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July 8, 2013

Sandra asks…

How do I get the rest of the money for my car that insurance wont pay for?

So I purchased a 2012 Dodge Avenger from Carmax and made the mistake of not getting Gap insurance. Two weeks later a girl ran a red light and totalled my brand new car. Her insurance is only going to pay 16,800 when i paid 19,400 with tax title and license. I dont think i should have to pay money out of pocket for someone elses mistake. What can I do?

Administrator answers:

You did not tell us what state you are in. State laws vary from state to state. You also did not specify if the other insurance company is paying 100% of the liability. Or do you live in a state with a comparative negligence law, and are they saying you are, for example, 10% at fault, which would limit your recovery to 90%?

You mentioned you had an offer from the other party’s insurance. You did not mention if this was a net offer, or if they plan to add sales tax and license transfer fees. (In some states, this is mandatory.)

In some states, under the Unfair Claims Law (if they have such a law), you are entitled to full documentation as to how they arrived this this value. What are they basing this value on? I recommend that you immediately request this documentation showing their own market research. (More on this later.)

You may wish to go under your own collision coverage with your own insurance company, and see if they come up with a better offer. This will be subject to your deductible, but you will likely get that back after they recover from the at-fault party. (Also, there is no reduction for comparative fault in going under your own collision coverage.)

Why did you pay $19,400 for this car? Did you over pay? Or is there some reason for this? Did you roll in a prior debt into this car loan?

Do not rely on the listed “book price” when researching a car value. Rather, search the market in your area, and try to find the exact replacement vehicle, and document the selling price. Check with several dealers to get the best price you can. If this closely matches what you paid, then you have some good evidence to prove a higher value.

Also, it is important that you document what you paid for the car two weeks ago, if you have not already provided this to them. Send them a photocopy of your purchase agreement. Claim files are all about documentation, and their claim file must reflect a higher value, if such a value can be documented. Then, maybe, they can justify a higher offer.

Many insurance companies use a valuation service like CCC or ADP, and they can send you a fifty page report listing hundreds of vehicles similar to yours. The psychology of this voluminous report is that this documentation appears to be so overwhelming that most claimants just throw in the towel and realize they cannot win the documentation game. But if you are very analytical, and have extra time on your hands, you can carefully analyze this report, and you may find the vehicles they have “selected” to best represent your car are not really the best choices. I am convinced all of these evaluations are all slightly short, like maybe $500 or $1,000. This is by design, and their computer program knows just how to do this. Most claimants realize it doesn’t pay to go to war over a mere $500. But if the insurance industry can shave off $500 from each total loss settlement, over the course of a year, for all accidents nationwide, this comes to over a billion dollars. (I’m waiting for “60-Minutes” or “20/20″ to do an story on this kind of scam.)

You are in a tough spot. If you delay on accepting their offer, they will notify you that they will not pay further car rental, and they may say any vehicle storage fees after today are your responsibility, and this can sometimes be over $25 per day. So you have this time pressure. If you wanted to take them to court, you will need to figure out where to store your junked car (need to keep it for evidence). And you would probably need to pay for the initial towing to get the junked vehicle released, find a temporary replacement vehicle that you have to pay cash for now, and continue making your car loan payments. If you need to hire an attorney, you will need to pay his hourly rate, which is often $125 or more per hour. (A contingent fee arrangement does not work since you don’t want the attorney taking one-third of your settlement.) To win in court, you may need to hire a qualified independent appraiser to assess the market value of your vehicle. So that’s why you are in a tough spot. Thus, rather than taking them to court, try to negotiate the best value you can. Never accept their first offer. If they are really putting the screws to you, then you have the option of filing a written complaint with the Commissioner of Insurance.

Good luck.

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