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Little-known items increase the value of vehicle-damage claims

When filing a vehicle damage claim, consumers overlook a number of areas , warns retired insurance adjuster J.D. Howard, who heads the Insurance Consumer Advocate Network, based in Branson West, Mo. They include:

  • If the other party is at fault, you should be able to rent a vehicle comparable to the one that is in for repairs. You shouldn't have to rent a Geo to replace a minivan. Insurance policies typically have a dollar-amount cap on rentals, and if the other party is at fault, you should be able to collect from the other party's insurance carrier the difference between your carrier's cap and the cost to rent a comparable car.

    If you don't carry rental reimbursement insurance, you would seek the entire reimbursement from the other carrier. Howard says that the other company's adjuster will tell you they have a cap on the daily rental fee they'll reimburse, but Howarad says that's not true and that you should insist on full reimbursement. Even if you don't need a rental car, the other carrier may owe you a "Loss-of-Use Allowance" that pays a set amount for each day you were unable to use your damaged vehicle.
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  • If the other party is at fault and you have to rent a vehicle, the other party's carrier should also pay the Collision Damage Waiver if your own collision coverage is not transferable to the rental vehicle. Howard says the adjuster will tell you they don't have to, but they do.

  • If the other party is at fault, that party's carrier owes you for the diminished resale value of your vehicle. (In a very few states, you may be able to collect this from your own carrier.) If you can't get a check from the carrier, he says, it may be worthwhile to get a diminished value report, which, depending on your circumstances, may allow you to write it off on your taxes as an uncompensated casualty loss.

  • If a car is under warranty or has significant resale value, you should insist on repairs with factory parts. Most insurance policies require you to accept parts of 'like quality,' but Howard insists it's impossible for you to determine if aftermarket parts are of like quality or are junk.

    The biggest carriers support CAPA (Certified Auto Parts Association), which warrants that aftermarket parts it approves are of comparable quality. On the other hand, repair with factory parts partially mitigates the loss of resale value that follows an accident and continues warranties and transferability of the warranties. Using aftermarket parts will lessen the vehicle's resale value by about 37 percent. With factory parts, Howard says, the hit to value is only about 19 percent.

    "However, no rule is absolute," he says. " If you've got an '86 Pontiac, put an aftermarket part on it."

  • Let the body shop -- whether you agree to go to one the insurance company suggests or one of your own choosing -- know in writing before starting work that you intend to have the repairs inspected by an independent company.

    "For an ethical repair facility, that will be no problem, but if the shop feels that they're getting into a bucket of worms where they won't be able to take shortcuts, they'll say, 'Take your car and get out of here.'"

    You have choice in all these matters, says John Eager, senior director of claims services with the National Association of Independent Insurers, based in Des Plaines, Ill.

    "Anti-steering laws in all of the states prevent an insurance company from forcing you to go to a particular shop," he says. However, if you do take the option of going to an insurance-referred shop, "in many states, [that option] adds an extra guarantee that if for some reason that repair is not satisfactory, you can hold the insurance company and the repair shop liable."

-- Posted: Sept. 23, 2003

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