Crash course: how to haggle with insurers after a car accident | australian way of life
MYour body knew the accident was going to happen minutes before. I had just picked up my friend from the center of a regional town and pulled out onto the freeway when I felt a tension in my thighs like a cortisol injection.
Moments later, waiting at the last light before the open road, another car slammed into the back of my Subaru Forester and – nearly a decade after I got my first car – my thoughts turned to insurance for the first time.
If you can, claim through the other party
Immediately I felt my car was losing value – it was a heavy blow, although my body absorbed the impact well. The other driver apologized which made things much easier. they accepted full responsibility, and we swapped license details and got out of there before the lights turned red again. I had taken a few quick photos at the crash site, then stopped shortly after to inspect the damage more closely and get more photos.
By the next morning, my diligent counterpart had already filed a claim with his insurer, which was fine with me.
Jane Foley, acting director of case processing at the Financial Rights Legal Centre, says it’s always best to use the other party’s insurance if they have one. “You don’t have to pay the excess,” she says. “And then you’re not bound by the terms of your own policy.”
You could, for example, have an agreed value under your car insurance policy, and you would still be limited to that despite considerations such as car market inflation due to supply chain issues.
“Don’t give your power to the assessor”
According to Foley, I messed up the next step, even though I got away with it. “My first piece of advice is don’t let the other insurer inspect your car,” she says. “The only reason they want to inspect your car is to devalue it afterwards.”
In my case, I had already confirmed my hunch of a write-off with a friendly mechanic who refused to do the paperwork but directed me around the corner to the insurer’s designated repairman, who immediately considered my Forester as a “total loss”. However, they also filed a bunch of their own photos with the insurer, which later served as the basis for countless references to “sun paint damage” as the reason for lowering the assessment.
“I always tell people, don’t give your power to the evaluator,” Foley says.
I was happy to give the write-off the go-ahead, but if you’re feeling more attached to your car and think it needs fixing, there are deadlines you need to be aware of. “The insurer has 10 days to assess it and respond to you,” says Uta Mihm, insurance specialist at Consumer Advocate Choice. “And if you don’t want to cancel it, you only have seven days to dispute that.”
Do your research
For me, it was time to play some hardball. I knew everything I said on the phone would be recorded, so I made sure I had my ducks on the line before I took the adjuster’s call.
The most important thing to clarify was the likely market rate for my vehicle. Redbook, Glass Guide and The Drive Guide are industry price guides and by looking under the hood of my car and finding the VIN code I was then able to use an online tool to confirm the make, model and the year of my vehicle.
To stack the case, I borrowed a tip from journalist Royce Kurmelovs, who wrote Just Money after his own experience after a car accident. Kurmelovs suggests creating a table with the make, model and year in one column and the prices at which similar vehicles are selling in another, which you can find by browsing resale sites like CarSales, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. Turns out a lot of people are trying to dump mid-2000s Subaru Foresters, so I had a plethora of references.
While Foley advises presenting a formal demand letter to the other party to resolve the claim, I opted to email their insurer with a clear and compelling outline of the factors affecting my expected valuation , with links to quotes such as the price comparison chart I had made.
Consider bodily injury
One thing that hasn’t been factored into the equation is bodily injury. Although my passenger woke up three days later unable to lift his arm above his shoulder, it turns out he had just slept poorly on it.
As Mihm notes, the compulsory liability insurance, which is paid when registering the vehicle, covers these costs – provided that you are not at fault for the accident. “You are covered for pain and suffering, lost wages, claims handling costs, care and support such as medical treatment and rehabilitation,” she says.
Tie the free ends
The insurer called a few wreckers but couldn’t find anyone who would pay them for my damaged car, so I have to keep it too.
In the end, I was able to make more for my Forester on the used private market than selling it to pick up at a convenience store. I coaxed it along the coast in the middle of the night (wearing four layers with all the windows down, to combat exhaust fumes seeping in through the trunk) and sold it on Gumtree.
At that time, the insurer had come back to me with an offer more than 50% higher than its initial proposal, exceeding the threshold that I had initially set for myself.
All that was left was to insist that the insurance pay for a rental car, and we had a deal that I was happy to settle.