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Two weeks, four days ago, while I was stopped at a stop light, an idiot rammed into my car with his Chevy Suburban, causing extensive rear-end damage to my car and propelling me into the car in front of me, causing front end damage to my car and rear end damage to his BMW. The police agree, as does my insurance company, that The Idiot was 100% at fault. However, my company is still on the cusp as to whether they will authorize repairs (about $16,500) or declare the car a total loss and pay me $26,500.

What should I be wary of? My goal is to have a reliable car at an acceptable cost to me, with time, energy and hassle counting strongly in calculating the cost. My preference is for repairs, but I have no disinterested party to consult.

To rephrase my question in case this sounds like a car mechanics question , which it is n.o.t. Should I be wary on non-mechanical grounds of an expensive repair decision that is within spitting distance of a "your car is totaled" decision. Especially since the car will have been sitting in the auto body shop for 19 calendar days as of next Monday.

I have no doubt my insurance company will pay, but they seem to be taking a long time to decide what to do. Or am I just too impatient?

Addendum in Response to Comments: There are two insurance companies involved: mine and the company of The Idiot and the BMW Driver. I am working through my company, who will pay for my car and then recover from the other insurance company. The delay seems to be caused by the back and forth between the body shop and my company's adjuster.

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    You may be causing the delay yourself, by preferring the repair option. Dealing with a total loss claim is quick and easy compared with getting an agreement between the repair shop and the insurance company assessor over exactly what needs to be repaired and what it will cost - and producing a one-off document that you will have to agree to, over exactly what is and is not covered by the insurance and what extras you may want to pay for yourself (e.g. partial resprays for damaged bodywork or a complete respray of the car) – alephzero Jun 9 at 8:52
  • Could the problem be due to having potentially three insurance companies involved? The one for the car that started the chain reaction wants to minimize their out-of-pocket costs. What role is your insurance company playing in this? – mhoran_psprep Jun 9 at 12:07
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    There are too many unknowns for people on the internet to be able to tell you much. The body shop has extensive experience with the process and knowledge of all the specifics, your area, your insurance, etc. I would stop by in person, assume a friendly non-aggrieved tone, admit ignorance, and ask if they can tap their wisdom and explain to you how long these things normally take, whether there is something that could be causing a hang-up, and whether there is anything you should be doing. Interpret their answer while keeping in mind that their interests only partially coincide with yours. – Ben Crowell Jun 9 at 12:48
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    "Non-aggreived tone" it's OK to show up all somber with a box of tissues, wearing all black and a veil... Especially if you have decided on "total"... – Harper Jun 9 at 18:41
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    @Harper Brill ! Should I also limp and put a large bandage on my neck where the flying glass nicked me? :) – ab2 Jun 9 at 18:43
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A car that has had major repairs done is going to have a much lower resale value than a non-damaged car. The reason for this is mechanical, so I'll defer to someone on the auto mechanics stack for more detail, but in general a future buyer would assume that if you had to have $16,500 in repairs done, no matter how well those repairs were done, there would be some parts that were weakened/ damaged in the accident that weren't caught and repaired that would create more future issues or that the repairs wouldn't be able to completely restore the car to its prior condition. In general in this sort of situation, you're better off financially if the car is declared to be totaled and you get to start over with a new (to you) car.

From a general hassle standpoint, you'd have the same issues that a potential buyer would have. It's likely that there will still be undiagnosed damage/ weakened parts if the car is repaired that make it more likely that something else on the car will break at some point in the future. When a bolt that was weakened in the accident breaks in a couple years, you'll need to get the car repaired but you're not going to get anything from the insurance company.

