Do not simply rent a vehicle assuming the responsible party is going to pay for it. There is no guarantee the responsible party or their insurance company is going to pay for a vehicle you decide to rent. Even if they admit fault, make sure the rental occurs without your involvement. In other words, try to keep things between the insurance company and the rental car agency. All you need to do is pick up the car and return the car.
Some insurance companies make this difficult. They will argue that they are a "reimbursement only" policy. That means you have to go rent a car on your own dime and then present a receipt for reimbursement. If they insist on this "reimbursement" approach, either do not rent a car, or rent one for no more than $25/day. Most insurance companies won't tell you this, but they generally won't pay more than $25/day. So if you go rent a vehicle for $50/day (and that's the going rate at many rental companies), you're going to be unpleasantly surprised when the insurance company fails to reimburse you the whole amount. For some reason, they only tell you AFTER the fact that they consider $25/day reasonable, regardless of the fact it usually costs more to rent a comparable vehicle.
Just because they said they are going to reimburse you doesn't mean they will concede to whatever you present to them. You should ask the rental car company to offer you the same daily rate they offer to the insurance company - which is often much less than the average person pays. Therefore, you might get the $50 car for $25/day. Explain to them that the insurance company likely will not reimburse you for any more than $25 per day. Before you rent the car, call the insurance company property damage adjuster to make sure the rate and extent of rental will meet with their approval. That way you minimize your potential downside. You can also forget about renting a car and simply asking for "loss of use" which is payment for the time you expect to be without a car. You don't actually have to rent a car to ask for loss of use. More on this a little later.
If your car is a total loss, the insurance company will probably offer you an amount based on a supposed "third-party" "independent" appraisal. While these third parties are supposedly "independent," everyone knows they get most of their business from the insurance companies. As such, it stands to reason their appraisals will generally be lower than what you expect. You don't have to accept whatever they offer you. If you have other research showing your vehicle is worth more, do not be afraid to present that to the insurance adjuster. The problem is it may require hiring our own appraiser and that could cost you hundreds of dollars. It doesn't hurt to negotiate although the property damage insurance adjusters rarely have that much leeway. They are very much married to the appraisals they get and the software they use.
Once you get an offer for your vehicle, you can't simply keep renting a car for weeks on end. Generally speaking, once they make you an offer, they will allow you to rent the vehicle for a few more days, usually not exceeding an additional week at the most. If you rent for longer than that, you will probably be on the hook for the additional rental period. Make sure you check with the insurance company what kind of leeway they will provide. Never assume they will be generous with you. On the contrary, assume they will be stingy.
Also, if you are renting a car while your car is being fixed, you will generally have to return the car rental almost immediately after taking delivery of your repaired vehicle. Once your vehicle is repaired, you can simply leave it at the shop and continue renting the rental.
Finally, as noted earlier, you don't actually have to rent a car to get reimbursement. If you are without a vehicle for two or three weeks while it is being repaired, you can ask for something called "loss of use." Generally speaking, the insurance company for the responsible party (doesn't work with your own company) will pay you between $25 and $30 a day for being without a car. You don't actually have to rent a car to ask for this. Insurance companies don't like you to know about this little secret. After all, insurance companies hate to part with their money. However, this is a reasonable request and in most cases, insurance companies will pay you about $25 a day for up to 30 days. Anything above and beyond that will be a challenge. Therefore, if your car was in the shop for 10 days, you should ask the responsible party's insurance company for $300 for loss of use (10 days times $30/day).
The general point is this: Don't be hasty about rental car decisions. Think through all your options and make a wise decision. Talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer who may be able to give you more guidance on this potentially thorny issue.
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by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.