If you were just involved in a car accident, there are a lot of scary questions plaguing you right now, and you are also probably a little vulnerable to scams. You are also about to do business with a lot of companies and people that you were not prepared to have to deal with.
I wish that I could tell you that every person and every company that you will come in contact with from now until your car is returned are a friendly, trust-worthy ethical entity. But the reality is that this is not always the case, and we both know that.
Like many businesses, collision repair can be a real dog-eat dog world, and it is a world that is unfamiliar to the average person. This allows opportunities to unwillingly be taken advantage of financially. I’m here to help you get through this without getting burned. I know “how they get ya” and I’m going to help arm you with the knowledge to avoid being a victim.
This is going to be a multi-part post since there are so many variables, therefore for the sake of this post, we are assuming you are the not-at fault driver. Check for other posts where you are the at fault driver for more advice in that scenario.
Call your insurance company- Tip #1
I wrote a post about rising insurance rates after an accident, and it is a valid concern for many people. However if you were in a car accident and it was not your fault, you should still call your insurance company for advice. If you do not file a claim, calling them to inform them of what has happened will not raise your rates. But the advice they can give you is invaluable, and in many cases it can put you at ease. This is, after all, why we pay for insurance in the first place.
Paying out of pocket
If you did not cause the accident and the police report and the insurance company agrees with this finding, you should not have to pay out of pocket for anything (except possibly your deductible- more on that later in the article).
You might get told that you have to pay out of pocket for some services, but this is not true. Even if it is only $20.00, when you are being taken advantage of, it feels like a million dollars.
If your vehicle is non-operable after an accident, it might need to be towed a couple of times before it is fixed. It depends sometimes on WHERE the accident takes place. If it is on a highway or public road, many municipalities have contracts with towing companies and you have to use the towing company they call. I know this from personal experience.
When the car is towed to the lot, there is usually a storage fee. It could be several days before the insurance adjuster see’s your vehicle or before your favorite shop can come get the vehicle from the lot.
The tow lot will charge the insurance company who is paying for the repair (in this case, the other driver’s insurance company) for the tow, and for the storage, and that insurance company pays them, not you, and not your insurance.
Unscrupulous tow companies (even the ones your municipality force you to use) will ask that you pay the tow and lot storage fees. This is double dipping, and unfortunately many of them get away with it because the average consumer does not know. This could be a few hundred dollars worth of charges that you did not need to pay. So if you find yourself in this situation, refuse to pay and call both your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company and get them involved.
Rental Car Scams
Most likely the other insurance company will pick up the tab for a rental car from the moment yours becomes nonoperational, to the moment it is either repaired, or they pay you for a replacement if your car was totaled.
Your rental car company might ask for a deposit, and I have heard of this happening. You are not responsible for any out of pocket. Again, if this is the case, call the other driver’s insurance company immediately and get them to explain to the agency that you are not responsible for any costs (other than gas).
Even though you were not at fault, you might need to pay your deductible. Sometimes fault can be disputed, or perhaps the officer could not 100% determine fault, or you might live in a no fault state. Your insurance company may tell you that they will fight to get your deductible reimbursed in court, but it has been my experience that you can just kiss that money good bye. In fact to add insult to injury, about a year later, you will get a letter in the mail telling you they were unsuccessful in fighting to get your deductible back. This of course is only applicable if your car is repairable, if it was a total loss, you will not need to pay a deductible.
Low-ball Replacement offer
I covered this in another post, but be prepared to fight to get a better replacement offer form the other insurance company if your car was totaled. This is going to take some time, some work, and will not be pleasant, but I promise you the first offer from the other insurance company will be too low. Sure you could buy ‘A’ car for what they are offering, but not one like the one you had. So avoid getting burned, and fight for what you are rightfully due.
Personal Injury Legal Representation
This also deserves its own post, but if you were injured in an accident and have medical bills as a result, you will probably pay some out of pocket costs up front such as your own insurance co-pays, gas to the doctors, medications etc. Keep a record of all of that. There will be a limit to what the other car insurance company will pay, and it might not cover all of your bills. When we buy insurance, we choose our deductibles and our coverages. Many people will go with the barest legal limit and it might not pay for all of your medical costs. If there is a big gap between your medical costs and what is being covered by insurance, you might want to consider hiring a personal injury attorney. Many will give you a hour’s worth of free advice in an effort to earn your business. Take advantage of that, and if necessary, speak to a few attorneys until you feel like your options are fully explored.
So these are a few areas to be mindful of when beginning to put your life, and your car back together after an accident. I hope this helps you avoid a rip-off if you are in this situation right now.