In the seconds after a serious car accident, your first thoughts are for your passengers and the other driver. Is everyone OK? After that, your thoughts turn to your car -- and auto insurance. Are you covered?
Who pays for the damage to your car depends on your insurance coverage and who's at fault. If the other driver is at fault, his or her property damage liability insurance will cover it. If the at-fault driver is uninsured (or underinsured), your uninsured/underinsured coverage will pay, if you have this type of coverage. If you caused the accident, your collision coverage, if you have it, will pay.
When insurance companies pay out after a wreck, they can use a variety of models to arrive at the amount of money you receive. The first step, according to Edmunds.com, is determining your car's actual cash value. The base price is calculated based on your car's book value (using sources like the National Association of Automobile Dealers and Kelley Blue Book). Your insurance company's appraiser then will take into account the car's mileage and the damage that occurred before the accident, as well as things that could raise your car's value (like a rare model or color).
After determining what the car is worth, your insurer will determine how much it will cost to repair it. Your insurer will want to inspect the car, according to Edmunds. Then, according to Progressive, it will estimate how much it will cost to repair based on the costs of labor and parts, and the amount of time the repairs will take.
You also should get your own repair estimate to compare with the insurer's, according to the Insurance Information Institute. If you feel your insurance company's estimate is too low, be sure to negotiate. Insurers, according to the Insurance Information Institute, often balk at having old cars repaired with brand-new parts -- their goal is to repair your car to its pre-accident value, not increase its value.
Sometimes, the insurance company's repair estimate will be greater than the actual cash value of your car. In that case, your insurer will declare your car a total loss -- or "totaled." In that case, the insurer will write you a check (minus any deductible on your policy) and send your car to the scrap yard. You have the option of keeping your car (for sentimental value or to sell its parts), according to Edmunds, but your insurer will deduct a "fair salvage value" from your payout.
To get the most out of your auto insurance claims, be sure to document everything. If you disagree with your insurance company, don't hesitate to work with the claims adjuster to get closer to those numbers you were hoping for.