What does "written-off’ mean?

There was always something about the lines of that 1984 Olds that appealed to you, and you just couldn’t bring yourself to part with it. It was built like a tank, and you thought it would run forever. Until, that is, someone who didn’t seem to understand the meaning of a red light smacked the passenger side of your cream puff. And that was that. After you get over the shock, one of the first question you’ll ask yourself is: “What will the insurance company give me for it?” Let’s take a look at how the insurance company determines how much to pay you if your car is fatally injured. And perhaps more importantly, what you can do if you disagree with the amount of the offer.To begin with, as long as collision or “all perils” coverage is in place on the car, you’ll be offered the actual cash value for it. This is defined as the replacement cost of your car less depreciation. Where does the insurer go for the information? In fact, there are a number of sources for this data. They can refer to a variety of used car valuation books and market data in order to estimate the value of your vehicle.

Further, if you were judged to be at fault in the accident, the insurer will alssubtract the deductible from that amount. The amount of the deductible charged will be the percentage which you were found to be “at fault” for the accident. So if the deductible was $500, and you were determined to be 20% at fault, your settlement would be reduced by $100.

If you want to contest an insurer’s offer, you have to do some market research. This means reviewing publications such as the Black Book, the Red Book, and the Auto Trader.

The first two publications will give you detailed wholesale figures, the numbers of vehicles upon which the values were based, and amount by which to adjust a valuation for vehicle condition, mileage, and optional equipment. These books track actual sales at wholesale.

The Auto Trader provides information about the asking prices of vehicles for sale at retail, but will still give you a good idea of the value of the “old ghost”. Of course, the older or more rare the vehicle, the tougher it may be to find pertinent data.

But let’s be honest. The real problem for you, the car owner, is objectivity. You loved that car. But that will take you only so far with the insurance company. Your affection for the vehicle does not enter the insurance company’s equation. You remember what it cost and all the work done on it, and this just doesn’t compare to the depreciated value that the insurer sees. It’s just that much harder if you weren’t even at fault for the accident.

If you are unsatisfied with the offer, and it becomes necessary to escalate the matter, your first approach may be to the manager of claims, or whomever is responsible for client service. There may also be an ombudsman to whom you can speak. Remember, however, that you must be well-armed with data to make a convincing case. Certainly ask the insurance company to justify their figures, and offer yours as an alternative. Keep emotion out of it. Beyond that, the laws of your province of residence will apply, and the remedies here become more legal in nature, and beyond our scope.

As a last resort, see if the insurance company will allow you to buy the written-off vehicle back from them. Then you can do exactly what you want with it – but it will be at your expense. – G.P.N.