Dealing with the aftermath of an accident is almost as bad as the crash itself.
You want to get back on the road, but you also want to get the best deal from the insurance company. The two don't have to be mutually exclusive. A little behind-the-scenes know-how will net you a better, and sometimes quicker, settlement.
"The key with insurance companies is to have good documentation," says Jack Hungelmann, author of "Insurance for Dummies." "You have to substantiate your point of view. Most adjusters are fair-minded. If you've done their homework for them and can hand them good, solid documentation, they will write you a check."
To get you back on the road sooner, follow these 15 tips from the pros:
1. Collect your own evidence.
"You've got to prove your version of the accident," says Hungelmann, who's been in the insurance industry for more than 30 years. Round up any witnesses. That means phone numbers or license plate numbers from anyone at the scene. "That's priceless when it comes to haggling," he says.
Be sure to keep track of what you find, as well as what happens along the repair or collection process. Start a journal of times, dates and names of everyone you contact (witnesses, police, body shop, insurance adjuster), as well as what was said.
2. Get a running start.
If the car can't be driven, have it towed to the shop you want to use. Ask your agent to call the adjuster directly.
"Require that the claim be expedited," says Hungelmann. "Then it's a question of negotiating the labor. And there's nothing wrong with telling the body shop to go ahead and order the parts they need. Get the ball rolling."
3. Don't rely on what the insurance company tells you.
Insurance regulations differ from policy to policy and from state to state. And in many cases, the consumer has the last word. In some cases, you have a right to be paid for the diminished value of your car, too. If you're not getting what you want, look at your policy and make a quick call to your state insurance office.
4. Decide who will pay your claim.
Should you go through your own insurance or try to collect directly from the other person's company? Each approach has benefits and drawbacks.
"You get better service with your company," says Hungelmann. "I don't normally recommend [dealing with the other company directly] unless the damage is pretty clear-cut."
Your own company doesn't have to investigate who's at fault before they deal with you. But you also have to pony up your deductible, which you probably won't see again for at least six months to a year. And you might not get all of it back.
If you're dealing with the other driver's insurance company, its representatives will want to investigate thoroughly before they pay you a dime. They're seeking proof you were at least partially to blame so that you have to pick up some of the tab.
Some companies even try to make things so difficult that you give up and go through your own insurer. That's because when two companies negotiate, called subrogation, it's common for both to share a portion of the blame and costs, says Robert Brown, author of "Car Crashed? You Could Be Cheated." In the process, you lose some of your deductible and your rates could increase.
But if you go through the other party's company and lose, you could forfeit a portion of the entire repair cost, rather than just that portion of the deductible, says Hungelmann.
If you decide to deal with the other driver's insurer, be prepared to climb the management food chain. And always be polite and don't lose your cool.