2024 Ultimate Guide to GA Automobile Property Damage Claims

How to Get Your Car Repaired or Paid-as-Totaled After an Accident

Car repair after accident

When you or a loved one has been involved in a car wreck, there are generally two possible types of claims involved.

  1. A claim for damage to the car (commonly called “property damage”)
  2. A claim for personal injury or wrongful death (commonly called “bodily injury”).

At Butler Kahn, we only handle bodily injury cases—in other words, we only represent people who have been involved in car wrecks as to their claims for injuries or death, not just damage to the car.

But over the years, lots of people have called us looking for help dealing with the damage to the car, even if they weren’t hurt in the accident. We put this Georgia Car Damage Manual to help those people.  Now we’re putting it on the web for all to use. Georgia law allows property damage claims to be handled separately from personal injury claims. See O.C.G.A. § 51-1-32. That means that if you’ve been injured, you can settle your claim for the damage to your car and get back on the road while you continue getting the medical treatment you need.

While personal injury cases often need a lawyer, sometimes if there are no injuries and the only issue is damage to your car, you may be able to handle the claim yourself. (See Should I Hire a Lawyer After a Car Accident). If that’s the route you decide to take, we hope this Georgia Car Damage Manual will help you. If you or someone else involved in the car accident was hurt, please contact us or apply online. But if you weren’t hurt and the only problem is damage to your car, click the blue button below and read on.

What to Do After a Car Accident

1. Contact the police and seek medical attention.

If you or someone else involved in the accident is hurt, your first priority should be getting medical treatment. Even if there are no injuries, it is always a good idea to contact the police to make a report of the accident. Without a police report, it can be more difficult to prove what happened.

2. Take photos of the vehicles and of the accident scene, if you are able to safely do so.

One of your next steps should be to obtain a copy of the Georgia Motor Vehicle Accident Report from the law enforcement agency that investigated the wreck. Usually, the officer will give you a case number with directions on how to obtain that report. It can often take several days for the police report to become available.

3. Contact the insurance company listed on the report for the at-fault driver to report the claim.

Oftentimes, the police report will show which driver was suspected to be at fault, and may also show that this at-fault driver was issued a citation. After you report the claim to the at-fault driver’s insurance company, the insurance company should assign a claims adjuster who will contact you to appraise your vehicle. If you are hurt, there will likely be a separate adjuster who handles your injury claim. The adjuster who handles the damage to your car will usually identify themselves as a “property damage adjuster,” or otherwise tell you that they are only handling the property damage claim. This adjuster may ask to see the vehicle in person to assess the damage. Depending on the extent of the damage, the vehicle may be declared a total loss (or “totaled”), or it may be repaired.

Remember

If you have collision coverage through your own car insurance, your insurance company will pay for your vehicle repair, replacement, or rental car and then seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. However, you will have to pay your deductible for the time being. Your deductible amount will ultimately be refunded to you as part of your property damage settlement once the at-fault driver’s insurance company accepts liability.

When They Ask for a Recorded Statement . . .

Sometimes insurance adjusters ask you to make a recorded statement. Sometimes they pretend to like you have no choice, and can even be pushy about it. But there is absolutely no requirement under Georgia law for you to provide a recorded statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Know your rights and stand your ground.

The only time when you may potentially have an obligation to provide a statement is when you are using your own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (meaning the at-fault driver did not have insurance or did not have enough insurance). In this situation, you may have a contractual obligation to cooperate in the request, but you can still consult with an attorney before making a statement.

 

The insurance adjuster may tell you that the claims process can’t get started until you provide a statement. This can be a trap to get you to say something that can be used against your case later. You have the right to talk with a lawyer before giving any statement, recorded or not, to the insurance company.

Highway car accident
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How you proceed from here depends on whether your vehicle is repairable or is declared a total loss. Typically, a vehicle is considered a total loss when the cost of repairs exceeds 75 percent of the appraised value of the vehicle.

