When Your Car Is Totaled and You Have To Replace It, Beware of “Apple Pie” Marketing Along the Way

It has been just a bit over a month that I got involved in what most would have seen as a “fender-bender” (details in previous post); nevertheless, my car was totaled.  Luckily, no one was hurt, nor was I the driver who caused the accident, but unluckily, my car got the worst end of the deal.  I’ve been driving since I was about 13 years old, and I’d never before been in an accident in which my car had to be towed, not to mention having one totaled by the insurance company.

I really liked my old car, a 2007 Mazda 3 GT hatchback, and was heart-sick when I went to talk with the insurance adjustor at the collison repair shop.  I really didn’t recognize it, with the front half sitting all bare to the engine after having the hood, fenders, grill, front bumper, and lights all peeled off so that the internal damage could be determined.

Now that I’m driving a new car that I also really like, it’s easier to look at the entire episode as a learning experience, some of which might be valuable to others.  Above all else, whether it’s the rental car agency, the insurance company, or the car dealership, it’s all about marketing:  everyone has a “Would you like an apple pie with that?” line, and some try to sneakily add the “apple pie” without politely asking “would you”.

Here are a few things I found out, some of them pure aggravation, some not so bad:

The Tow Truck

  • The driver will probably want to tow your car to a lot at a repair shop that he has some financial connection with, not the one that you and your insurance company have agreed upon
  • In Houston, the tow truck driver will give you a ride home, free of charge (probably the insurance company picks up that tab)

The Car Rental Company

  • Beware that car rental companies have both calendar day rates and 24-hour day rates.  You will pay for an extra day on the calendar day rate, even if you return the car earlier in the day than when you picked it up.  See here for more details.

The New Car Dealership Finance Officer

  • This person will try to force you to finance through them even if you come with your financing already lined up.  They will also push you to add extras, like window-tinting and longer warrantees, in order to jack up the selling price.  (In my case, dealing with the car salesman and the finance officer was like dealing with good cop, bad cop.)

The Insurance Company

  • You don’t have to take what the insurance adjustor first offers you for your car when it is totaled.  You can negotiate.  Look what comparable cars are selling for locally at places like Carmax.  Check sites like Bluebook and Edmunds.  Also keep the window sticker from your car when you buy it in your records.  It can help show all the extras that came on your car.
  • When you’re changing your insurance to your new car, beware of the insurance representative adding items on to your policy, even when you tell them you want the same coverage as you had on your previous car.  Mine had a slick way of not asking me if I wanted these items, but announcing it as if it were a matter of fact.  (Everyone these days, it seems, from the credit union to the dealer to the insurance company wants you to add more coverage of the car’s engine.)

The problem with all this pushy marketing is that they do it right when a person is the most vulnerable–immediately after an accident–or when you’re getting your new car–and bring down what what should be an exciting day.  However, if you just anticipate that most everyone in the entire process is probably going to try to get more money out of you, you can be ready for it and not get sucked in.

I’m not mentioning the specific names of any businesses that I dealt with, because aside from these, what I call aggravations, in all other respects through this bit of a rough patch in the road (trite expression, but we are talking about cars here), I was treated pretty well.

 

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On the Road Home: When Getting Off the Crowded Freeway Is Not the Best Bet

Considering the nearly 50 miles I drive in heavy traffic every day, perhaps it was bound to happen.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that my blog posts here have been almost nil for a month because I’ve felt like I wanted to write about what happened, but just haven’t been able to:  1) because I’ve had quite a few other things to take care of; and 2) it’s not that easy to write about.

It was exactly 4 weeks ago, Friday evening, and I was driving home thinking about what I was going to do on the weekend.  I had taken my normal route, 290, or Northwest Freeway, as most of us call it, when the traffic got balled up, so I decided to get off on the next exit I could.  Once off the freeway, I got on a cross street in order to take Hempstead Highway, which was the predecessor to 290.  Although there are many stoplights and businesses alongside that road, the traffic usually moves on that route.

After I’d driven about 10 blocks, a car zipped out from  a small super market and crossed over two lanes of traffic, clipping the pickup in front of me.  (If this sounds like something from a police or insurance report, I’m sorry.  I’ve had to tell what happened a few times since that evening.)  Because both the pickup and I had just gone through an intersection, neither of us were going very fast, and I thought I was going to be able to stop in time.  It was like slow motion; my car kept moving forward, and then the front end of my lower Mazda 3 crunched into the back bumper of the higher, double-cab pickup.  In the couple of minutes it took me to pull myself together, and then get out of the car, a police cruiser and even a tow truck had arrived.

This is really the first time I've looked closely at this picture that I took right afterwards.

I could see the damaged hood and coolant running out from the radiator.  There were three vehicles and three drivers (no passengers), but, thankfully, no one was hurt.  The police officer came over and asked me what had happened.  I thought I might get a ticket, but the officer didn’t even hint at anything like that, but I’m pretty sure the driver who crossed in front of oncoming traffic got one.  (I still haven’t seen a police report.)

I thought I was going to be stranded there, but thanks to Houston’s towing ordinances, after pulling my car to a nearby, secure lot, the tow truck driver brought me home. 

Freaky, but I was in my house just one hour later than my usual arrival time.  The whole thing–the balled up freeway traffic, the detour to the old road, the accident itself, talking on the phone with my insurance company, being interviewed by the officer, dealing with the tow truck, being harrassed by the repair company which housed the lot where my car was taken, and the ride home–had all only taken 1 hour!

After such a barrage of happenings, I was glad to back in the familiarity of my house, glad to take Annie on her well-deserved, late walk.

When we got back from the walk, I called the insurance company again in order to give them the details of the accident, and find out what was going to happen with my car.  I knew also that the next morning, I’d have to try to get a rental car somewhere out here in suburbia, where the agencies are only open from nine to noon on Saturdays.  It wasn’t until I tried to pull something together to eat that I realized how shaken I was by the whole thing.

I thought I’d be driving a rental car for a couple of weeks while my car was being repaired.  “Three or four thousand dollars of damage,” I thought.

I was way off the mark.  The followingTuesday I found out that the insurance company was going to total my car.  The damage was more than a crunched-in hood and a messed-up radiator.  The trailer hitch on the back of the pickup had acted like a battering ram, causing a lot more damage than showed from looking at the front of the car.  So there it was.  My 2007 Mazda 3 GT–the one that I had spent almost a year deciding on before I bought it, the one with just 40,000 miles on it, the one that was almost paid off–was totaled.

A lot of things happened over just one hour that Friday evening four weeks ago.  But, again, fortunately, nobody was injured.  I’ve had to deal with a lot of people since then, and it’s been a learning experience, which I’ll write more about.

But right now, it’s a beautiful Saturday morning with nothing involving cars to worry about, so I’ve had my coffee and am ready to go out to the garden and plant some beans.