In which I deal with the insurance

Since I last updated, a lot has happened. I’ve gotten more work on my tattoo (more on that in a different post), and I’ve gotten results on the car accident I was in. Turns out the mini was totaled – 83% damage costing over $10,000.  Initially, they offered me a fair reimbursement. Enough to pay off the remaining lien and have a little something extra for a down payment on something else. I felt bad that my poor little mini was going to be scrapped, so I asked the owner at the auto shop if he could fix the car and resell it. He could, and he offered me $1500 for it. I just had to tell the insurance company I was “keeping” the car . When I told my adjuster that, she looked at the numbers and said that I would be getting even more money if I did it that way. A great deal more. Even she was surprised (which, looking back, should have been a red flag). I said do it, and my heart was elated.

After the money from the insurance, and then selling it to the shop, I was supposed to have about $7000 in my pocket. Sure, I could buy a decent used car and not have to worry about payments for a while, or, I could buy something shiny and new that I wouldn’t have to worry about at all. I’m the type to keep my cars for a very long time, so I opted for the new and went car shopping. I had done a lot of research in preparation for this scenario, and decided on a Mazda3. I “built” my own on the Mazda website (it was pretty basic – I don’t need a lot of that fancy <read: expensive> crap) and searched local inventory. There is one Mazda dealership in the area, and they had my car in stock! I sent an inquiry, and it turns out that not only was it in the color I liked, but it was the only manual transmission on the lot. (Manual transmission is my #1 requirement. Color is nice, but not a dealbreaker.) Apparently people today don’t really like to drive their cars, so stick shifts are not very popular. I had a day off, so I headed down to the lot.

I wandered the very large car lot for a while, knowing what I was looking for. As soon as I saw it – I knew. It was such a pretty car, and just the right size. I already knew all the specs, and I had driven one years ago, but I needed to seal the deal. No salespeople were in sight, so I took some pictures.
color lot

The first is a close up of the paint. It’s among the sparkliest things I’ve ever seen, so of course had to have it. The second is obviously a wider view, though somewhat obstructed by the other cars for sale.

I started walking towards the office, but they must have seen me taking pictures because there was a salesman on the way. I explained my situation – I wanted that car but was waiting on the insurance check for my down payment – and asked if there was something we could do. He agreed, and he got the keys for a test drive. As I mentioned, this is a manual transmission. The car I’ve been borrowing in the interim is automatic, so it took me a minute to remember to use both feet while driving. Once I remembered how to do something I’ve been doing for 16 years, we were on our way. The car was a dream to drive – just enough pickup that passing cars on the freeway was no problem. I drove it like I drove the mini, which is to say, like a race car. The salesman even commented on what a good driver I was, especially using the clutch.

We got back to the lot and headed out of the 90-degree sun into the air conditioned office. We ran all the paperwork, and surprisingly, I didn’t need to provide any proof of income or residency. The logic was that since I had an existing car loan only a year and a half old (through a bank that is apparently hard to get approval through), I was still good. In fact, I was in better shape since it was an extra 18 months or so at the same job and same residence. But again, I didn’t have to prove anything. I could have, of course, but I didn’t have any paperwork with me.

Eventually I got to talk to the finance lady, and that’s where we added all the extras. I went with the full extended warranty, as well as oil changes, tire rotation, and dent/ding repair. I was very clear about what was and was not covered under the warranties, and decided it was worth the money, especially since I was the first owner of this car. And because I had such a nice down payment (40% of the total) – or so I thought – the payments were only minimally above what I had been paying on the mini. I literally signed all the paperwork and was now just waiting for the insurance money so I could immediately hand it off to the dealership and get my keys.

A week passed, and I had heard nothing from the insurance. I had called and emailed several times, but with no response. At one point, the dealership even called me to “remind me” that I had a shiny new car waiting for me. Did I forget about them? I told them I would keep trying the insurance. Finally I did get an email response – she claimed she had sent me the paperwork and was just waiting on me. I double checked my emails, but I had not received anything. Later that day, I received the exact same email saying she was waiting on me. I know it was the exact same email because she had copied and pasted something with a typo in it, and it was still there. I again told her I had not received anything at all.

