What I learned when I totaled my car
In early November, I was driving south on a major rural highway in mid-Michigan when I noticed a deer come flying into my line of sight. The sonofabitch was running east and I had no chance of avoiding it. I hit the brakes about .30 seconds prior to hitting the deer at 70 miles per hour head on. Ouch.
The airbags deployed and my sirens immediately went bezerk. I pulled my car over immediately and shut it off. I waved the smoke out of my face (goodbye radiator!), called 911 to file an accident report, called a nearby family member for a ride and watched as a wrecker towed my beautiful 2010 Ford Focus to a collision repair center.
Now, two months later, I’m just about finished wrapping up loose ends from the total loss that my car collision resulted in. While I’ve had some minor car repairs and bodywork done before, this is the first time I’ve ever totaled a car, and I’ve learned quite a few things along the way.
1. Keep your paperwork within arm’s reach. When the county sheriff arrived at the scene to process my accident report, he asked for my registration, license and proof of insurance. I always keep these in a clearly labeled envelope in my glove compartment. I was super shaken up from the accident and didn’t want to dig around for things, so I just handed the envelope to the sheriff and he sorted it out for me.
2. Process your claim right away. You know that insurance commercial where “Jake from State Farm” is available at 3 a.m. for all of your concerns? It’s pretty legit. My insurance company has claims representatives available 24/7 for assistance, but I waited until the next morning to file my claim. Obviously you do not have to give Jake from State Farm a call while you’re still in shock and shaking and brushing smoke out of your hair, but do it ASAP.
3. Follow up, follow up, follow up. My car was towed to the nearest collision center right after the accident, and then my insurance company said it would tow the car up to a collision center close to my apartment. However, it completely forgot to send the tow request in until I called to check up on my car three days later! Make sure that you stay on top of your claims processing. You’re paying a lot of money for insurance, so pester the heck out of your insurance provider to get the services you are paying for.
4. Know your insurance policy. Mine stated that I had a $500 collision deductible and a $50 comprehensive deductible. While I originally thought the $8,500 worth of damage my deer collision caused definitely qualified me for the collision deductible, “animal related accidents” actually fall under the comprehensive deductible!
5. Know your warranty. My car was still pretty new to me. I had only had it for about two and a half years, so it was still covered under my purchased warranty plan. I spent two weeks waiting for an estimate and fretting about the worth of my car and whether my settlement check would cover my remaining loan balance. I could have saved myself those two weeks of unnecessary stress if I had bothered to read my warranty: I had gap coverage! This coverage ensures that if your car is deemed a total loss by your insurer, the difference between what you owe and what your car is worth will be paid for you. Which leads to…
6. Gap coverage. Get it. Rental coverage. Get it. Even though I had been diligent about paying more than the minimum on my monthly car payments, I would have been devastated if I didn’t have gap coverage on my tight journalist budget. Even worse than making monthly payments? Making monthly payments on a loan for a car you don’t even have anymore! Also, I didn’t have rental coverage through my insurer, so if my family had not had an extra car for me to use, I would have been without transportation for a month.
7. Suspend all your services immediately. I didn’t know that I could suspend my Sirius XM contract or my car insurance, so both of those services were being used on a completely inoperable car and I lost out on a few dollars by not calling up to suspend my unneeded services right away. Immediately call up any and all services affiliated with your car and ask that they either be put on hold or canceled altogether.
8. Look for the hidden money. Like my insurance and Sirius accounts, I found out after my wreck that I could receive a reimbursement from my dealership for my unused warranty. That reimbursement was more than $1,000!
9. Don’t forget to clean out your car. After your car is deemed a total loss, your insurance company will claim the car in order to sell the remaining shell of it to a scrap yard. Set up a date that your company can take the car away from the body shop it is at, and make sure you clear out all of your personal belongings. It’s easy to forget about the parking permits on the back of your rear view mirror, the USB charger in the car port, the paperwork in the glove compartment and the license plate frame on the outside of your car, but triple check and make sure you grab all of your personal effects.
10. Keep all the paperwork. When I went into my dealership to purchase a replacement car, I brought all the paperwork I had with me. This was useful since I could compare loan percentage rates on my old car vs. a new car, and the final mileage recordings of my totaled car helped the dealership calculate my warranty refund. Make a file of all the paperwork you have regarding your accident and keep it with you. This was also useful when I filed my claim and my insurer asked for everything from my time and place of accident to the name of the law authorities on scene that filled out my accident report.
11. Keep warm clothes in your car. Luckily, the Midwest has had a bit of a heatwave this fall and winter, so it was only about 40 degrees when I wrecked my car. However, if it had been any colder, I would have been out of luck. I was on my way to a Michigan State University basketball game, and was wearing just a jacket and flats! I now have a thick pair of gloves, handwarmers and a blanket in the trunk of my new car, just in case.
12. Secure your belongings while driving. I ended up with raspberries scattered all over my car and everything that had been plopped in my backseat was flipped over and on the floor. You never know what’s going to happen. Since my accident, I’ve been a little more diligent about properly stowing my items for long drives at high speeds.
13. Know when to cut your losses. I loved my 2010 Focus. It was my first “grown up” car, and I was incredibly upset about my insurer’s decision to deem it a total loss. The car was worth a little more than $10,000, and the damage to it was about $8,500 including parts and labor. My dad told me I could probably work with the insurance company to have it repaired anyway, but in the end, I decided it was best to just trust the repair shop’s judgment and let it go. The experts know the industry better than I do. Fixing a major front end collision would be an incredibly timely process that would leave me without a car for a long period of time, and the accident would likely ruin any chance I had of re-selling the car in the future, since that information makes it into the vehicle history report. Additionally, a lot of collision repair jobs are tricky, and the more work that needs to be done means there is a higher chance of something malfunctioning later down the road.
Obviously, you can’t plan for everything. I consider myself lucky that I wasn’t injured at all sans airbag bruising, and that I got into my accident just 10 miles from a relative’s house. I was also lucky that it was relatively warm outside and my insurance policy and warranty contract were both fantastic. It’s hard to prepare yourself for a major collision, but I’ve definitely taken a few steps since my accident to better prepare should it happen again.
And since then, I’ve replaced my car!
This is Hillary.
There’s not a theme. I promise. Maybe.
I come from a Ford family, so I lucked out and snagged a used 2014 Focus in silver for a hefty discount. It had less than 15,000 miles on it and was so much cheaper than a new car! This one also comes equipped with Bluetooth so I can wirelessly play music and make calls from my iPhone, and has Ford EcoMode, so I can challenge myself to keep driving in an environmentally-friendly way! It’s pretty cool.
Have you ever totaled a car? What was your experience like?