Written off with no good reason

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The Independent Online
SIMON MIDGLEY, a journalist on this newspaper, was amazed to be told by his insurance company that his car, which had been in an accident and which he thought was worth pounds 2,000, was, according to them, valued at only pounds 900.

Although an insurance company asks what you paid for a newly purchased car, it seems it disregards this when deciding whether to make it a write-off. At this stage, the company consults Glass's Car Guide (a trade guide to prices) without taking into consideration the car's condition or mileage.

Last July, Mr Midgley was setting off on a two-week holiday.

'We were driving around Hammersmith, in west London, when a lady drove into the back of us, through no fault of our own. The car, an 11-year-old Honda Accord, which has very low mileage and is in very good nick, was still driveable so we continued our holiday and drove up to the Lake District.

'When we returned two weeks later we informed the insurance company and filled in the necessary forms. I took it to a specialist Honda dealer in Tooting and was told the car was beyond economical repair as it had extensive rear damage. It needed a new bumper, the rear tail gate and back panel were dented and the lock was jammed. They said it would cost more than pounds 1,000 to mend.

'Seeing I had driven several hundreds of miles in it, it seemed ridiculous to talk about writing the car off. So I took it to another garage who quoted pounds 1,200. The Cornhill Insurance company sent an assessor around to look at the car and they said the car was worth pounds 900, which is what they would pay me for it.

'I had a fight initially to persuade them to let me retain the car, then they agreed I could if I paid them pounds 250 for it. I protested both about the offer of pounds 900 being too low and pounds 250 being too high. They eventually agreed to reduce the latter figure to pounds 200. So I ended up with pounds 700.

'I obviously was not going to pay over pounds 1,000 to get it mended and be way out of pocket, so I took the car up to Dundee where my sister and brother-in-law live. They knew a much cheaper garage. He charged me pounds 500, it cost me two flights to and from Scotland of pounds 134, and pounds 56 in petrol. In the end I was pounds 40 down, but if I had taken the pounds 900 from the insurance company there was no way I could have bought a car in similar condition for that money. And it took two months from sending in the claim form until I received the cheque.'

It seems that this is common practice with all insurance companies. Another couple in west London had a similar problem where they were offered pounds 1,000 less than they paid for their D- registered Metro. What was more extraordinary was that the repairs to the car were estimated as being pounds 1,900, but KGM - their insurance company, eventually agreed to pay out pounds 2,250, which is pounds 350 more than the repairs.

The couple eventually opted to buy the car back for pounds 200. After their voluntary excess of pounds 100 was deducted, they received pounds 1,950. Their repair bill, with another garage, was pounds 1,100.

As in the first case, the insurance company would not take into account the excellent condition of the car and low mileage. The insurers made an error about the age of the Metro. This took a fortnight to sort out. During this period the hire-car bill was pounds 125 a week, which is not covered by insurance.

To add insult to injury, the insurer removed the car - while it was making up its mind and without consulting the couple - from the garage in west London to one in Enfield, north London. The couple then had to spend more than double to retrieve the vehicle with a breakdown van. They had to go to the trouble, as did Mr Midgley, of finding a cheaper garage to mend their car, and although the bill was much less, by the time they had paid hire-car charges they were only just in pocket.

Their insurance broker's comment was that in her opinion, five weeks was pretty good going.

The insurance companies' defence is that, with the recession, second-hand cars have gone down in value, but one would have thought that if you insure a car comprehensively for a certain value, then that is what they should have to pay out.

In both cases, if the drivers had accepted the sum the insurance companies offered, without taking back the car, they would never have been able to replace it without forking out quite a few hundred pounds themselves.

(Photograph omitted)

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