A Georgia Guide to Totaled Car, Truck, and Motorcycle Damage Claims

Key Points:

  • Georgia law allows collision victims to be paid the market value when a car is totaled or the cost to repair a damaged vehicle that is not a total loss.
  • Insurance adjusters often try to offer car owners the smallest amount possible to save their company money.
  • The value of a totaled car is not the price your paid for the car or how much you still owe, but what it is worth in the local market.
  • You may be entitled to a rental car. Here are the details!
  • Be careful. Once you sign a property damage release or cash the check, it is very unlikely that you will be able to recover any additional money.

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Questions Answered:

How to Handle Your Own Car, Truck or Motorcycle Damage Claim in Georgia

How to Start Your “Property Damage Claim”

Was the accident your fault? If so, contact your own insurance company and explain what happened.

Was the accident someone else’s fault? If so, contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company AND contact your insurance company as well. Failing to contact your own insurance company could result in a denial of coverage if the at-fault driver’s insurance does not pay for some reason, such as it was cancelled before the crash happened. If it is not clear who was at fault, it may be best to make your claim with your own insurance company until fault is determined.

What The Law in Georgia Allows You to Recover

The law in Georgia allows you to be reimbursed the current market value of your car when it is a total loss or the cost of the repairs to the damage done to it, when it is not totaled.

When and whether a car, truck or SUV is considered a total loss is generally determined by whether it will cost more to repair or replace the vehicle. In fact, the visible damage to a car or how “special” the car or truck is to you has little or nothing to do with whether the car will be totaled. Instead, the law looks to factors that include the model year, options, miles and the overall condition of the car to determine what the car would have been worth just before the crash. If it will cost more than the value of the vehicle to repair it, then the car is worth, then it will likely be considered a total loss. Older and high-mileage cars are far more likely to be totaled than new cars that can be repaired for less than the vehicle’s current value.

What Should I Do Right After a Crash to Deal With The Damage To My Vehicle?

You can start with this list:

  • Can your car or truck be driven? If so, the insurance company may ask you to take the vehicle to a repair shop. If your vehicle is not drivable, you can have the towing company tow it to a place of your own choosing, such as a towing/salvage yard, to your home, or to a body shop that you choose.
  • You should take pictures of the damage to your vehicle as soon as possible.
  • If the vehicle is repairable, you are entitled to have it repaired at a shop of your choosing.
  • If your vehicle has been taken to a towing yard, you should remove all of the personal belongings you want to keep.
  • Make sure that you keep up with the name of the towing yard, any estimates or time frames set with towing yards or others. You don’t want to incur charges you could’ve avoided or come back to find your car has been auctioned off.

The Adjuster Says You have a duty to mitigate; what does this mean?

If your vehicle is towed or stored in a wrecking yard, you will have storage fees and a towing charge that may become your responsibility once the insurance company tells you how long the vehicle can remain there. If you leave the vehicle in the storage yard longer than approved by the insurance company, you may have to pay the charges yourself. In some cases, if you leave your car or truck in the storage yard, more than 30 days without paying, your vehicle could be auctioned off.

Insurance Companies Rarely Offer Top Dollar When They Total a Vehicle

The insurance adjuster for the at-fault driver can be counted upon to try to offer you the smallest dollar amount possible. That’s the adjuster’s job – to act in the best interest of his company’s client regardless of whether or not it makes you feel happy or “whole” again.

Property damage insurance adjusters may argue that your car or pick-up is in worse than average condition or generally sells for less than comparable vehicles in your local area. Fortunately, there are ways to fight back.

Discovering The Local Market Value for Your Car, Truck or SUV

You will find many car value widgets online, but the Kelley Blue Book (KBB), serves as a reliable beginning point

The auto-sales industry and insurance adjusters rely upon certain standard tools to establish the actual cash value of your vehicle. You will find many car value widgets online, but the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) or Auto-Trader may serve as a reliable beginning point. You will need to know what your vehicle sells for in your city or geographic area. It is possible that certain vehicles usually sell for more in another state than in Georgia, but if your claim is in “Atlanta” Georgia, or in South Atlanta, the value of your car will be at or near its current price as a used car in the Atlanta area.

A visit to Auto Trader or the KBB site may give you a reasonable estimate of what the value of your car is. Estimators use factors including the make and model of the vehicle, the original trim package, the general condition of the vehicle, and the number of miles on the odometer. By entering these values in the appropriate fields in the KBB or other calculator, your car’s value can be estimated based on thousands of similar listings and sales.

If your vehicle is a 2013 Nissan Rogue SV 4-wheel drive, with standard equipment having 95,000 miles on the odometer, and in very good condition – having only minor cosmetic defects – the value of the your vehicle according to Kelley Blue Book, will fall within the range of $3,800 to $5,300. This value may vary from one website to another but ultimately, the valuation will depend upon these same basic factors.

Other methods to determine the value of your vehicle include person-to-person sales listings, such as Auto-Trader classified ads, or hiring an independent appraiser to examine or write a report regarding the car’s value.

