How can I get more settlement money for my totalled car?

Last week my car was crushed by a tree in my driveway. I’ve filed a claim and we’re approaching settlement, but I’m getting thousands less than what the car is worth. They want to settle based on ‘private trade’ value as opposed to ‘retail sale’ value and since it wasn’t a hugely valuable car to begin with, there’s very little left for my settlement.

I spoke with my adjuster, and he seemed willing to listen, and he’s going to try to get me more, but if there’s any way to (legally) get them to increase my settlement I’d like to hear about it.



As I understand it, the insurance is suppose to pay out a Replacement value Based on the Make and model, year and condition and what they are selling for in the same condition. I would say, if they screw you over on this, find a new insurance company.

Don’t sign anything until you are happy is the only thing I can say, once you sign it’s over.

In the absence of a Replacement Cost endorsement (usually only available to newer vehicles), the insurer will pay the lesser of the cost to either repair, replace or repay.

I’m not sure about the ‘private trade value’ vs. the ‘retail sale value’. Inigo Montoya might be able to help you with that. He has done/does claims adjusting. I assume a retail sale value would include some sort of markup, to which you may not be entitled, as you are not a retailer.

Go on various auto sales sites and print out what that car is going for.

DiosaBellissima nailed the essence of it.

As a rule, you are owed the fair market value of the car; in other words, what you could have sold it for the day before God threw a tree at it. For most cars out there, this is pretty simple to figure out.

Got to and/or and search for the same year/make/model as yours. Take note of the mileage on each one, and try to stay within a hundred miles or so of your zip code.

Once you’ve got a list, calculate the average price and average mileage–this will give you a baseline “typical” vehicle against which you will compare your car. You’ll also know the high and low ASKING PRICE of cars like yours in your neighborhood. Asking price is an important distinction, typically a seller will come down 10-20% without batting an eye, so keep it in the back of your mind as you negotiate the sale of your car to the insurance company.

Now, look critically at your car as though you were going to buy it from someone else (before God threw a tree at it). Consider mileage, options, physical condition and verifiable mechanical maintenance. How much would YOU pay someone else for the car?

Beware of book values. I’ve found NADA is generally more in line with actual market activity than Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds (I think Edmunds rolls a d20 and applies some kind of associated logarithm to “Save vs breath weapon” for a 7th level fighter, but I could be wrong). Books are good if it’s an unusual vehicle and you can’t find more than a couple others in the market, but nothing beats a good solid “typical” model.

Going through all this does a couple things. First, it might adjust your expectation of what a reasonable value is for your car. Second, if your value is still significantly higher than what you’re being offered, you’ve got sound evidence to back yourself up with.

If you STILL can’t get something resembling a reasonable offer, see if your policy has an appraisal clause and tell your adjuster you’d like to exercise it. Appraisal is implemented in a lot of different ways even within the same company so make your adjuster explain it to you. Worst case scenario you end up coughing up $300 for an appraisal that confirms the company’s original offer–but at least then you’ll know you weren’t getting screwed. Alternatively, it could favor your position. In my opinion, if negotiation leads to appraisal, then the adjuster hasn’t done a good job determining the value or explaining the offer.

If a tree falls on your car, does your homeowners pay or does your auto insurance?


When my car was totalled about fifteen years ago, I was able to negotiate somewhat more money after telling the adjuster about the almost new Blizzak tires I had on the car (which didn’t help on the black ice that I skidded on) and the aftermarket alarm system I had installed.

That’s what I did. Try to make it as local as possible (within 150 miles or so) to prevent the insurance company from claiming regional differences.

I used every car valuation product out there including private sale prices. After I faxed it the discussion was over.

Homeowners pays for the house, its contents and certain elements of landscaping if damaged by certain means. Vehicles licensed for road use that belong to YOU are generally excluded, as are automotive parts. The scenario in the OP requires Comprehensive coverage on the car’s policy.

The only way a homeowner’s policy will pay for a tree dropping all or part of itself on a car is if the homeowner is liable for the damage that results to a car NOT owned by a resident of the house. Liability in such a case is tough to assign. Basically it would require the vehicle owner to prove the tree owner did not take reasonable action to prevent damage to the property of others. For instance, if a tree is dead, has been dead for a long time, and is obviously leaning toward the neighbor’s house or has large, obviously rotted limbs that are bound to fall any minute then the homeowner MIGHT be liable. But if a branch/tree just drops, spontaneously, with little or no warning and to the surprise of everyone involved, well, “hard luck, chap.”

Of course, this is insurance and law, so there are doubtless specific microscenarios that will unsay the above. Of the sort that will keep a plane on a treadmill from taking off.

I had a car totalled (stolen & stripped, with only the frame recovered), and went through this. Their default assumption is that your car was in average condition for its age, which means the low side of wholesale. I went in with eight years of maintenance receipts and photos (over 200 pages worth – they counted them) showing that I was a hyper-vigilant car maintainer and obsessive about taking (date-stamped) pictures every time I hand-polished it. As a result, they bumped my settlement up from $9000 to $10800, which was the high side of wholesale (for that make, model & year).

I also had a friend who worked for a large insurance company, and she said that, basically, “the person handling the claim has only one goal – get your paperwork off their desk as quickly as possible, because that’s how their job performance is measured.” She (my friend) offered the opinion that the claims person probably did not care one whit about the settlement amount – she probably only cared about having an inch-thick folder of documents to justify doing whatever she could to get rid of me.

It’s been my experience that most dissatisfied total loss customers don’t just go away when they disagree with a settlement offer. They generate a LOT more paperwork and take up a LOT more time and create a LOT more stress on the claim rep. Conversely, a rep who spends 5 more minutes on a file listening to the customer, quickly verifying the possible values of the car online and presenting rock-solid reasons for his valuation decision is going to move a lot more files per day than the mindless drone who just doesn’t care.