What To Do If Your Car Can Be Repaired

If your car can be repaired, congratulations! That will save you the trouble of having to negotiate with the insurance company over the amount they would have to pay you for a totaled car. However, there are a few other issues for you to think about. First, you may want a rental car while your car is being repaired. Second, you may want to know more about the process of getting your car repaired through an insurance company. Third, you should consider whether you will have a claim “diminished value” once your car is repaired. In case you’re unfamiliar with that phrase, let us explain. When it comes time to sell a car, buyers often won’t pay as much for a car that has been damaged as they would pay for a car that has never been damaged. That means that even after you get your car repaired, it won’t be worth as much as it was before. The law refers to this concept as “diminution in value,” which is a fancy phrase for the idea that your car is worth less after the accident, even if it has been fixed. If your vehicle is repairable, you are entitled to a rental car for the reasonable repair time, the cost of repair plus this “diminution in value” resulting from the damage, as well as interest.

Getting a Rental Car While My Car Is Being Repaired

You are entitled to a rental car while your vehicle is being fixed. Start by contacting the at-fault driver’s insurance company, as you would after the accident, to report the claim. Ideally, that insurance company will arrange for the rental car so that all you have to do is pick up and return the rental car. However, several issues can sometimes arise that make this process more difficult and frustrating for you. We’ve provided some guidance here to help you deal with these situations. Some smaller insurance companies will only reimburse you for a rental car, leaving it up to you to arrange for your own rental car. If you are asked to do this, make sure to approve the rental rate with the insurance company in advance. Also, make sure to rent a vehicle that is comparable to yours. In other words, if you have an economy sedan, don’t go rent a luxury car or pickup truck, or else the insurance company may refuse to cover the additional cost. On the other hand, if you drove a pickup truck, you can rent a similar pickup truck. Keep in mind that the insurance company is trying to keep its costs to a minimum, so be prepared to stand your ground and insist on a comparable vehicle. The at-fault driver’s insurance adjuster might tell you that he or she needs to investigate your claim before authorizing a car rental. During this time, you could be without a vehicle. If this happens, you might consider going through your own car insurance. Check with your own car insurance to see if you purchased rental car coverage. If you have this coverage, you can use that to pay for a rental car up to the limits of your coverage (for example, $25 per day for a maximum of $750). Again, most larger insurance companies will arrange the details with a rental car company like Enterprise. You have a right to use any rental provider or location you choose, but you may have to pay the cost upfront and seek reimbursement up to the limits of your rental car coverage if you choose another rental provider. If you do this, it is still a good idea to get approval in advance for the rate and class of the car to avoid issues later. Unlike with your own coverage, there is no fixed time limit for how long the at-fault driver’s insurance company has to pay for your rental car while your vehicle is being repaired. You are entitled to this rental car for as long as it takes for your vehicle to be repaired.