Suddenly she realized why I had not received anything – she never sent it. Why didn’t she send it? Because, in her exact words, “Im not sure what amount I mentioned as far as you keeping the car. I need to clarify a few things. ” Turns out that the numbers she gave me for keeping the car (what I had based my down payment on) were waaaaaaay off. In fact, if I kept the car, I would actually owe them money. Ha ha ha ha…yeah, no. The original numbers she had given me for if the company hauled the car away were still the same, and still acceptable, so I told her to go with those. I made it very clear that I no longer wished to keep the car and I even quoted the numbers back to her so that there was no confusion.

Or so I thought.

I asked multiple questions and kept her updated on what I was doing. If I got a response at all, it was in 14-year old girl textspeak. I would receive emails that said nothing but “ok ty” or “no 🙂 ” This was annoying, because not only was I getting no information, but I did not feel like a professional was handling my case, and my money. After several more useless emails, she finally sent me the form. I had to sign it, get it notarized, and mail it off to release the title of the car. I did this immediately. When I let her know that it had been mailed, she said something to the effect of “Oh wait, I sent you the wrong form. This one is state-specific. Send me this one instead.” But when I looked at it, it was completely the wrong form. Yes it was for my state, but it was not applicable at all to my case. I let her know that it was the wrong form, and pointed out why it was the wrong form (I’ve learned to be very clear and communicate the equivalent of talking very slowly to her). Her response?

“You may be correct…. Let me . In fact disregard.

The person who sent that to me for you misunderstood what I was asking for. Ugh- Im sorry.

The first one you sent is fine.  ”

This email infuriated me. Not only was she delaying my case further, but it continued on in the unprofessional manner that I had sadly gotten used to. I went home and sent an email directly to my insurance company to complain. I explained that regardless of the outcome of my claim, the company is great, everyone else I’ve spoken to has been great, but she was unprofessional. I didn’t necessarily want her to get in trouble, but I don’t appreciate being communicated with this way. I included examples.

I received a telephone call this morning saying they would talk to her and they completely understand, and that no, she wouldn’t be in trouble. A few minutes after the call, I received the following email from my adjuster:

“I would like to apologize to you for the abbreviations via email correspondence.

I agree with you, it is unprofessional. I get caught up in abbreviating with my notes in each claim and I think I probably did the same thing in the email so I would like to apologize.”

It was CC’d to 2 other people, presumably her bosses. It may have been a forced apology, but I know that my complaint was addressed, and that makes me feel good. As a side note, it helped strengthen my faith in the company, and I will definitely be staying with them. I just don’t want to have to deal with this adjuster again. (The insurance company is Esurance, btw. I highly recommend them.) Also, when the guy called, he got my bank info so they can just wire me the money instead of mailing it to me. This should help speed up the process.

Since it turned out I was getting significantly less money than originally planned, I had to re-evaluate this whole “new car” thing. I spoke with the dealership and got some preliminary numbers for my smaller down payment, then evaluated my finances. I decided to stick with the shiny new car. It turned out to be only about $100 more per month than the mini, and as I mentioned, I won’t have to pay for any maintenance for as long as I’m paying off the car. Still worth it. I let the dealership know that I still definitely want the car, and apologized for being a pain in the butt. The lady there is also very nice, and she understands the situation. She said they don’t mind holding the car for a little bit longer, and I assured them that as soon as I have the insurance money in my hand, they will have their down payment. Then all will be well in the world.

In which I wreck my car

I have a perfect driving record. I’ve never been in an accident while I was driving, though I have been as a passenger. I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket. The worst I’ve gotten is numerous parking tickets (thank you, NYC), and once, a fix-it ticket for a busted taillight.

Until the other day.

I was on my way to work, at 8:30am. I was on the same freeway I travel every single day, less than a mile from the exit I take. I was annoyed because I was behind someone that was going 50mph in a 60mph zone. I probably could have passed them, but I was so close to the exit that I figured I would bear it for a few more seconds.

And then I saw a sea of debris on the road. Shredded truck tires along with numerous other unidentifiables sprinkled across the freeway. I swerved to miss one thing, but ended up hitting another. I didn’t have a choice, but I instantly realized my mistake. The most horrifying noises were heard as whatever I’d hit ping-ponged around the undercarriage of my car until I watched it jump several feet in the air via my rear view mirror. As I pulled over (luckily I was already in the right lane), I noticed that the left side of my car was smoking. I got a good bit onto the shoulder, even mostly on the grass, threw my hazard lights on and waited for a safe time to open the door to get out and investigate.

