is more likely to happen if there is mutual respect and understanding between both parties.
Who Pays If Your Car Needs to Be Towed?
If you were hurt and taken away by ambulance, your car was probably towed to the nearest wrecker yard. Your car may be inoperable because of the severity of the damage. Either way, you will be faced with towing and storage costs.
Who pays for towing and storage depends on you being able to prove the other driver is at fault for the wreck. If the other side was at fault, that party may be held liable (i.e. responsible).
There may be times when the other driver is given the ticket for causing the wreck, but the insurance company will want to fight it based on other witness testimony or legal loopholes. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to consult with a car accident lawyer afterward.
If your car is towed because of an accident, you are ultimately responsible for the bill if the liability insurer does not accept responsibility for the wreck. The towing company and the storage lot will look to you for payment. When you go to the storage lot to get your vehicle, they will ask you to pay the charges in full before they will release it.
Therefore, it is important to get in touch with the property damage adjuster for the other at-fault driver as quickly as possible so they can arrange payment of your towing and storage charges so you will not have to pay.
In Georgia, every insurance company licensed to issue an automobile policy in Georgia must have coverage for the benefit of a third-party claimant for loss of use and towing and storage costs. The insurer’s duty to pay under this statute is triggered when they accept liability on behalf of their insured: the at-fault driver.
Once your car is towed to a storage facility, the daily charges will add up very quickly. You should look to the other driver's insurance company to also pay for all storage charges from the day of the wreck to the time the insurance company authorizes the release of your car for repairs.
Warning: If you delay in any way the repair of your car because you are fighting with the insurance company over who is at fault or some other issue, you may be personally liable for any storage charges incurred. You have an obligation to mitigate (lessen) your damages. You should not leave your car in storage for five weeks at the storage yard and expect the insurance company to pay for these charges.
How Can You Mitigate Your Damages?
If you have collision coverage, you should immediately contact your insurance company to pay for towing, storage, and rental car expenses if the at-fault party’s insurance company is balking at paying. You do not want to wait for a determination of liability while the storage fees mount.
What Is Collision Coverage?
Collision coverage is optional and available to cover damages done to the insured vehicle. This is usually limited to damage as a result of an impact with another vehicle or object. Collision coverage will allow you to get your damaged vehicle repaired, even if you caused the wreck.
But please note: collision coverage is not required in Georgia. Also, collision coverage does not usually cover events where the vehicle is damaged because of fire, theft, striking an animal, vandalism, falling objects, or because of the weather, like hail or flood damage. These losses are usually covered under comprehensive coverage.
What Should You Do to Get Your Collision Coverage to Apply?
Call your insurance company and notify them of the wreck immediately. Complete an accident report for them (this is often done over the phone). The insurer may also ask for a copy of the police crash report. Once this is done, your adjuster will give you instructions regarding the property damage claim.
If you still have personal items in your car, you have the right to remove them from your vehicle at the storage lot, provided you can supply proof that you own the car. The storage lot may even have someone go to the car with you. When you go to the lot, make sure you obtain an accurate receipt of everything you remove from the vehicle.
A picture is worth a thousand words (and sometimes thousands of dollars). Take pictures of the property damage to your car. If the other driver's vehicle is at the lot, take pictures of it as well, especially if there is extensive damage. Take pictures from different angles so you can pick out the best photos that show all the damage to your car.
Where to Get Your Car Repaired After a Crash
If your car can be repaired, it needs to be taken to the car accident repair facility. You can get it fixed at the body shop of your choice. The insurance cannot tell you where to take your vehicle to be repaired. Georgia law prohibits an insurer from restricting you to use one of their selected repair facilities. Further, they cannot threaten to withhold payment on your claim because you chose a repair shop.
We do suggest that you find a reputable car accident repair service experienced in handling damaged vehicles. You can call the dealership that sold you the vehicle for a recommendation. Your insurance agent may know of a good repair facility as well.
When the car is at your selected repair facility, they will perform an appraisal of the damages to the car. The insurance adjuster and the repair facility will decide what needs to be fixed, and how much it will cost. Once the adjuster, you, and the repair shop agree on the charges, the work is then performed on your car.
When your car is repaired, the insurance company will oftentimes cut a check directly to you and the body shop. It should be your goal (and the body shop's), to have your car in the same condition it was in before the wreck.
It is important that you perform a complete examination and evaluation of your car before you sign anything! Also, make sure that if the check for the repairs is made payable to you and the body shop, that you endorse the check as follows: “For property damage only; not a full and final settlement as other damages may be discovered; not a settlement of diminished value.”
This may cover you in the event another item needs to be repaired or was repaired inadequately. However, it is difficult, sometimes impossible, and often too expensive, to try to prove months later that a certain problem you are now having with your car was due to the wreck.
You may want to consider hiring an appraiser at your expense to evaluate and document the condition of your vehicle following its repair.
For more information on calculating the diminished value for a vehicle after a crash, read this comprehensive post we did on the subject.
Does Insurance Pay for a Rental Car After an Accident?
