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Getting Totaled by State Farm

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Redlands, CA: Over the past several years, State Farm Insurance has taken public steps to shine up its image of fair dealings with its policyholders. Yet it revealed quite a darker face to Rachel when she tried to obtain a State Farm totaled vehicle title for an unfit car.

"In 2003 I had an accident," say Rachel, "and reported it to State Farm. My agent provided me with a list of the company's preferred repair service suppliers and I chose Caliber Motors. They estimated the damage at $7,500 for a 2000 Mazda 626 worth $9,000 by then. To me, that felt like a lot of damage, so why not total it, but they refused."

Totaled CarGiven the industry's practice of writing off a damaged vehicle whose repair bill is projected to cost from 50 to 80 percent of the car's value, depending on the state, why would State Farm insist on repairing one that exceeded 83 percent? State Farm determines its 'damaged beyond repair' limit or total loss title by calculating the cost of repair as a percentage of the vehicle's pre-collision value, and its make, model and year.

The data used to determine those figures is unavailable to the consumer, wherein lies countless discrepancies. It is provided to insurers through subscription to a private database of car values--the largest provider being CCC Information Services, used by the top 50 insurers across the country. They arrive at a market value by comparing the vehicle in question to similar make and model, much like adjusters. The total loss value becomes the lowest price a dealer would 'take' or sell that vehicle for, not to be confused with the dealer's lowest asking price.

Insider vehicle values are also calculated by comparing a selection from local newspapers and trade magazine prices. CCC's competitor, ADP Claims Solutions Group, also pulls its data from 1,200 dealers and thousands of automobile trade publications. According to Insure.com--the consumer information service for self-directed insurance shoppers and voted Best Insurance Site on the Web by Forbes.com--any of these methods "can be used to fleece you out of real-life value of your car".

Rachel fought with both State Farm and Caliber Motors to obtain a totaled title on her car, and therefore receive due compensation, but to no avail. "When I got the car back two months later, it wasn't running right," says Rachel. "As I'd been hit on the passenger front side, there was trouble with the tires and the front end alignment. Sure the repair work came with a lifetime warranty but it was all wrong.

I must have written at least 15 letters to State Farm in 2003 and I continued right through 2004, at which point a real live manager told me, 'there's nothing we can do', and no input from my insurance rep helped. Bottom line--my case was closed."

Rachel appealed to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), which regulates more than 35,000 state automotive repair dealers. BAR had the car inspected and despite their agent's comment that the vehicle should have been totaled, Caliber was instructed to correct their work. The fact that Rachel had been driving the damaged car for two years further complicated the repairs. Serious safety issues, such as a missing motor mount bolt, continued to appear. And State Farm still refused to reopen the case.

She then turned to the California Department of Insurance to enforce insurance-related law. The consumer protection agency licenses and regulates the rates and practices of over 1,500 insurance companies, agents and brokers in California. In the 12 months leading up to Rachel's accident, CDI's Field Claims Bureau reported 28 alleged violations of claims policy procedures against State Farm.

Nudged by CDI's involvement, State Farm reopened Rachel's case but it lead to no compensation, and most importantly, it was too late for her car. "On December 31, 2005 I was on the freeway when I heard this pop. One of the coils in the front had dropped off. I exited, coincidentally right near a Mazda dealership, coasted into their parking lot and, there and then, I traded that 2000 626 for a 2005 model.

Even to this day I'm as mad as hell about everything I went through. That car was a death trap; I could've been killed. I tell you, if I could find another agent I would. And you know, all along I was waiting for a letter from them dropping me, I've got homeowners insurance with them, but there was no apology, and it's still 'your payment is late, where's your money?' I'd advise everyone to stay away from State Farm."

State Farm Insurance continues to display a trickster's face to the public. At the same time, in 2005, when Rachel was fighting her last automotive battle with the insurer, the company voluntarily came forward and admitted to the fraudulent practice of improperly titling totally wrecked vehicles (salvaged or totaled) that were then resold to the public. That blow was both softened and aggravated by an agreement between 49 state attorney generals and State Farm to compensate the current vehicle owners as long as they agreed not to sue the insurer. And it is under fire again for allegedly shortchanging policy owners on the price of their totaled vehicles.

READER COMMENTS

Posted by
Ann
on
For anyone trying to get a higher valuation for your vehicle:

To help determine the value of your vehicle, in addition to KBB.com, I recommend NADAguides.com. Also use AutoTrader.com and other online car-ad sites to locate vehicles for sale that are as similar as possible to yours. If you can't find many current ads for vehicles like yours that aren't at a very different mileage level or missing some important options yours had, make note of the differences when you give printouts of your findings to the insurance company.

Another thing I recommend, although it's too late for most people by the time they're thinking about this, is at the time you purchase a car originally, make sure the dealer lets you keep the original window sticker. Then if you have the misfortune to have a wreck, you can give a copy of it to the insurance adjuster. The databases the insurance companies use to look up your car's features are often very limited, and won't capture the full significance of upgraded options.

If you've already had a wreck and didn't keep the window sticker, if your car is fairly recent, you *might* be able to get the dealership you bought it from to check the VIN in the manufacturer's more-detailed database and give you a printout of what would've been on the window sticker - the success of this is hit-and-miss depending on brand and recency, but worth a try to ask.

And if you have any photos showing the condition of your vehicle interior/exterior before the accident, those may help too.

Posted by
Jodie
on
I was in an accident where I was hit from behind. The person who hit me had State Farm. I looked up the trade in value of my car because let's face it, who wants to drive a wrecked car even after it's been "fixed" for the same reason as stated in this article. The trade in value before the wreck was $10,000. The repair costs come to $9042.00 but State Farm is valuing my car at $14,000 and will not total the vehicle. When I get it back and go to trade it in, the most I will get for it is $7,000.00. I don't know what to do. This is the only article I have found about problems with a wrecked car being fixed when it should have been totaled.

Posted by
Jessica
on
hi, I was in a car accident two days ago. I was told today the car is a total loss. I finished paying it off three weeks ago. How can I educate my self as to how much the car is truly worth? I do not want to just take their word on it. I want to have solid value facts. I looked up information on the kelly blue book. Are their any other official websites? thank.

Posted by
Mayito
on
I had an accident two weeks ago on my new scion frs not at fault and i was injured. The policy holders insurance state farm has done nothing but lie they tried to have me sign tittle over in order to pay me for my totaled car and when i went to pick payment at one of their branches they didnt know anything while the wrecker was trying to take the car from shop with all my belongings and custom rims tires ect. But failed to do so. When i call adjuster she tells me they cannot pay what they had said!!!! She didnt know the policy was 25000 they took my rental i have not worked for two weeks. They preffere to spend more to say no then if they payed me. Its not even close when "they will restore it to pre existing condition before accident" they lie and not even for being the other at fault .

Posted by
Dave Van Buren
on
I have a 2013 Toyota Venza with 1800 miles. I paid 29.5K for it. Had collision last Sat. Other car at fault. He had minimum coverage. The front end damage will probably be estimated at 12K. Is there any way I can demand a total loss? I have State Farm.
Thanks

Posted by
martin
on
State farm value my 00 pontiac grand prix @ 5500.
They ask me for title and car title had a state lien they denied me payment they said I need to clear up what I owed the state in order to get paid. I explain to them I wanted to keep the car but they still refuse to pay me.

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