I went around back first, since I had seen it fly out there. No damage that I could see. Even though I was in my work clothes – which that day included a form-fitting pencil skirt – I got down on my hands and knees to peek under. There was definitely something amiss towards the front. So I walked around the other side of the car (still no visible damage) and checked out the front. This is what I saw:

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(I know it’s not the best picture, but remember that I was on the side of a busy freeway. I didn’t want to trade picture quality for the possibility of being smashed by an 18-wheeler.)
That dark shape in the middle of my car is the oil pump. This was verified when I stuck my hand under the heavy stream of liquid pouring out of it. I briefly entertained the thought of toughing it out the last mile or so to get to work, so at least I’d be in a safer place, but the heavy outpouring of oil quickly dispelled that idea. So I called AAA for a tow.

Interesting note: the first question AAA asks is “are you safe?” I said that no, I was not safe, I was on the side of a busy freeway. Keep that in mind for later.

I explained that I needed a flatbed tow truck, and then argued that there should be no additional fee as my car requires a flatbed – mini coopers’ frames are too light to be towed the traditional way without ripping the car in half. I still had no idea of what actual damage my car suffered, so I did not want to add to that by getting it towed incorrectly. The lady told me it would be 45 minutes. Since I was on my way to open the shop, I called my boss and explained that this would not be happening.

Since I had some time to kill and watching the steadily growing puddle of oil was not as fun as it sounds, I wandered off to find out what I had hit. Since I had pulled over immediately and had seen the piece briefly, I didn’t have to go far before I found this:
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I was informed by many people later that this is a hose coupling from a pump truck. You know, the big cylindrical trucks that you often see at gas stations? Well someone hadn’t secured the pieces on before driving off on his merry way. What I think happened is that either the truck lost its own tire or swerved to miss one of the existing tire bits on the road, and it jostled this piece loose (probably with a few others). It then sat in the road until my poor little low-clearance mini cooper found it. There is no scale for size in the photo, but the diameter was probably 8-10 inches, with a few more added on the random handle looking thing. I included the part number because it was the only identifying property, and if it can somehow be traced to the truck that lost it, that guy will be buying me a new car. Also, I know this is what I hit, because when I found it, it was already covered in my fresh, warm, oil.

After this, I headed away from the road to sit in the grass and wait for my tow truck. I updated facebook and took in this view.

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I’m glad the weather was nice so I could sit outside and contemplate life, though eventually I did grab the umbrella that’s always in my glove box so I would have some shade. Notice how my car looks fine. It was so sad just sitting there pretending there was no damage. (You can see the evil hose coupling next to it.) Also, since it was still before 9am, I-26 East was still not that busy. That was a nice reprise from what could have been a very noisy (and more dangerous) adventure.