REMEMBER: Insurance companies only have to pay you the fair market value for the vehicle in your area, so look at comparable cars and trucks in your own city or close to your home.

What Is The Actual Cash or Replacement Value of A “Totaled” Car in Georgia?

Actual Cash or Replacement Value IS: The fair market value of your car, truck, SUV or other vehicle at the moment just before the crash totaled it. This is the amount you could sell it in your local market or its replacement value just before the collision.

Sometimes, the actual value of your vehicle can be a bitter pill to swallow. Here is a short list of what the Actual Value is NOT:

  • It has nothing to do with the price your paid for the car
  • It is not the amount you still owe on the car
  • It does not reflect “collector’s value” or its potential value if you are dealing with an older car you are planning to restore
  • It will not automatically reflect aftermarket changes you’ve made or added like special tires or rims, a custom paint job, or new upholstery which may need to be considered separately.

Should I use my insurance company, or the other driver’s insurance?

If the accident was not your fault, you may have a choice.

Going through your own insurance company may be faster because you may not have to wait for an investigation to be completed. But going through your own company may result in you having to pay a deductible, which you may later be reimbursed for. Also, if you do not have rental car coverage, or if you only have a limited number of rental car days allowed under your insurance policy, you could end up being responsible for the extra days.

Going through the at-fault driver’s insurer may take longer because the adjuster may have to review the police report or interview witnesses. But, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is required to provide you with a rental car, reimbursement for a rental car, or a per-day reimbursement for the loss of use of your vehicle while your car is repaired or until it has made you a reasonable offer for your totaled car or truck.

What if the At-fault Driver does not Have Insurance?

You may be entitled to file a claim under your own motor vehicle insurance policy.

What if the Accident Was my fault, but I Don’t Have Collision Insurance?

You may be out of luck. If you do not have collision coverage and you caused the damage, you will be responsible for the repair or total loss of your own vehicle. And, if you owe money on your motor vehicle, you are still required to pay off the loan. This remains true even if the car, truck or motorcycle is damaged beyond repair.

How Does my Deductible Work?

If you have collision coverage, you may make a claim with your own motor vehicle insurance carrier. In some cases, this may be faster than going through the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

If you make the claim through your own insurer, you may have to pay a deductible. You may be re-paid the deductible from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

You May be Entitled to a Rental car:

If the accident was not your fault, the at-fault driver’s insurance company must provide you with a rental car, reimbursement for a rental car, or a per -day reimbursement for the loss of use of your vehicle until your car is repaired or until you have been paid for the total loss.

If the accident was your fault, do you have rental coverage? If so, your insurance company must pay for a rental car until the repairs are done or you have been paid for the vehicle.

If your car is drivable, the insurance company may not have to pay for a rental car until the repairs have been approved and your vehicle has been put into the body shop for repairs.

If your car, truck or motorcycle is not drivable, you are entitled to a rental car, reimbursement for a rental car, or a per-day reimbursement for the loss of use of your vehicle . You may rent a car yourself and possibly be reimbursed or wait for an insurance adjuster to approve a rental car. You do not need to pay for additional insurance on your rental car, because rental cars are covered on your own policy if you have collision coverage.

Should you get Spot Insurance for your rental? Most insurance companies will not pay for the extra coverage (spot-insurance) and you may be stuck paying for that coverage when you do not need it.

You are entitled to a rental vehicle that is comparable to your damaged vehicle. This means that if you had a pick-up truck, you do not have to settle for a sub -compact car.

Do not keep a rental car longer than the insurance company has agreed to pay for it, or you most likely will have to pay the extra charges yourself. If you need more time because your car has not been repaired, get approval from the insurance company before keeping the rental car.

If your vehicle is a total loss, the insurance company is only required to provide you with a rental car until it has made a reasonable offer for the value of your vehicle.

You should return the rental car or truck as soon as the adjuster tells you to do so.

What if I owe more on the vehicle than the insurance adjuster is offering?

Unfortunately, in some cases the fair market value of your vehicle may be less than what you owe to pay off your loan. The insurance company is not required to pay off your loan. The insurer is only required to pay what your car was worth before it was damaged, even if that value is less than what you owe. It is still your responsibility to pay off the loan.

Depreciation can and must be taken into account

Can I get money because my car is now worth less?

It is well known that vehicles lose value after being damaged in a collision, companies such as Carfax now make it easy for buyers to discover that your car has been damaged and will usually be willing to pay far less for a vehicle that has been in a wreck.

Brand new cars depreciate dramatically in the first few months – sometimes as much as 20 percent in the first year

Georgia law allows you to recover money for diminished value, if you are the owner of the vehicle. If you are leasing the car or truck, you are not the “owner” of the vehicle, and only the owner may collect diminished value.

However, “depreciation” can also work against you. Brand new cars depreciate dramatically in the first few months – sometimes as much as 20 percent in the first year. You are likely to be shocked and disappointed in the actual value, since it will reflect the fact that the car has lost thousands of dollars in value since it was driven off the dealer’s lot. Hopefully you wisely invested in GAP insurance – a policy that makes up for the difference between the actual value and the amount you still owe on the vehicle. Otherwise you may be stuck with an insurance check that is far less than what you actually owe on the car.