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    OP wouldn't be better off if he buys a new car. A car depreciates a bunch just from driving it off the lot. That matters because insurance only pays him enough to buy a comparable used car, so he pays that "new car depreciation" for the privilege of getting a new one. – Harper Jun 9 at 18:34
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    It's also possible there's damage to the frame, which would essentially require rebuilding the entire car around a new frame to properly repair. Although someone should be informing them if that's the case. My family was involved in an accident when I was very young where the mechanic and the at fault party's insurance company concealed the frame damage from them. They didn't find out until they tried to trade it in some years later. – jpmc26 Jun 9 at 18:47
  • @jpmc26: Sounds like a good fraud case. The CA statute of limitations law has some odd wording that makes the statute of limitations not expire for concealed fraud until discovered: christian-attorney.net/… (Google thinks this site has high rep) – Joshua Jun 9 at 18:56
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    @Harper - When I say "start over with a new car", I'm using "new" to mean "different" not "fresh off the lot". Obviously, insurance isn't going to pay out enough on an existing car that may be several years old to buy a brand new car. It should be enough, however, to buy a replacement car that matches the specs of the existing car prior to the accident. I'll clarify "new" in my answer. – Justin Cave Jun 9 at 19:00
  • @justin "new-to-me" is a good way to say that. – Harper Jun 9 at 19:04
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If you're using a rental car now I would recommend looking for a replacement car now if you haven't already started. You don't want to be paying ~$30/day for a temporary vehicle any longer than you need to; and if your insurance company is currently covering the tab and decide to total your car they'll stop doing so shortly after making the decision.

  • +1 Good advice in general, to have the replacement car chosen now. However, I have decided to buy the 2019 version of my current car, which is a dream to drive, and with which I am totally familiar. – ab2 Jun 9 at 15:48
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    @ab2 that makes things easier than if you would be looking for a used car, but I'd still recommend checking in with the dealer to verify the color/trim combo you want is on hand. – Dan Neely Jun 9 at 15:52
  • ...and you just stated the reason to fix the car you got. It's familiar. You know what isn't broke, and a new used car is a wildcard. So is a new new car, because they're always changing stuff. If you do go new, you will eat the what is it, 30% "depreciation when you drive it off the lot", so for rhat kind of scratch, hold out for exactly the color and trim you want! – Harper Jun 9 at 18:32
  • I would still advise against the new new car. That depreciation really hurts. As an answer on the Finance SE, I can't recommend it at all. Get a used version of your exact car, and spend $500 on a new paint job, professional cleaning, and maybe a little extra to ensure it is in good condition. – Nelson Jun 10 at 3:54
  • @Nelson You cannot get a car repainted to even close to the quality of a new car paint job for $500, think more like $5000+ if you want a full body paint job of new quality. (Which is presumably wanted if the op wants a new car). Ultimately its usually more to make a user car be exactly how you want it than buying new in my experience, but it depends how compromising you are. – Vality Jun 10 at 22:36
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Consider getting a lawyer

So your insurer is on the hook for replacing your car even if you are at fault. But they would like to settle with the other insurer such that the other insurer pays for their responsibility. They have no interest in making the other insurer pay beyond that, as you would get that money, not them. Your interests do not align here.

If the other driver is clearly at fault, talk to a lawyer. The lawyer gets paid a commission on the settlement. If you cut a deal with the lawyer where the lawyer only gets paid commission above a net $26,000 gain by you (compensation for your car minus any compensation you pay for the other car), then your interests will more directly align.

There is no reason you shouldn't get the replacement cost of the car here plus the lawyer's fees. And your insurer should still get their costs covered. And your rates should not go up. Or you should get more of a settlement to cover the increase in your insurance. And it is generally the case that lawyers don't charge for consultations in these cases. So offer the deal. If the lawyer wants to proceed, you have a good case. If not, then there may be facts not evident to me, and you can quietly continue your insurer negotiations.

Mechanically

Mechanically, the problem with the car is twofold.

  1. Hidden damage. Not all damage is obvious. Some may not become obvious for years.
  2. Unfixable damage. Some damage does not prevent the car from being driven but does cause problems.

Replacing the car handles both of those problems. Fixing the car leaves both of them.

