Fixing Your Car After an Auto Accident
When your car is damaged in a collision, your whole life can be shaken up. Having reliable transportation is an important part of modern life. Maybe you can take the bus or the train to get to work, but what about going to the grocery store or getting your kids to after school activities? What if you have to drive for a living? Even if you weren’t injured in the crash, the loss of use of your vehicle is at best an annoyance, and at worst could cost you your job.
It’s imperative to you to get your car fixed — or replaced if it was totaled — as quickly as possible, but you may not know where to start with that process. If the damage to your car was caused by someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional behavior, you also may be looking for someone else to pay for your repairs or vehicle replacement.
We’d like to offer some general tips that may take some of the pain out of getting your car fixed or replaced after an auto accident. Of course, every situation is unique and you may find that you run into obstacles or issues as you try to work with insurance companies to get the damage to your car covered. We offer a free consultation with experienced auto accident attorneys who may be able to help you get compensation for your property damage.
Document the Damage
An important step in getting compensation for the damage to your car will be to document the damage. We recommend taking photos at the accident scene if you have a cell phone with a camera, as many people do nowadays. Take photos of the overall scene as well as close-up pictures of any dents, scrapes, or other damage. Photos help tell the story of your crash and can serve as evidence to support your insurance claim for the property damage.
You’ll also want to keep copies of any repair estimates or bills to demonstrate the dollar value of the damage. Additionally, it’s a good idea to look up the value of your car in something like the Kelley Blue Book or NADA guides that estimate auto values based on the year, make, model, and condition of a vehicle. If your car is totaled and must be replaced, you want to make sure you get paid the full value and not a lower number.
Additionally, you’ll want to get the name, address, telephone number, email address, and insurance information from the other driver and keep that in a file with the rest of the documents and information from your accident. You’ll need this if you want to make a claim against the other driver’s insurance policy.
Report the Accident
It’s a requirement of Illinois law that you report an auto accident to the appropriate police agency as soon as is feasible. In Chicago, that could include the Chicago Police Department, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Illinois State Police, or one of the suburban police departments, depending upon where your accident happened. The city police typically respond to accidents on city streets; county deputies on roads in unincorporated parts of the county; and the state police on state highways and interstates.
If you’re uninjured, it’s usually a good idea to call the police from the scene and let them take an accident report while the incident and witness accounts are fresh. You’ll want to get a copy of the police accident report to have on file.
You also need to report the accident to your own insurance company even if you don’t think you’ll make a claim against your policy. If the other driver turns out to be uninsured or underinsured, you may need to make a claim against your own policy and reporting the accident to your insurance company helps you to preserve that right. If you fail to report it, that may give your insurance company grounds to deny your claim later on.
Once you contact the insurance company — either yours or the other driver’s — about a claim, the company will send an adjuster to evaluate the damage. The company may want to have your car taken to a repair shop of their choice to have the damage assessed and repaired. However, you don’t have to use their repair shop if you don’t want to. You are entitled to choose your own, and to get your own repair estimate so that you can negotiate a property damage settlement.
Once the adjuster has finished evaluating your damage, the insurance company typically will offer a settlement. In exchange for a settlement check, they’ll want you to sign a release that prohibits you from making any further claims for compensation for your property damage. It’s usually a good idea to consult an auto accident attorney before signing any release to make sure you’re getting a fair deal.
Getting a Rental Car
Some policies may cover the cost of a rental car while your car is being fixed. You’ll need to check your policy, or the other driver’s policy, to find out whether a rental car is an option in your case.
Fixing Your Car Versus Replacing Your Car
If your car is too badly damaged to repair, or the cost of repairs would exceed the value of the vehicle, the insurance company may declare the car totaled. When your car is totaled, the insurance company typically takes the title to your car when they give you a check and you no longer own the car.
The insurance company should offer you fair market value for your vehicle. If you have a car loan, it’s important to understand that the insurance company isn’t responsible to pay off your loan. They only have to pay you fair market value, which could be less than you owe to the auto finance company, in which case you’d still have some portion of the loan to pay off yourself unless you have gap insurance to pay for the difference. If you think the offer the insurance company made is too low, an auto accident attorney may be able to help you get a better settlement.