It isn’t common for insurance companies to be easy to get along with. If you have one that is, keep them, they’re unique. I am not unhappy with mine - I still have insurance through them. However, I had to work a little get what I considered a fair value. You can too.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I “wrecked” my beloved 2006 S197 Mustang. Some refuse pipe when through my firewall and through my floor pan on the passenger side. Honestly, it could have been repaired for less than $1000. But insurance insisted that, on top of the accident being considered a collision, not a road hazard, the car was totaled due to frame damage. They considered the firewall to be frame and their policy, which I can’t argue with, is they do not repair frame damage. They replace it.

I immediately took my car for a second opinion to a private body shop. I found one through my main mechanic and got him to look at it. He agreed it would be easy to fix but explained that we could not challenge their decision without a court decision, which is almost never worth it. However, he warned me that the insurance company would probably throw a low offer and told me about the best person to talk to about informing myself.

In Texas, we have the what is called the Right of Appraisal. If your insurance policy has this clause (it should!) you may invoke this right to challenge the appraisal and hire a private appraiser. I asked for the NADA value for my Mustang, which was a few thousand more than what they offered. My appraiser looked at their offer. What they did, and what I believe to be common from insurance companies, is that they contract with certain services. I forget the name of the one that did mine but they took my car and mileage and then check the local area for cars similar. Then they choose 3 from that list and average their sale pricing to come to a value for mine.

Those prices are for dealers or private owners that are motivated to sell the vehicle. I am not. Those prices do not reflect the true value of my vehicle. The agent handing the case blatantly refused to pay NADA value. At this point we had possession of the car and did not allow them to reassess the car or take more pictures.

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I hired the private appraiser. How this is supposed to work is that I invoke my right of private appraisal and give them some paperwork. I then turn over the matter to the appraiser. He works with the company to get the name of their own appraiser, and they agree on a third private appraiser. They do this first since the third appraiser acts as an umpire if the two appraisers reach an impasse. The umpire works as a mediator to settle a final value. The eventual agreement is binding and the only way to overturn it is to challenge it in a court of law. Which is never worth it.

However, the insurance company stalled. And stalled. And stalled. They blamed my appraiser for the issue. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait on them for a new vehicle and was already in the GTO before they paid out the claim. Eventually I called and spoke to the agent’s supervisor asking what the hell was going on. It had been 2 months or so at this point. I told them the value I wanted...and they agreed. They were so unwilling to work with my private appraiser they tried to wait me out and eventually paid the claim out to the value they had originally refused.

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All this comes around to the GTO and my recent accident. (I know, I know.) I was already paranoid of them and had contacted my appraiser about the vehicle. They totaled the car due to the possible cost of incidentals. I expected that, since the GTO is technically an Australian car. If i had purchased brand new parts then the parts alone for the repairs would be well north of $8,000.

Luckily I ended up with one hell of a body shop. We figured up a fair value for the vehicle and made a plan to fix it for less. You see, in Texas, if you can fix the car for less than the appraised value, regardless of the insurance company’s assessment, the vehicle isn’t totaled and is not reported to the State as such. So my GTO has a clean title. In fact, all I had to do was call my insurance to reinstate my full coverage.

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I didn’t end up having to use my appraiser for this one. I informed my insurance of the value I wanted and informed them I had already secured the services of the same appraiser they were so scared of before. To my surprise, after a little back and forth, we were able to agree on the value I wanted (you negotiate the total value first) and then a fair salvage value (the amount you pay to retain the vehicle) and we were away. After a long process of buying parts from all over the country, my body shop knocked out the repairs in about 3 weeks.

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The car is perfect, by the way. Not a single rock chip or license plate bracket hole to be found. I could not be happier.

If you love your car and don’t want to surrender it to the rebar gods -

  • Don’t take it to the “approved” body shop the insurance company suggests.
  • Don’t agree to a what the insurance company insists is a fair value without doing your own research.
  • Do check your policy and state laws and know your rights. Check with a good body shop if you don’t know where to start.
  • If you pay the car out then don’t immediately assume that new parts are the only option. Sure, they’re the easiest way to go but I saved several thousand from buying used parts and reconditioning them.
  • Do have a beater car. Rentals are usually only covered for a couple weeks or so by insurance.
  • Don’t get discouraged by the large job in front of you. This isn’t something that happens fast.
  • Don’t underestimate or cheap out on your body shop.