Auto insurance claims adjusters have difficult jobs. Virtually all of their customers are stressed by definition and fully expect the claims adjuster to be their adversary. It is a bit like being an umpire or referee, with the added pressure of the responsibility to hand out checks.
Claims adjusters usually have heavy caseloads, and they would like nothing better than a quick agreement on a claim and a firm handshake afterward. However, they also have a duty to keep the insurance company’s costs down. Adjusters usually have some discretion to adjust the payment upward based on the situation, but yelling at them for a perceived lowball offer will not persuade them to use it.
By being prepared and making your case for a higher claim quickly and accurately, you may be able to persuade the claims adjuster to increase the amount you receive for your claim. Here is how to do it.
- Research the Car’s Value – Remember, the value of your car has nothing to do with what you paid for it or how important it is to you – it is only a matter of what a car exactly like yours (same make, model, age, and condition) would bring to an average buyer in the open market.
You can research the value of your car through a multitude of online resources, including the Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds websites. Start there to find the expected worth of cars similar to yours and what they have sold for recently. Your car may adjust up or down based on condition, so take that into account.
The adjuster will do the same research and average the cost of comparable cars in your area. There is no rule for how many comparable cars they use to find the average. You may have done a more comprehensive job of research than they have, and may be able to use your research to get a better offer.
You can hire an independent appraiser in some states. However, consider the age, condition, and value of your car and consider whether the likely improvement in assessment would cover the cost of the appraiser (typically several hundred dollars).
- Be Prepared to Push Back – Pushing back is fine, but push back with facts. Use your research to explain why you believe the offer is too low, and make a reasonable counteroffer. Again, no yelling – push back gently but firmly.
- Choose Your Own Repair Shop – Get your own estimates from repair shops that you trust. Adjusters usually have relationships with preferred shops that may or may not provide the best price for the same repair.
- Let Go if It Makes Economic Sense – Claims adjusters generally use a 50% rule on the decision to total a car vs. repairing it. If repair costs are below 50% of the value, the car is repaired; otherwise, it is totaled and a check is cut for the replacement value.
However, the value of your repaired car is going to be lower than comparable models just because it has been in an accident, and for good reason. There is a higher risk of items that were not damaged enough to cause problems now, but that could develop into serious problems in the future. Your ability to resell the car is diminished – especially if it was a close decision to repair or total.
In that case, unless you plan to drive the car until it is time to take it to the crusher, you are probably better off to convince the adjuster to total the car. If the damage is that extensive, you can legitimately say that you have concerns about the durability, and potentially the safety, of the repaired car.
Ignore the value argument and play the safety card. You may persuade an adjuster to agree with you. They are human and have families, too.
By doing some homework and preparing yourself for standard techniques of claim adjusters, you may be able to save money on the repair of your car, and find something positive in a negative event. Any time you can do that, you will come out ahead.