Getting My Car Repaired

Your car should be repaired properly, so that it looks and runs as well as it did before the wreck. As long as this can be done without totaling the car, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for paying for these repairs. Start by contacting the at-fault driver’s insurance company, as you would to report the claim. Once you are in touch with the insurance adjuster, the next step is to select a repair shop to fix your car. Insurance companies often recommend certain repair shops. While you are not required to use the insurer’s recommended repair facility, many people find it easier and faster to do so. If you’re still making payments on your car, you should also check with your lender to see if they have any requirements for authorized repair shops. Once you have found a repair shop, the next step is to get an estimate for the cost of repairs. If you’re using the insurance company’s preferred shop, you may not have any involvement in this part of the process. If you’ve decided to use a different repair shop, you should first seek approval from the insurance company for the estimated cost of repairs. This is because insurance companies will only pay what they believe is a reasonable amount for repairs. If the repair shop of your choice charges a higher amount, you could end up on the hook for the additional cost unless you obtain prior approval. You may ask the shop you choose to call the insurance company directly, so that you do not need to be involved in this negotiation. Before you have your car repaired, you should try to make sure the adjuster has inspected it. If you get your car repaired before the adjuster can inspect it, the insurance company can try to reduce the amount reimbursed to you by claiming some of the damage that was repaired was already there before the accident. If it important to you that your car is repaired using only original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, you should request this in advance. The insurance company and repair shop must identify non-OEM parts in the estimate, and your repair estimate must include a disclosure statement stating that the manufacturer or distributor of the part warrants the non-OEM parts, not the vehicle manufacturer. Ultimately, the insurance company may refuse to cover OEM parts, as long as the aftermarket parts are of like kind and quality and comply with the law regarding the required disclosure statement and identification of aftermarket parts. Once your car is repaired, you should go over the repairs that were made before you drive home. Ask the mechanic to walk you through the repairs. Go over the itemized bill and check it against the estimate. If something is different, ask why. Finally, take your car for a test drive. If there are any issues with the repairs, you should insist they be addressed before accepting the car.
You are entitled to a rental car while your vehicle is being fixed. Start by contacting the at-fault driver’s insurance company, as you would after the accident, to report the claim. Ideally, that insurance company will arrange for the rental car so that all you have to do is pick up and return the rental car. However, several issues can sometimes arise that make this process more difficult and frustrating for you. We’ve provided some guidance here to help you deal with these situations. Some smaller insurance companies will only reimburse you for a rental car, leaving it up to you to arrange for your own rental car. If you are asked to do this, make sure to approve the rental rate with the insurance company in advance. Also, make sure to rent a vehicle that is comparable to yours. In other words, if you have an economy sedan, don’t go rent a luxury car or pickup truck, or else the insurance company may refuse to cover the additional cost. On the other hand, if you drove a pickup truck, you can rent a similar pickup truck. Keep in mind that the insurance company is trying to keep its costs to a minimum, so be prepared to stand your ground and insist on a comparable vehicle. The at-fault driver’s insurance adjuster might tell you that he or she needs to investigate your claim before authorizing a car rental. During this time, you could be without a vehicle. If this happens, you might consider going through your own car insurance. Check with your own car insurance to see if you purchased rental car coverage. If you have this coverage, you can use that to pay for a rental car up to the limits of your coverage (for example, $25 per day for a maximum of $750). Again, most larger insurance companies will arrange the details with a rental car company like Enterprise. You have a right to use any rental provider or location you choose, but you may have to pay the cost upfront and seek reimbursement up to the limits of your rental car coverage if you choose another rental provider. If you do this, it is still a good idea to get approval in advance for the rate and class of the car to avoid issues later. Unlike with your own coverage, there is no fixed time limit for how long the at-fault driver’s insurance company has to pay for your rental car while your vehicle is being repaired. You are entitled to this rental car for as long as it takes for your vehicle to be repaired.
 

What To Do If Your Car Was Totaled

If the insurance company has declared your vehicle a total loss, that probably means the cost to repair your car or truck meets or exceeds about 75 percent of the vehicle’s fair market value. Unfortunately, you cannot force the insurance company to repair the vehicle in this situation. While you could buy back the vehicle for its salvage value, you would then have to repair the vehicle to pass inspection and then apply for a salvage title. Thus, you are likely better off accepting the forced sale of your vehicle.

When your car is totaled, the insurer is supposed to pay for the value of the car before the wreck. The law in Georgia recognizes that estimating this “fair market value” is a somewhat subjective process. In practice, this means that you’ll likely end up in a negotiation with the insurance adjuster. For this reason, it is important for you to gather documentation to prove the fair market value of your vehicle before the wreck.

Getting a Rental Car After My Car Has Been Totaled

When your car or truck is totaled, you will likely find yourself without transportation for at least a brief period of time. During this time, the at-fault driver’s insurance is responsible for paying for your rental car.

Ideally, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will arrange for the rental car so that all you have to do is pick up and return the rental car. However, several issues can sometimes arise that may make this process more difficult and frustrating for you. We’ve provided some guidance here to help you deal with these situations.

Some smaller insurance companies will only reimburse you for a rental car, leaving it up to you to arrange for your own rental car. If you are asked to do this, make sure to approve the rental rate with the insurance company in advance. Also, make sure to rent a vehicle that is comparable to yours. In other words, if you have an economy sedan, don’t go rent a luxury car or pickup truck, or else the insurance company may refuse to cover the additional cost. On the other hand, if you drove a pickup truck, you can rent a similar pickup truck. Keep in mind that the insurance company is trying to keep its costs to a minimum, so be prepared to stand your ground and insist on a comparable vehicle.

The at-fault driver’s insurance adjuster might tell you that he or she needs to investigate your claim before authorizing a car rental. During this time, you could be without a vehicle. If this happens, you might consider going through your own car insurance. Check with your own car insurance to see if you purchased rental car coverage. If you have this coverage, you can use that to pay for a rental car up to the limits of your coverage (for example, $25 per day for a maximum of $750). Again, most larger insurance companies will arrange the details with a rental car company like Enterprise. You have a right to use any rental provider or location you choose, but you may have to pay the cost up front and seek reimbursement up to the limits of your rental car coverage if you choose another rental provider. If you do this, it is still a good idea to get approval in advance for the rate and class of car to avoid issues later.

