My car was wrecked, now what?
Two questions guide your actions when your vehicle is damaged in a car wreck: (1) will your vehicle be repaired or is it totaled; and (2) did the party that hit you have insurance?
When the vehicle will be repaired, obtain estimates from at least one reputable body shop (you are not obligated to use the insurance company’s recommendation). Once you find a shop, arrange repairs. Body shops routinely work with insurance companies, and they usually reach an agreement on the scope and costs of repair.
If the other driver has insurance, they are obligated to provide a rental car for a reasonable period. As long as everyone stays reasonable about the type of vehicle rented, stays in communication about the status of repairs, and you make sure the shop is repairing your vehicle in a timely manner, there likely won’t be any disputes.
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If the other party does not have insurance, your insurance company is not required to provide a rental unless you have purchased rental insurance or if you have uninsured motorist coverage.
If the car is totaled, the insurance companies “buy” the vehicle from you by paying the value of the vehicle, plus tax, title and license. To negotiate, you must know the value of your vehicle. Use dealer websites, eBay or autotrader.com to learn what vehicles similar to yours now cost. Armed with the research, you will likely get a reasonable settlement.
If your car is totaled, insurance companies are not required to provide a rental. However, many will provide a rental until they write you a check. Communicate with them on whether they will provide a car, and if so, for how long, so you do not get stuck with a large bill.
Be careful when signing a release. Do not sign a property damage release until you are satisfied, and do not sign a personal injury release as part of the property damage claim.
If the other party’s insurance is not cooperating, you may make a claim on your policy and let the companies sort it out.
And, finally, if a dispute arises, contact an attorney.
Luke Ellis is licensed to practice law in Texas and New York. He is an associate at Jackson Walker LLP; his practice focuses on general commercial litigation. Ellis writes
that addresses practical and everyday legal issues. His column has also been published in Spanish in
is for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult an attorney directly.