Do you have to repair your car after an accident? The answer is: it depends. You are not always required to repair your damaged vehicle. However, in some cases, leaving it damaged may violate a contract. In other situations, you can skip repairs but may be unable to drive the car legally.
If someone else was at fault for your accident, they may be liable for the cost of your vehicle’s repairs. Talk to an experienced car accident lawyer to find out more about your options for pursuing the cost of vehicle repairs.
Car repair scenarios
Whether you can skip car repairs after an accident depends on circumstances such as whether someone else owns an interest in the vehicle (i.e., you owe money to a lender), the value of the car before and after the accident, the cost of repairs, and your insurance policy. Here are some examples of how that can play out:
- Your car is struck in the side panel and the door is dented. The other driver’s insurance company pays you the estimated cost of repair of $2,000. Your car has already been paid off, and you plan on upgrading soon. You might decide to keep the $2,000 and forego the cosmetic door repairs but know that the value of the car is reduced, so you will receive less for it on sale or trade-in.
- You owe $10,000 on your car loan when you are involved in an accident. The crash causes $12,000 in damage to a vehicle that, if repaired, would be worth $25,000. You likely need to have the repairs completed by your choice of professional repair shops or you risk de-valuing the collateral securing the car loan and the lienholder could take action against you. Often the lienholder will be included as a payee on the settlement check, and they will not sign it over to you until repairs are completed.
- An accident causes damage that would cost $10,000 to repair. However, your vehicle is only worth $8,000. The insurance company is not obligated to pay more than the car is worth, and if the cost of repair exceeds a certain percentage of the vehicle’s value, the car is deemed a “total loss.” Rather than repairing the vehicle, you will be given the choice to either (1) sign the title to the car over to the insurance company in return for the value of the car plus its salvage value, or (2) keep the car with a salvage title and receive the value of the car minus the salvage value.
An experienced car accident attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of each option in your situation. For example, if you decide to keep a car with a salvage title, you may not be able to drive or insure it. Instead, you will need to rebuild the vehicle and undergo an inspection for a Rebuilt Salvage title. Insurance companies will not insure a salvage vehicle without this, and even then the insurance company may refuse to insure for damage related to the original accident.
Disputing the valuation of repairs
If you are considering not having your car repaired because the offered amount is not enough, you may be able to negotiate for more. When a vehicle or its repairs are under-valued, it is often because the car is unique and therefore not represented by standard valuation tables. It is sometimes possible to obtain a more fair valuation by presenting evidence of your vehicle’s age, restoration, or special features that give it added value. Some options include:
- Negotiate with insurance adjuster – Provide documentation of features that make your car more valuable and the repairs more expensive
- Hire a public adjuster – Public adjusters have industry experience and can advocate for you where their valuation is different from the insurance company’s
- Appraisal clause – The insurance policy may include an appraisal clause that allows each party to submit an appraisal; if the appraisers agree, the insurance company owes that amount, but if they differ, then an “umpire” assesses damages and their decision is binding. A recent report of 46 appraisals found that insurers shorted car owners over $5,000 on average and umpire awards tended to be more than twice the amount offered by the insurance carriers.
Even if you have the vehicle repaired, it may never be worth its pre-accident value. Under certain conditions, this may be grounds for a diminished value claim. A skilled car accident law firm can help you fight for the full compensation that you are entitled to.
Speak with a car accident lawyer today
The New York and New Jersey car accident lawyers at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman are here to answer questions about the damages available after your car accident. If your vehicle is unique, perhaps because it was restored or a treasured family collectible, the standard valuation may cut your insurance claim down unfairly. Our team can help you determine the true value of your injuries and other losses after a car crash. Call today to schedule a free consultation.