To give you an example of what I mean, my mechanic also operates tow trucks (for other garages, dealers, police, etc.) and does body work (as well as mechanical work). He does not do frame work himself, but he has a long time personal friend who does. In general, he is about as informed a consumer of accident repair as you can find.

One of the tow trucks was hit by a car. It was sitting at a stop sign. A car broadsided the truck. There was no question of the truck's driver being at fault. Anyway, he repaired the truck. But after that, the tires always wore more quickly. But he didn't get compensated for that. He was only paid for the cost of fixing the truck, not for the remaining damage.

Your car is gone. If they repair it, you'll essentially get a different car that shares some of the characteristics of your old car. But it will also get weird new problems that they'll never get exactly right:

  1. Perhaps the frame won't align correctly. Particularly if something is slightly bent or twisted in the front of the car.
  2. Some pieces that come whole from the factory may be repaired rather than replaced with original parts. This is particularly true of pieces that run from the front of the car to the back, like brake lines. The repairs may be more subject to failure than the original parts.
  3. The wiring may never quite work right. Because they will probably splice it rather than replace the whole thing. And either the splice fails or they make a mistake in how they splice.

And of course I don't know everything that could go wrong. These are just examples. You may experience none of these and instead see some other problem.

Now, perhaps it would make sense for you to pay, say $18,500, for the repaired version of this car after collecting $26,500 from it being totaled. It might make sense then, as you'd have $8000 of compensation to pay for these problems. But don't think that the car you get for $16,500 of repairs is the equal of the car before the accident. It almost certainly won't be, even if you can't see the damage at first.

Time

It is not at all strange for an insurance company to take a month to decide. That's perfectly normal and just how they operate. It may seem silly, as they are paying for your rental and may be paying storage. But compare that to the cost of hiring more adjusters and other employees. They are designed to always be a little too busy for the employees they have.

  • Hiring a lawyer under those terms would be a great way to come out ahead financially. Definitely the opposite of "less hassle and time," though. – jpaugh Jun 10 at 4:21
  • Well, at this point, there is either the hassle of negotiating with the insurer or the hassle of hiring a lawyer who will then do the negotiating. I disagree that it is clear that hiring the lawyer will increase the hassle on the OP. That's the whole point of hiring the lawyer, to take on the hassle. Now, if the lawyer were to actually take the case to court, that would be annoying. But neither the lawyer nor the insurer wants to do that. Those lawyers make a living from out of court settlements. – Brythan Jun 10 at 7:17
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First, an Update on the Situation: Three weeks after the accident, my insurance company decided the car was a total loss, and started proceedings to pay me for the loss. Payment might take another seven or ten working days, but the e-documentation of the decision came on the same day as the decision.

What to be Wary of: Based on my experience, and some comments from the body shop:

The most important thing to be wary of, when the car is very badly damaged, is that the insurance company (IC) will declare the car repairable. I was fortunate to have a long and happy relationship with a body shop of sterling reputation, and I insisted on my car being towed there, even though it was not on my IC's list of shops with which they had a formal relationship. This prolonged the whole process because the IC had to send their adjuster out twice. But, from comments they made to me, I believe the body shop nudged the decision towards a total loss, even though it was a big job for them, because they foresaw problems down the road with even an excellent repair.

The other thing to be wary of is yourself, your own impatience, your own tendency to worry. If you don't tend to worry, you can stop reading right now, lucky you!

o Don't go to a body shop on your IC's list just because it will be faster, if you have a body shop you trust. See highlighted paragraph above for why.

o Don't expect a fast response from the insurance company if they have to make a decision about repair or declaring a total loss.

o If the other driver was at fault, don't expect him to make himself available to his IC. His vanishing act may not have dragged things out, but it sure added a level of angst, which I did not need.

o I highly recommend making the trip to DMV to get a copy of the police report in person. (The police accident reports are available from DMV, not the police, in Virginia; I don't know about other states.) The IC of The Idiot who smashed into me insisted on the police report to establish culpability.

o Be a squeaky, but polite, wheel. I am sure the calls I made every other day towards the end had an effect.

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