While your car is being repaired, you are entitled to a replacement vehicle. The at-fault driver's insurance company will either pay for your rental or reimburse you for your “loss of use” of your vehicle while it is being repaired.
The rental vehicle does not necessarily have to equal your car in value or quality. The reimbursement cost could run between $20 to $35 per day, depending on the insurer. You may upgrade to a nicer vehicle, but you may be responsible for the difference.
If the other person's insurance company is still contesting liability, you may have to file using your insurance if you have rental coverage on your policy. Again, you must mitigate your damages if liability is contested. If you have this coverage through your insurer, you must notify them immediately and ask them to supply you with a rental car.
When you get the rental vehicle, you are required to show proof of insurance when you sign the rental agreement. Many companies will not rent to people under the age of 25. They will often require you to leave a credit card number just in case the insurance company revokes the rental, or you incur excess charges beyond what the insurance company will pay.
Warning: If your car is found to be a total loss, the insurance company will often not extend your rental loss beyond the date they make you an offer to settle your property damage claim.
For example, your car is found to be a total loss. The insurance company offers you $4,500 as a settlement for your lost vehicle. You think the value is $5,000, and you want to hold out for the extra $500. The insurance company will typically stop paying for rental once the offer is made. At most, they will extend the rental for a day or two. You may be responsible for any additional days you have the rental vehicle.
What If Your Car Is a Total Loss?
There is not a set rule that all insurance companies use in determining when a car is a “total loss.” Some companies use a “70%” figure.
For example, if the cost of repairing your damaged vehicle is 70% or greater than the fair market value of your vehicle, then they will usually determine it is a total loss. When that happens, the insurance company will issue a check to you and any lien holders for the fair market value of the vehicle before the wreck. You then sign the car over to the insurance company and they will in turn sell it to a salvage yard.
How can you determine what the fair market value of your total loss vehicle was before the wreck? There are a couple of sites that will allow you to do some research, such as NADA Guides and Edmunds.
What about any additional upgrades that you added to the car? Document, document, document. It is extremely important that you provide proof of any add-on items that may increase the value of the vehicle. This could include receipts, purchase orders, or work orders.
Getting oil changes or repairing the air conditioner repaired does not increase the fair market value of the car. But if you put in a new, upgraded stereo system and speakers, the insurance company will consider this if you can provide proof of purchase and reasonable proof of value.
Can You Keep a Totaled Vehicle After a Wreck?
What happens if you want to keep the car and have the insurance company pay you for the total loss? You will need to find out how much a salvage yard would give you for your car, and then negotiate with the insurance company on a fair amount for the totaled vehicle.
For example, you have a car with a fair market value of $8,000. The salvage value is only $2,000 after the wreck. The insurance company should give you $6,000 for the total loss of the car. This is the fair market value ($8,000) minus the salvage value ($2,000).
But after you have settled and kept the salvaged car, you will be responsible for towing your car to another location, paying any storage costs, and repairing or disposing of the car. Plus, if you plan on repairing your car, you will have to get the title changed to reflect that the car was a total loss. This is required so anyone that may purchase the vehicle at a later date will be on notice of the prior wreck and repairs.
In our opinion, unless you have extensive experience in auto salvage, the easiest approach is to accept the check for the total loss of your car and let the insurance company deal with the vehicle and salvage.
Uh Oh, I'm Upside Down
If you owe more to a creditor for the car than what the car is worth (the fair market value), you are “upside-down” in your vehicle.
In these days of “0% financing” and 60-month loans, we see a lot of people in this situation. The longer the term of the car note, the more affordable the monthly payments. But the result may be that you pay $25,000 overtime for a vehicle that is only worth $12,500 at the time you bought it.
Here is the problem:
If your car is totaled, and the fair market value is only $5,000, yet you owe the creditor $10,000, the insurance company will not pay off your car note. They will just pay your creditor/lien holder the fair market value for your car: $5,000. You are still responsible for paying your creditor the extra $5,000. You still owe the creditor this money even though you do not have the car anymore.
What can you do?
- Avoid this situation on the front end. Don't try to buy more car than you can realistically afford. Beware the financing traps that place you in this predicament.
- See if you can purchase “gap” insurance when you buy the vehicle. Essentially, gap insurance will pay off the excess balance on the car note in the event of a total loss.
- See if the creditor will work with you on rolling this balance into the purchase of another vehicle. But this solution may only cause you the same problem down the road if you are in another wreck. Think long and hard before you decide on this option.
To put it bluntly, the insurance company does not care how much you owe to your creditor for your vehicle. Their only concern is the fair market value of the vehicle.
Hire Gary Martin Hays & Associates for Legal Help
All of this may seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve been injured in a car accident. Our Atlanta car accident lawyers have dealt with thousands of car wreck cases. We know how to deal with tow yards, rental companies, and, most importantly, insurance companies and their adjusters.
When you’re injured and stressed, the last thing you need to deal with is worrying about the cost of car repairs, renting a vehicle, and trying to figure out the diminished value of your car. Let our expert and compassionate personal injury legal team fight for you and get you all the money and benefits you deserve.
Contact us now for a free consultation.