First, your insurance company will determine whether they think you are partially or completely at fault for the collision. If the police were at the scene of the collision, your insurance company will usually go along with the determination that the investigating officer made, which is why we recommend you always contact the police when you believe someone else has caused the collision. If your insurance company decides you were fault, then your insurance company will handle the negotiations with the other parties regarding payments from your policy.
Second, your insurance company will typically handle certain aspects of your property damage claim. That is, your insurance company will help you arrange to have your vehicle repaired (or replaced, if it was “totaled”).
First, know your rights. You are entitled to more than simply having your car repaired. A vehicle that has been involved in a crash is worth less money than if it hadn’t been in the crash – that is, years later when you try to trade your vehicle in at a dealership, or sell it to a private party, you may discovery that the “fair market value” of your car is reduced because it has been involved in a crash, even though it was fully repaired.
Under California law, you are entitled to recover both the cost of repairs and any diminution in value that occurs as a result of the accident. Tell your insurance company to include a diminution in value claim as part of your property value claim, and if they don’t help you with that (or if they incorrectly tell you that you’re not entitled to recover for that), then contact an attorney who can help you bring that claim. For more information on how diminution in value claims work, you can read our article on this website.
If your insurance company decides not to have your car repaired because they decide it was totaled, you are entitled to the full value of your car, not simply whatever amount the insurance company offers you to buy a replacement.
Websites like Kelley Blue Book allow you to enter information about the specific car you own, such as how many miles are on it and what condition it was in, and then will tell you generally what the car was worth. Websites like Auto Trader allow you to search for used vehicles similar to yours that are for sale or that recently sold in your area. If the amount the insurance company offers you is lower than what is suggested by these websites, which it often is, then send that information to the insurance company and demand full compensation.