Can I continue to use the car while negotiating a total settlement?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 3, 2011

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Insurance Question from Fremont, CA

Asked on 10/03/2011

Can I continue to use the car while negotiating a total settlement? I live in California; my 15-year old Mercedes was rear-ended by an AAA insured car and caused a half inch bend on my rear body panel. The 3rd party insurance company - AAA decided to total my car because of the repair cost. The negotiation of settlement price was going on for weeks; they even sent check/document since I didn’t agree their offer, so I declined and returned the package. I own the car; the car is perfectly safe for road and drivable. Can I continue to use the car until a settlement (i.e. my consent of their offering price) is reached between AAA and me? Do I obligate to facilitate a settlement under any regulation or time restriction? Thanks.

Answer given on October 06, 2011

You can drive your car as long as it is safe, does not present a road hazard and legal to drive. Usually the offer to settlement is within a hundred dollars of the actual cash value (ACV) give or take. If the insurance company’s offer is really way off base (within thousands of the actual cash value of the car) make your case for the value methodically.  See our article on Car Insurance Process for your Totaled Car.  Sites such as kelly blue book and others will give you the ACV of your vehicle.  List the added features of the vehicle being careful and honest to deduct for any high mileage or prior wear and tear and damage.  Asked the adjuster how they are coming up with your value.  You can hold out but they are obligated to make a good faith offer within a certain period of time. If they have done that, they may feel that they are not open to making further offers. You can buy the salvage back and keep the car eliminating the hassle of a new car note. If in the end, you still feel they are being unfair, you can consult an attorney or file a compliant with the Department of Insurance in your state.      


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