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Improved Kelley Blue Book may help net fatter car insurance payouts

By Posted : 11/28/2011

totaled carHaving a car totaled or stolen is traumatic enough. But then comes the added worry you've been low-balled on the replacement check from your auto insurance company.

The vehicle value detectives at Kelley Blue Book (KBB) may have made it easier for policyholders and claims adjusters to reconcile when determining the final payment. KBB recently refined its vehicle ratings by adding a "Very Good" to the existing categories, which now are:

  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

"This is all about creating more precise values that consumers and businesses can use when buying, selling or leasing cars," says Robyn Eagles, a KBB spokesperson. "Of course, we also hope that insurers and anyone who has an auto policy with them will find it useful because of the increased accuracy with condition and dollar worth."

The company has also sharpened its geographical values. There are now 51 regions to reflect values in each state. There were only five more generalized regions before the upgrade.

This could be helpful because your car may fetch a higher price--and warrant a fatter replacement check from the car insurance company--in one area compared to another. Of course, the opposite could also be true, leaving you with a smaller settlement.

"A convertible Mazda could be worth more in sunny Florida than, say, Montana," Eagles notes. "A consumer might want to know that."

A reality check on totaled cars

Think you deserve top insurance dollar because the old road warrior was so prime? Think again. Eagles says most people believe their car is in excellent shape, but that's usually not the case.

Only 3 percent of vehicles fit in KBB's "Excellent" category, she says. Eagles adds that:

  • 23 percent are "Very Good"
  • 54 percent are "Good"
  • 18 percent are "Fair"
  • 2 percent are "Poor"

Anyone can take a "27-point quiz" at KBB's website for a more realistic reading of their car's condition, Eagles notes.

My ride's gone. Now what should I do before contacting my car insurance company?

Here are some basic steps suggested by the Insurance Information Institute to guarantee the best insurance settlement possible for a totaled car:

  1. Do your research at KBB, but don't stop there. Insurers have an array of information sources to determine payments. Some are proprietary and can't be accessed, but a few are available. Besides KBB, they use other pricing guides like Edmunds.com and NADAguides.com. Find out how they value your car by factoring in the model and its year, mileage and general condition. Be as specific as possible and have supporting documentation when meeting with your agent.
  2. Add in any accessories installed by you or the dealer, like an audio or navigation system, or some high-dollar chrome wheels. That's all part of the overall value — but you'll need the receipts.
  3. Remember the incidentals, such as taxes, registration, title and any other fees. Your state's department of motor vehicles can tell you what those charges will be for a new car. Your car insurance is supposed to cover those fees, so make sure they're part of the settlement.
  4. Did you have a rental car after the accident? Check to see if that's part of your coverage; if so, confirm that you're being reimbursed.
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