Reminder: You Can Negotiate Your Auto Claim

The aftermath of a flood like we got in Houston this week can be a frustrating and confusing time. There is a lot involved in getting your life back to normal, and one of the first things people typically encounter is a claim on their flooded car.

So we want to remind our readers of one crucial aspect of this situation: You can (and should) negotiate the settlement amount on your vehicle. Insurance companies actually expect you to do this, and if you don't, you're cutting them a break they didn't even count on. So negotiate.

Here's how to do it:

Challenge the Comps

An adjuster will compute a value for the car you've lost. This valuation will be based on recent sales of comparable vehicles in your area. You have a right to know which sales the insurance company used to make its valuation, so ask for that information. Then review it, and contest anything that seems unfair. Maybe they included a vehicle with mileage much higher than yours, or from a rural area where sales prices are lower. Maybe they didn't take trim level into account. Use this information in your favor, and ask them to remove any vehicles that don't belong. This will raise the average sales prices and get you a larger settlement.

Challenge the Damage

You can also challenge the insurance company on the condition of your car. Let's say they knocked $2,000 off the car for paint flaws. If you can demonstrate that the paint was not damaged beyond the reasonable level for a car of its age, you can get some or all of that money back. The bottom line is, look over all the documentation the adjuster used to place a value on your car, and then get on the phone with the insurance company and be prepared to make an argument.

Argue for a Total Loss

Sometimes a flood-damaged car is repairable, sometimes it isn't. In many cases, it works in your favor if the adjuster writes off the car as a total loss, but in order for that to happen, the estimated repairs have to exceed a certain threshold of the vehicle's pre-flood value. If it's close, but not quite there, you may be able to call the adjuster's attention to damage they missed, thereby pushing the number high enough to classify as a total loss -- and get you a new car.

There is no guarantee any of this will work, but keep in mind that insurance companies view the initial settlement offer as the beginning of a negotiation, that they have extra money they're already prepared to give you, and that it is in the adjuster's best interest to settle your claim as quickly as possible.

And when you get your settlement check, you know who to come see.