Attempting to achieve a fair settlement with an insurance adjuster for a totaled car or truck is often a frustrating process. Many people quickly find out that adjusters are often not concerned about handling claims fairly, but instead are trained to pay out as little as possible.
Convincing an auto insurance claims adjuster to increase a settlement offer for a totaled vehicle is difficult and sometimes impossible.
I spent many years as the primary outside lawyer for a major insurance company. I often told the claims adjusters that the company would save money in the long run by treating people fairly on their property damage claim. Unfair property damage settlement offers result in the hiring of legal representation for the bodily injury claim, which in my considerable experience, almost always results in a much higher settlement of the bodily injury claim. Unfortunately, adjusters are only concerned about the portion of the claim they are handling, not whether another adjuster will have to pay out more for the injury portion of the settlement at a later time.
An insurance company’s liability for a total loss property damage claim is defined by the fair market value of the vehicle (before the crash, of course). This legal principal is rarely in dispute. The real question is almost always: what was the fair market value of the vehicle?
Not surprisingly, the insurance carriers almost always value your car or truck lower than expected. Two leading sources of used car values in the U.S. and in Maryland are Kelly’s Blue Book (kbb.com) and NADA (nada.com). I recommend that you use these free websites to gain a fair idea of your car or truck’s value. Please note that you are almost never going to receive the full “retail value” of your vehicle, nor will most vehicles be rated in “excellent” condition.
Unfortunately, very few car insurance companies use Kelly’s Blue Book or NADA. Instead, they use companies such as CCC Valuescope and Autosource/Audatex.
CCC Valuescope is the dominant company providing appraisal values for totaled vehicles for insurance companies. In my experience, CCC Valuescope always generates an unfair value that is less than Kelly’s Blue Book or NADA. Why are the appraisals of CCC Valuescope so low? In my opinion, it is because they make a great deal of money providing this service to the insurance companies. If they suddenly started valuing vehicles the same as or higher than Kelly’s Blue Book or NADA, the insurance companies would stop using their service—and paying their appraisal fees. As such, there is a mutual benefit between CCC Valuescope and the insurance companies to have a low appraised value.
The insurance company may provide you with a lengthy, impressive-looking report generated by CCC Valuescope. Certainly something so comprehensive must be accurate, correct? In my experience, the answer is a definite NO! CCC Valuescope purports to list actual vehicles for sale as there basis for calculating a value of your vehicle. Occasionally, I have had a client that actually calls the car lots and inquired as to the comparison cars listed in the report. Those clients have reported to me that substantial mistakes were made on the CCC report in the pricing, mileage, etc. of the comparison vehicles.
Do a quick Google search of CCC Valuescope and find page after page of consumer complaints about unfair appraisals by CCC Valuescope and the insurance companies that use this service. Are they a legitimate company providing a legitimate service? I guess the answer is “yes” if your goal is to generate a low-ball value for a totaled car or truck.
Some insurance companies utilize Autosource by Audatex rather than CCC Valuescope. My opinion of Autosource is the same as stated above regarding CCC Valuescope. These companies compete for the business of the big insurance companies. There is a business incentive for these “independent” companies to save money for the insurance companies—by generating low valuations for the totaled vehicles.
So, what are your options?
The truth is that most property damage adjusters will not budge much on their total loss offer. Why? Because (unlike the personal injury aspects of your case) they know that it is not cost-effective for you to challenge their unfair offer in court. To do so would cost you time (it takes several months after you file in court to have your case heard by a judge) and money (court costs, hiring your own appraiser and paying him to come to court, continued car payments, and having to wait to get paid so you can purchase another car), and the insurance company usually stops paying for a rental a few days after they make the settlement offer.
There are a few strategies that do seem to work to get some auto insurance adjusters to increase their total loss offer:
- Provide receipts for recent upgrades to your car. Did you just buy new tires? Provide that receipt to the adjuster. This will not result in a dollar-for-dollar increase (especially because the general value assumes that average-wear tires are on the car), but may get some movement from the insurance company. Note that most adjusters will not increase the value for routine maintenance, such as oil changes or tune ups.
- Dispute the comparison vehicles listed in the CCC Valuescope (or other service) appraisal. This requires a lot of homework. As mentioned above, you may be able to call about the actual vehicles listed in the report. You can also generate your own list of comparable vehicles for sale in your area.
- Check the details of your vehicle listed in the report. Is the mileage correct? Are all the options listed?
Will doing these things make a difference? The honest answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some adjusters do want to be fair—to the extent the parameters established by the carrier allow it. But some adjusters deem it easier to say NO—that they cannot deviate from the value that their service generated.
Perhaps one of the most difficult situations is created when the balance of the car loan exceeds the total loss offer. This seems unfair—you were completely happy making your payments, and now you will be left without a car and still owing the bank. Unfortunately, the insurance company’s legal responsibility is limited to the fair market value of the vehicle, no matter how much you owe.
The very best advice I can give you is to make sure you are treated fairly on your personal injury insurance claim.
On the personal injury claim, we do have a great deal of leverage over the insurance companies, as filing a lawsuit is much more cost effective on the personal injury case, and they know it. This does not mean that your injury case will result in a lawsuit! But it is this different balance of power on the personal injury aspect of the case that helps us keep the insurance companies honest and fair, and usually results in us being able to achieve a fair result without a lawsuit.
Remember, we offer a free consultation for personal injury claims. Also keep in mind that it is always better to get us involved early in the claims process so mistakes can be avoided.
By getting us involved soon after a car or truck accident, we can provide you with specific advice regarding your total loss property damage claim.
Be assured that we will work hard for you so that you do not have to settle for a low-ball settlement offer from the insurance company for your personal injury claim.