Vehicle Written Off? 5 Best Practices to Dealing with Your Insurance Company

Excerpts from an article published on Miami Herald Online, Dec 09, 2008

In most areas of South Florida, there are a few sure things we can all count on - death, taxes and driving on I-95. And with our gorgeous "winter" weather comes more dangerous driving hazards, in the form of tourists doubling the number of drivers. Combine one of America's most dangerous driving corridors with drivers unfamiliar with the area and residents frustrated by the slow commute and you get ... accidents. Even if you have the safest car and are a careful driver, you could still end up being hit by someone else. Here are some top-line statistics about Florida driving: 256,206 traffic crashes in 2007; with average crashes per day of 702. The result is often the total loss of a vehicle.

Viraf Baliwalla, President of, is a consumer advocate for those facing the intimidating task of dealing with an insurance company after experiencing a total loss. A total loss is when a vehicle is written off by your insurance company after a collision or theft.

With over 14,000 insurance claims amounting to over $300 million in vehicle value under their belt, he shares below some of the best practices that his company has developed for insurance companies to ensure that their policyholders receive a fair and reasonable settlement for their vehicle as well as some advice for policyholders to get what their vehicle is actually worth.

  1. Make sure the insurance appraiser has paid close attention to accuracy in vehicle identification
    It is not uncommon for appraisers to miss important features or identify vehicles incorrectly, especially when things get busy. For example, if you have air conditioning and it is not specified on their report, it may identify your vehicle as a lower model. If you have an LX identified as a DX, then you may not be offered what you are entitled to. Reviewing the report before it goes to the insurance company can avoid a dispute in such cases for both sides.
  2. Ask your adjuster for a copy of the research and valuation report if you think the value is too low
    Believe it or not, insurance companies want to pay out the right value, However, they rely on the tools of the trade to come up with a figure. If the tools give them the wrong value because something was missed, then simply asking for the report and examining it closely may help you identify the problem and have it fixed quickly before it becomes a dispute.
  3. Make sure the research compares apples to apples
    The car business is full of mislabeling and lax advertising rules. If your vehicle is an LX, then prices of other currently advertised LX vehicles should be used as a guide to come up with a value for your vehicle. If prices of lower models are included in the research without adjusting for the difference, the final figure will be skewed lower.
  4. If you maintained your vehicle well, it is worth more than average
    Insurers often offer settlements based on an average price formula. Keep your maintenance receipts. Vehicles that are regularly and properly maintained are worth more than the average price. Also, those with low mileage are worth more than average. Conversely, be realistic if you have excessively high mileage or your vehicle is in poor condition as such vehicles are worth less than the average.
  5. If you purchased new tires, engine or transmission recently, keep your receipts
    These items will add value in most circumstances. "Honda just replaced the transmission on my Odyssey under recall" says Baliwalla. "That has just added close to a thousand dollars to its previous value.