Do You Have to Repair Your Car After an Accident?

There is no short, easy answer to this question. YES, there are cases where you may need to repair your car after an accident before you can drive it again. NO, most of the time you do not “have” to repair your car after an accident, but your decision on the matter can be complex. During a free consultation, the New York City personal injury lawyers of Douglas & London often explain the pros and cons of repairing a vehicle, depending on a prospective client’s precise situation.

Here are several points to consider:

You don’t have to repair your car after a car accident, but you may need to report it.

The New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law requires that you submit an accident report for any automobile accident resulting in property damage of $1,000 or more and if anyone was physically injured. You have up to 10 days from the date of the accident to file your report. Insurance company policies may also dictate that you file it within a certain timeframe, regardless of who was at fault. Following proper protocol becomes important, should you wish to file a lawsuit to recoup your losses.

You don’t have to repair your car after a collision, but it may not be legal to drive it.

Responsible drivers have a duty to ensure they are operating safe motor vehicles that do not jeopardize others on the roadways. If an officer pulls you over, the insurance company learns you were driving a dangerous vehicle, or you get involved in another accident, your insurance can be invalidated for driving a car that they would have deemed “unroadworthy.”

You may opt to allow the car to be deemed a “total loss” rather than repair it, but you should not attempt to drive your car off to the junkyard yourself if: the headlights and tail lights are not functioning, the side mirrors are busted, the frame’s edges are jagged, fluids are leaking, the damage occurred near the gas tank, the windshield is severely cracked, the wheels are misaligned, or the hood doesn’t lock shut. If you have any doubts, have the car towed. Many insurance companies will cover the cost anyway. If you were injured, you might have no choice but to leave the scene by ambulance.

You don’t have to choose auto collision repair, but if you do, you have certain consumer rights.

Insurance companies sometimes try to steer customers to an “approved shop.” While there are perfectly reputable “approved shops,” there is also a potential conflict of interest here, as insurers want to repair vehicles for the lowest possible cost. The New York Repair Shop Act gives you the right to choose where your car will be repaired. Do your homework first and be sure to ask where the parts will be from– whether they are from the manufacturer, after-market, used, or from a junkyard. Ultimately, your insurance policy will dictate what type of parts are used, but you have a right to a written estimate that includes a list of parts going into your vehicle, the labor necessary for each specific repair, and why any parts deviate from the original quality. You have the right to inspect your vehicle at the shop before paying for repairs. If the repairs are not to your satisfaction and you cannot resolve the problem with the shop owner, you may submit a Vehicle Safety Complaint Report with the NYS DMV or contact a personal injury lawyer.

You don’t have to repair your car right away if you disagree with the insurance company.

In a no-fault state, your own insurance company typically covers the vehicle repair cost up to the value of your car or your specific policy limits, regardless of who was at-fault for causing the accident. If the cost of the repairs exceed what the insurer is required to pay, the insurer may declare your car a “total loss”– selling your car for parts and paying you the Kelly Blue Book value of the car as “actual cash value,” so you can buy a new or used vehicle of your choosing as a replacement.

The value of your car is not what you paid for it, but rather, the value of your property at the time of the accident. You have every right to make a counteroffer with a formal demand letter if you are not satisfied with what the insurer is offering.

Other times, there are financial incentives for replacing the car, rather than repairing it IF you can.

If you own your vehicle, there may be financial sense in choosing not to fix your car after an accident. (If you lease your vehicle, the terms and conditions of your lease may require you to have it repaired.) In some cases, your insurer may fix your vehicle with the best possible parts at the best collision shop in town– all for a $1,000 deductible. Yet, if it takes three weeks or longer to repair and your policy doesn’t cover the cost of a rental car, you could end up paying more than $1,000 for transportation, whereas buying a replacement could take as little as a few hours in an afternoon.

Some body shops charge up to $100 per day for storage while you decide whether to repair or replace, which is another factor to consider. A fixer-upper could lose up to 30 percent of its pre-accident value, so repairing may not be your best option– especially in a situation where they’re offering you a large chunk of money for “total loss” that could cover a sizable down-payment on a replacement vehicle. It’s also possible to accept the repair settlement from your insurer and sell your vehicle to a damaged car buyer.

You may not want to repair your car right away if you plan to sue because the damage is “evidence.”

If you were severely injured in the accident and incurred significant losses related to medical expenses and lost wages, you may consider filing a personal injury lawsuit in the future. If so, your vehicle damage could factor into the claim, particularly if the other motorist disputes some or all of the liability for the crash. Having your vehicle repaired too quickly before such evidence is logged could be detrimental to your claim for compensation.

The location and extent of the damage can be used to corroborate your story and also make a case for maximum value compensation for your physical injuries as well. Therefore, it is ideal to work with a personal injury lawyer from the very first days following the accident to make sure all the evidence is processed before you decide what to do with your damaged property.

Sometimes you can’t repair your car back to its original condition.

What if your repaired vehicle is still worth less than its pre-accident value? In some instances, you may possess a right to compensation for a reduction in property value called a “Diminished Value Claim.” Your claim may be valid if:

  • You are within New York’s statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit (3 years);
  • Your vehicle is less than eight years old;
  • Your vehicle was worth at least $5,000 before the crash;
  • Your vehicle repairs were worth over $1,500;
  • Your vehicle does not have a salvage title;
  • Your vehicle was never declared a total loss.

Finally, what if you were driving a restored classic car that you put years of sweat equity into? What if your car had irreplaceable sentimental value to you? It’s rare for courts to award “sentimental value” attached to an auto loss claim, but it’s not completely impossible. Working with our experienced New York City car accident lawyers can help you claim a fair amount of compensation.