When an insurance company is negotiating with its policyholder following an accident, a fairly common scenario involves the insurance company delaying payment of the claim for replacement of the damaged car to gain an unfair advantage in negotiating the value of that car.  Typically, the adjuster will not send the claimant a check for the car until he or she agrees to take a ridiculously low amount for the wrecked vehicle.

The reality for most people is that, without settlement money from the insurance company for the car, paying for a replacement car is not possible. The advantage the adjuster tries to exploit is that, at the point the carrier low-balls a claimant on a total loss claim, the claimant either does not have a car (is taking a bus to work), or is incurring substantial rental car charges on his or her credit card.  Either scenario puts the claimant in a difficult scenario (what negotiators call “a disadvantaged bargaining position”).  The adjusters know that the claimant is in a tough situation, and extend offers accordingly (significantly under market value).

The only potential weapon a claimant has against this unfair tactic is the fact that insurance regulations specifically require insurance companies to pay any undisputed portion of the claim prior to complete resolution of any claim.  The Department of Insurance’s Regulations make it clear that every insurance company “shall (must) immediately, but in no event more than thirty (30) calendar days later, tender payment of the amount of the claim which has been determined and is not disputed by the insurer.” [California Code of Regulations, Title X, Chapter 5, Sub-chapter 7.5, Section 2695.7(h)]

In order to negotiate from a better position, you should do the following:

  1. Check the going market value of your vehicle on www.autotrader.com, prior to negotiating the value of the vehicle with the adjuster.
  2. Insurance companies are only supposed to use dealer sales as comparable sales, so make sure you select the filter for “dealers only” (excluding private sellers) on www.autotrader.com
  3. Set the area of comparable vehicles for 200 miles from your residence on www.autotrader.com.
  4. Add a required DMV fee of $115 to the average cost of the available vehicles identified on your www.autotrader.com search.  The carrier has to pay claimant the DMV fee that will be due on the purchase of the replacement vehicle.
  5. Add an 8.75 percent tax to the average cost of the available vehicles identified on www.autotrader.com.  The carrier has to pay claimant the applicable sales tax that will be due on the purchase of the replacement vehicle.
  6. If the adjuster tries to low-ball you, tell the adjuster that you do not agree with his valuation, but ask the adjuster to send you the undisputed amount (the amount offered).
  7. Immediately send the adjuster an email or fax memorializing the insurance company’s offer, your disputing the insurance company’s valuation, and your specific request that the carrier immediately forward the undisputed portion to you.

After you receive the undisputed portion of the property damage to your vehicle, you can purchase a new vehicle and you will be in a better position to begin negotiating to receive additional compensation beyond the undisputed amount of property damage.