How to Negotiate a Diminished Value Claim:

Often an insurance company will simply send you a check for diminished value after a collision. You do not need to accept this amount if you believe that the value of the vehicle has diminished more than what the insurance company has offered or sent you.

Georgia law recognizes that diminished value may be established by an estimate provided by an expert appraiser or an estimated value of the vehicle based on a statistical model. You may have an appraisal of the vehicle done and ask to be paid for the amount that the value has been reduced by. Georgia has many independent appraisal companies who will provide a report in return for a small fee. Try searching online for a local appraisal company.

You should present the diminished value report to the insurance adjuster and ask to be paid the amount by which your vehicle’s value has been diminished.

Note: Not every vehicle qualifies for diminished value. Vehicles that are very old, in poor condition, have minor damage, or have previously been damaged. Newer cars and expensive luxury and sports cars generally diminish more in value than older cars or vehicles in poor condition.

What if my car is ‘special’ or a classic?

Some insurance companies allow you to insure a car for a certain assigned value when the car is a classic or custom vehicle. Most insurance policies, however, are not written this way.

Your sense of the value of your 1991 Mercedes and the insurance adjuster’s valuation will most likely be radically different – no matter how nice your car is or how much you love it. Unless you’ve purchased a policy from a specialty insurance company like Hagerty or Grundy, you will likely be unhappily surprised. Without making provisions for your car’s collector’s value, the typical automobile insurance adjuster will see your “baby” as just another old car with very little actual value.

Fortunately, it is possible to hire an automobile appraiser and pursue the full value of your classic, just don’t expect the insurance adjuster to offer you that value without this type of extra-ordinary proof.

Aftermarket Items and Recent Repairs and Improvements

If your car had special parts installed after you bought the car, it will probably be necessary for you to have added them to your policy

It’s especially important for some of us that our car reflects our interests and our sense of style. If your car has, for example, special rims you installed after you bought the car, it can be difficult to recover these items when the car is totaled. It may be a good idea to speak with your insurance agent about whether you may have specialty items added them to your car’s insurance policy. Additionally, if you just had new tires put on the vehicle or a new transmission, engine rebuild or stereo installed, you may be required to provide receipts and pictures of these repairs or items to claim them if they are damaged or lost as a result of the accident.

Nevertheless, if you need an audio system that is not stock or standard, we recommend that you speak with your insurance representative before you install it. It may need to be carefully documented if it is to be covered.

Salvage Value or Can I Keep My Car After it Has Been Totaled?

Usually the insurance company takes the destroyed car and sells it for scrap or parts. However, it is possible to negotiate a lower payout in return for the insurance company allowing you to keep the car with a salvage title. This means you will usually receive the fair market value of the car before it was totaled, less the value of the vehicle, post-accident. Cars with a Georgia salvage title may not be driven on the road unless a rebuilt title is received, meaning the car has been properly rebuilt or restored under a stringent set of guidelines set and published by the State of Georgia.

A Word of Caution

At some point the insurance adjuster will ask you to sign a document that essentially says you agree with the price he or she has decided the car is worth, less the cost of processing. Before you sign your rights to adequate compensation away, we encourage you to do your homework or make an appointment with a personal injury attorney to consult about your insurance claim. Once you sign the property damage release or cash the check, it is very likely you will not be able to recover any additional money.

What if the insurance company refuses to pay for the damage?

The law of Georgia, O.C.G.A. 33-4-6 and 33-4-7 allows you to make a claim for bad faith damages if the insurance company delays payment or wrongfully refuses to pay.

If you believe an insurance company has wrongfully refused to pay your property damage claim, or is offering less than you believe is reasonable, we recommend that you consult with a lawyer.

If you have requested payment of your property damage, and the insurance company refuses “in bad faith” to pay your demand within 60 days, the insurer may be required to pay up to 50 percent of the loss, or $5,000.00 which ever is greater, plus reasonable attorneys fees.

Whether an insurance company has acted “in bad faith” depends on whether it has become reasonably clear that the insurance company owes you money for your property damage and the insurer offers no money or less than the amount reasonably owed under the circumstances.

Free Property Damage Consultation with Your Personal Injury Claim

At the Millar Law Firm, we offer free consultations and urge accident victims to take advantage of the service before you even think of signing on the insurance company’s dotted line. When you go to this appointment, we will answer your questions and concerns, no matter how long it takes. Get answers to all of your questions and proceed with confidence. Let our decades of experience help you navigate the path to settlement. Call us today for a free case evaluation: (770) 400-0000

Article Summary

Establishing the cash value of your vehicle can be an exercise in disappointment. Insurance adjusters don’t consider how much you paid for the car or its value as a classic car. The only thing you can be certain of is that the insurance adjuster will attempt to offer you the least amount possible for your totaled vehicle. The fair market value of your personal truck, car or SUV should be researched in your local market.

Understand that signing any valuation or settlement agreement with the adjuster will essentially finalize your claim, and you will be stuck with the insurance company’s valuation.



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