One good Samaritan did stop and ask if everything was ok, but it was right after I’d received the call that the tow truck was 3 miles away, so I sent him on his way. I found out later that if I had really needed help, I should have popped the hood on the car. Also, I think that if I’d really been in distress, I could have attracted some attention because I was still wearing my pencil skirt. I hate to use my femininity as a tool like that, but sometimes that’s what needs to be done. I did actually have a change of clothes in the car, oddly enough, because I was scheduled to get more work done on my tattoo after work that day. However, I did not want to strip down on the side of the freeway, and I still did not feel safe inside my car so close to traffic.
Remember how AAA asked if I was in a safe place? Apparently it didn’t matter that I said no, because I sat on that damn grass for an hour and a half before the tow truck finally showed up. And it wasn’t the tow driver’s fault – he showed me his phone record and he had only received the call from AAA at 9:25. I had made my call at 8:32. In fact, he had even seen me sitting there with my umbrella while he was on another call.
The driver, Jason, was very nice and was glad I had pulled over immediately. He pointed out where I got hit and where the oil trailed to the current spot, so he knew I was in charge. I had done everything right, and I realized that so many people lack common sense and end up making a situation like this so much worse.We talked a bit about the hose coupling I had hit, and as he was hoisting my car up onto the flatbed, he made a face and said “ooh…” This alarmed me – no, no, Driver Jason, don’t make that face when you see the undercarriage of my car. That’s a bad reaction. He asked me if I had seen the engine. Since it was on the side closest to traffic, I had not. (That whole “risking my life for a clear picture” thing.) He said “I’m no mini mechanic, but the entire left side of your engine has been sliced off.” That set my face to maximum frownage. Mini coopers are already expensive to fix. Engines are already expensive to fix. Hearing that a large piece of yours has been sliced off – well, that’s never been good news for anybody. Then Driver Jason asked if I knew my tire was bent. No, I didn’t. But apparently somewhere in all that metal-on-metal banging I heard, my axle got bent, shoving my tire into my car frame. Also, he had “never seen an oil pump dangling like that.” I told him that he was not rising my hopes any higher. He got the car on the flatbed, and we departed.
AAA covers a few miles’ worth of towing, so initially I said to take the mini to the nearest shop. I was still hoping that maybe my oil pan had just been knocked loose or something. But after hearing his account, I knew it would not be such an easy fix so I said go ahead and take it to the mini mechanic in the next town over. Might as well pay for the tow now rather than later. This gave us quite a bit of time to sit and chat. He assured me that insurance would cover this, as it was not my fault. That made me feel a lot better, because I have never filed a claim with car insurance before and it didn’t even occur to me that a random piece of metal junk in the road would not be my fault.
When we arrived at the mechanic shop (I had called ahead) they situated the car and I gave out my info. Driver Jason knocked the towing fee down a bit for me and continued to be very nice and helpful. He left, and I proceeded to call my insurance. In describing what happened, the lady said “Oh my gosh! How did you not crash and die?!” I didn’t know how to answer that, so I said “I just didn’t, ok?” I answered all the standard questions (no, nobody else was involved, yes this is my preferred repair shop) and then proceeded to wait. I let work know that I was still delayed but I would try to come in later. The insurance said an appraiser would be contacting the shop within 24 hours, So there was nothing left to do, I called my boyfriend and politely asked for a ride home, 30 miles away. While I waited, I got to stare at my poor mini, still appearing to have no damage. The oil by now had all leaked out, so there wasn’t even a puddle to hint that something could be wrong.
I ended up calling out of work that day, my first time in 2 years at this job. And that’s when I finally broke down in tears. I had been in a daze all day, getting things done and facts straight. But then when I was finally safe in my boyfriend’s car, having eaten and on the way home, I lost it. The stress and worry had been built up and finally released. It was the first time my boyfriend had seen me cry (not even when I hurt my ankle) but he said it was a perfectly good reason, and that he was surprised I had lasted that long. (My coworkers said the same thing – I sounded very calm on the phone while they would have been hysterical messes.)
Of course, I did not receive any car-related calls the next day, even though the insurance said within 24 hours. I checked my phone constantly while I was at work, but no word either way. And now, it’s Labor Day weekend, so I won’t hear anything until at least Tuesday. (The accident happened on Thursday.) I’m still holding out hope that my poor little mini is fixable, but that hope declines a little with each person I describe the accident to and they make the same face that Driver Jason did. So, what’s probably going to happen is that the insurance will end up declaring the car totaled and cutting me a check for what it is “worth*”. I will keep you all updated if/when I hear anything.*I am not looking forward to that, because I know that my 11-year old car isn’t worth what I would need to get a new car.

I know the situation could have been much worse. I was not hurt in any way, nor was anyone else. If, for example, a car or motorcycle had been behind me when the hose coupling jumped in the air, they definitely would have had a worse day than I did. But still, I’m sad about my car. Yes, it’s a material possession that can be replaced, but it was my car, not just transport.
**UPDATE**
It took a little bit more than a week, but I finally heard back. The mini was at 83% damage, so the insurance declared it totaled. They offered me enough to pay off the remaining balance on the loan and still have enough for a good down payment on something else. Almost at the same time, the mechanic / shop owner offered to buy it from me. He explained how that would work with the insurance, so I asked the insurance what they would give me if I wanted to keep the car. It turned out to be a lot more than they were already prepared to pay me, so I took it. Plus I’ll be getting even more money when I sign the total over to the shop owner. This means I will have a very nice down payment – almost 50% of the new car I want. This also means I can get the car I want – I don’t have to settle for anything less.

So, in conclusion, everything worked out in the best possible way. If I had to wreck my car, I mean.