Finally, once the insurance company makes you an offer to pay for your totaled vehicle, you may have to return the rental car even if you don’t accept that initial offer. Don’t allow the insurance company to pressure you into accepting a lower offer if that offer does not adequately compensate you for your car’s fair market value. In this type of situation, it can be especially helpful to have purchased rental car coverage on your own car insurance policy. The cost of renting a car for a few extra days may be worth it if you are able to negotiate a higher amount to compensate you for what your car is worth.

How Much Is My Car Worth?

The “fair market value” of your car before the wreck is determined by many factors. While this determination can be somewhat subjective, you should gather objective information to prove what your car is really worth on the market. The ultimate determination of what the at-fault driver’s insurance company pays for your car almost always involves a negotiation between you and the insurance adjuster.

Be prepared for the insurance company to try to wear you down in this negotiation. As with any negotiation, the first offer is almost never the best offer. That being said, you should make a reasonable counteroffer and back that up with facts and documentation of your car’s higher fair market value. Stand your ground if the insurance adjuster is being unreasonable.

Further, if your vehicle had never been involved in a wreck before, make sure you tell the adjuster that. If you’ve kept good records of your vehicle’s maintenance, use these to support your argument as well.

Useful tools for gathering information about your vehicle’s fair market value include the Kelley Blue Book, CARFAX reports, AutoTrader, classified ads, and online sale listings. Search for cars that are as similar to yours as you can find. That means the same make and model, year, major options, condition, and mileage. Of course, you aren’t going to find an exact match, but the closer the better. Use all of this information to argue your case to the adjuster by pointing out how other, similar cars are valued higher than what the insurance company is offering you.

If you’ve invested in aftermarket parts, modifications, or accessories (such as a sound system, rims, or performance parts), you should always save your receipts to document the cost of these items. Aftermarket parts can sometimes be salvaged, but if you are going to claim reimbursement for them, you’ll need to include proof of their fair market value. If you don’t have the receipts anymore, try contacting the retailer where you purchased them.

Financing and GAP Insurance

If you are still making payments on your car, it is possible that the property damage settlement may not cover all of the debt remaining on your vehicle. This can turn out to be a real problem. We hate to say it, but sometimes there isn’t a good solution. If you owed more money on your car than it was worth—in other words, you owed more money in financing than you received from the settlement of your property damage claim—you may still owe the difference to the lender. In other words (and again, we hate to have to say this, but it’s the truth) you could end up having to make payments on a car that you no longer own and that somebody else totaled, even though you weren’t at fault for the accident.

For this reason, it is a good idea to purchase “GAP insurance” when you finance or lease a vehicle. Technically, GAP is short for “Guaranteed Asset Protection,” but it is commonly referred to as gap insurance because it helps pay the “gap” between what you owe on a car and what it’s currently worth. In other words, gap insurance protects you from having to pay more on your loan that what your car is worth.

 

If you are not sure whether you have gap insurance, there are a couple places to check. First, you may have paid for gap coverage when you financed the car. Check with the dealership and review your sales contract or lease agreement, as gap insurance is sometimes sold as an add-on when you buy or lease a car. Second, check your car insurance policy, as many major insurance companies offer gap insurance.

Concerns Beyond My Car

Regardless of whether your vehicle is repairable or a total loss, you may also encounter other issues when dealing with your property damage claim. Items that were inside your car also make up part of your property damage claim, so you’ll want to make sure you are fairly reimbursed for damaged personal property and kids’ car seats.

Further, any time you are dealing with an insurance company, even if it’s your own insurer, remember that the insurance company is not your friend. While an insurance company representative may pretend to be your friend, remember the simple truth—insurance companies want to pay as little as possible to you so they can keep more money for themselves.

things that were in my car

Things That Were in My Car

If your personal property was damaged in the wreck, you can be compensated for these items as well. This includes things like your glasses, clothing, jewelry, cell phone, and other electronics. It can also include injuries to animals or pets in the car.

Of course, you’ll still have to show that your property was in fact in the car and was damaged. That can come from your own testimony, but photos help. Take pictures of your property before removing it from your car after a wreck.

You will also have to establish the value of your damaged property. That can also come from your own testimony, but it’s likewise helpful to gather receipts and take photos of these items as proof of their value and condition.

