car-fender-benderI hate to say it, but car damage involving collisions, deer, snow and ice, floods, theft, vandalism, or other unfortunate events is much more common than any of us wish.  No one wants their car crashed, but since car damage tends to be an inevitable fact of car ownership, you need to know about the different types of car insurance that may (or may not) provide coverage.

What the REAL Questions Are:

  • What do I do now that my car or truck has been damaged?
  • Do I have insurance coverage for the damage?

Here are some tips to help you understand insurance and repair issues for your car or truck.  The information below is talking about coverage in New York but the coverage issues are similar in other states.  If in doubt about your state, talk to a knowledgeable agent or lawyer.

First, Notify Your Insurance Agent/Carrier of Your Damage ASAP

Because most insurance policies require prompt notification of any accident or damage as a requirement for coverage, you should immediately notify your insurance agent of the damage to your vehicle.  Make sure to document the date, time and person who you notified of the damage.  To be extra careful, it is a good idea to confirm your notice either in an e-mail or letter.  Better safe than sorry!

Once you have notified your agent, your experience will be shaped by the type of insurance coverage you purchased to cover any property damage to your vehicle.  Below is a discussion of some of the typical types of coverage:

Collision vs. Comprehensive Coverage

On your own car insurance policy, you can purchase insurance to protect your car from damage.

Collision Coverage protects you from accidents which are deemed your fault.  If you crash into another car, building, tree, etc., Collision coverage will pay to fix it.

Comprehensive Coverage protects you from damage to your car or truck caused by deer or other animal crashes, theft, flood, vandalism, or other events not involving collisions.  If your car is damaged by one of these events, your comprehensive coverage will reimburse you.

If you finance or lease your car, you will likely be required to purchase both Collision and Comprehensive coverage.  It is also a good idea to purchase this coverage if you have a relatively new car which would be expensive to repair or replace.  The cost of Collision or Comprehensive coverage can be reduced by increasing your deductible, which is the amount you have to pay yourself before the insurance company must start paying for damage or loss.

Glass Coverage

This coverage pays for damaged glass to your car and often this coverage has a $0 (zero) deductible.

GAP (Guaranteed Auto Protection) Insurance

If your car or truck is crashed and “totaled” (cannot be repaired for less than its value), then you might end up owing more to your bank or lease company than your insurance will pay you for your car.  Insurance must pay the Actual Cash Value (ACV) of the car, which is often much less than you owe because vehicles depreciate in value quickly.  GAP insurance will make up the difference so that you do not end up upside down on your loan or lease.  If the ACV is $10,000, but you owe $15,000 on your loan or lease, GAP insurance makes up the $5,000 shortfall.

Tips for Cars That Have Been Declared aTotal Loss

If the insurance company decides that your car will cost more to fix than its ACV, it will be considered a “total loss.”  If the car was totaled because of a collision caused by another driver, you can make an insurance claim against that driver or with your Collision coverage.  Talk to your attorney and insurance agent to decide which would be best for you.

When your car is declared a total loss, consider the following:

  • Tell the appraiser about recent repairs and special equipment on the car.  Make sure that all of your car’s options and upgrades have been included in the appraisal and the car’s condition was properly rated.
  • Research car values and sales on the Internet.  Do not accept the first offer – negotiate a fair price.
  • Insist on a fair number of days in the rental car to allow you to find a new car.

Tips for Fixing Your Wrecked Car

The insurance company may try to steer you to their “approved shop.”  Beware of the potential conflict of interest.  If the shop does substantial work for the insurance company, there may be a motive to cut costs in repairing your car.

You have the right to choose where your car will be repaired.  Get a referral from someone you trust.  Check references and research the shop’s reputation. With that said, I don’t mean to imply that all “approved shops” are necessarily bad. For example, Elm Chevy and Gary’s Body Shop are good examples of reputable dealers who work with State Farm, Allstate, Erie, etc.

Using an approved shop sometimes eliminates the need for an adjustor to come out and see your car, especially with small claims like deer or fender benders.  But YES, the customer can go anywhere they want to fix their car.

Also, be sure to ask what parts will be used in the repair, Manufacturer Parts, After-Market Parts (non-Manufacturer but new), or Used Parts from a junk yard.  Although your insurance policy usually governs what type of parts can be used, you have a right to know what will be used and why.

If the collision was the fault of another driver, you can choose to go through the other driver’s policy or your own Collision coverage to get the car fixed.  Talk to your insurance agent, attorney and body shop about which would be better given your situation.

Rental Car Coverage

Not all policies have rental car coverage, so it is important that you carefully review your policy to see the exact terms of your coverage.

My thanks to Peter Wallin at Wallin Insurance for his input on this post.

I hope this helps you understand the confusing world of car damage coverage.  Feel free to post any questions you may have in the comments below or E-mail me at

Thanks for reading,
James B. Reed, Esq.
Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Tel. (607) 733-8866  Fax. (607) 732-6062
Toll Free 1-800-943-3529

E-mail me at for two free books:
NY Car Accidents and NY Car Insurance Secrets YOU Need to Know.