If your pet was injured in the wreck, you can recover the reasonable vet bills and other expenses you incurred in treating your pet for its injuries. If your pet died, you can only recover its “fair market value” in addition to the vet bills and expenses, plus interest. As heartbreaking as it can be to lose a pet (and as wrong as this seems), Georgia law treats pets as “property,” and the fair market value of a pet in Georgia does not include its sentimental value.

Should I Replace My Child’s Car Seat?

Most child car seat manufacturers state that the seat should be replaced, even after a minor crash. This is true regardless of whether or not the child was in the seat at the time of the collision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that car seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash, and provides criteria for defining a minor crash in which the seat may not need to be replaced. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for whether you can safely re-use a car seat after a crash.

The at-fault driver’s insurance should cover the cost of a replacement car seat. You will likely need to purchase a new car seat, save the receipt, and submit this documentation for reimbursement as part of your property damage claim. You are not required to replace the car seat with the exact same model. If the insurance company is not willing to cover the replacement car seat, show them the instruction manual for your child’s car seat where it states that the seat should not be re-used after an accident. Most manufacturers make their instruction manuals available online. Finally, it is a good idea to dispose of the old seat in a way that ensures that no one else will attempt to re-use the compromised seat, such as writing “Not Safe, Do Not Use” in permanent marker on the seat before disposing of it.

Car seat

Understand It Before You Sign It!

Once you have negotiated your property damage claim and agreed on an amount, the insurance company will require you to sign a “release” as a condition of paying the settlement amount. We can’t stress enough how important it is to carefully read and understand everything in the document before signing it. By signing, you are forever “releasing” or giving up your rights to pursue the claims it covers. This is why it is so important to read and understand which specific claim (or claims) you are agreeing to give up in exchange for the settlement check.

The release should say “Property Damage Release,” or something very similar. If it says “General Release,” that likely means you are being asked to give up your rights to pursue other claims as well, such as personal injury claims. You may also be asked to sign other documents in addition to the release, such as authorization for the insurance company to obtain your medical and/or employment records. Never fall for this trick—no insurance company can require you to sign these as part of your property damage settlement.

The consequences of signing a release that gives up your right to pursue an injury claim are very severe. Unfortunately, by the time many folks realize their mistake, it is too late. The law is very unforgiving when it comes to one’s duty to read a contract such as this. If you wait to talk to a lawyer until after you’ve signed a release, there is likely nothing the lawyer can do. This means you will never be able to recover for your medical bills, pain, and suffering, or any other damages relating to your injuries from the wreck. Again, the insurance company is not your friend here. If you are unsure about what you are signing, seek an attorney’s advice.

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Finishing Up Your Car Damage Claim

We hope this guide has been helpful. We know how time-consuming and frustrating the process of navigating a property damage claim can be. For those who have been injured in a car accident, the property damage claim may be only the beginning of what is often a much more involved process.

Things That Were in My Car

A PART OF THE GEORGIA CAR DAMAGE MANUAL: HOW TO GET YOUR CAR REPAIRED OR PAID-AS-TOTALED AFTER AN ACCIDENT

If your personal property was damaged in the wreck, you can be compensated for these items as well. This includes things like your glasses, clothing, jewelry, cell phone, and other electronics. It can also include injuries to animals or pets in the car.

Of course, you’ll still have to show that your property was in fact in the car and was damaged. That can come from your own testimony, but photos help. Take pictures of your property before removing it from your car after a wreck.

You will also have to establish the value of your damaged property. That can also come from your own testimony, but it’s likewise helpful to gather receipts and take photos of these items as proof of their value and condition.

If your pet was injured in the wreck, you can recover the reasonable vet bills and other expenses you incurred in treating your pet for its injuries. If your pet died, you can only recover its “fair market value” in addition to the vet bills and expenses, plus interest. As heartbreaking as it can be to lose a pet (and as wrong as this seems), Georgia law treats pets as “property,” and the fair market value of a pet in Georgia does not include its sentimental value.

Click on the blue button below to decide what part of the Georgia Car Damage Manual you go to next.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. Readers of this website should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No reader, user, or browser of this site should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information on this site without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website authors or Butler Kahn. Butler Kahn and its attorneys are licensed in the state of Georgia. Unless you have a signed, written agreement with the Butler Kahn, our firm does not represent you as your attorney. Butler Kahn is a car accident law firm in Atlanta.