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Lessons from a road traffic accident and its aftermath

Motoring / No Comment / December 24, 2010

A few weeks ago, I had the misfortune of being involved in a minor road accident on my way to work. Whilst waiting for a gap in traffic at a roundabout, the car behind me shunted into my rear bumper. It’s likely that the driver behind me was looking at the traffic on the roundabout, not whether I had pulled away.

Tip 1: when joining a roundabout, focus single-mindedly on what the car directly in front of you is doing – for those few seconds, nothing else matters.

At first sight, the damage didn’t appear to be too severe. My rear bumper had been perforated and scratched a little and my boot was dented. Exchanging insurance details, the other driver was pleasant enough and we went our separate ways.

Tip 2: keep a copy of the European Accident Statement in your car.

Provided that the other driver is calm and cooperative, it’s a very useful way of recording as much as possible information when your mind is still reeling from what has just happened.

At the office, I reported the accident to my insurer and since, my boot would not close, I asked for a courtesy car. A recovery truck duly arrive a couple of hours later to take my car down to my insurer’s franchised repair centre and in the afternoon, a hire car arrived courtesy of the accident management company retained by my insurer.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the paperwork I signed – I was more concerned with getting a car in time to get home at the end of the day – but was a bit alarmed to chance upon stories a couple of days later about the ‘credit hire trap’. Accident management companies, according to thisismoney, hire cars for the innocent party in traffic accidents at inflated rates, then seek to charge the cost of the rental to the insurer of the driver liable for the accident. If the accident management company is unable to recover its costs, having signed a credit agreement, you become liable.

Tip 3: if you can get by without a courtesy car, don’t ask for one.

By law, you are responsible for mitigating – minimising – your costs. As we don’t have two cars and I had an engagement in Somerset at the weekend, I did need one – but I am keen not to keep it for any longer than necessary.

At the end of the week, my insurer advised that my car was a category C write-off; the cost of repair far exceeded the value of my car. This was a real blow: I had looked after it for ten years and spent over £800 in the last couple of months alone on new tyres, corrosion treatment and, in just the week before the accident, a new steering rack.

Tip 4: keep a close eye on the residual value of your vehicle and don’t spend money of it that you are unlikely to recoup when selling it.

Having elected in principle to take the settlement from the insurance company, I was advised to collect any belongings still left in my car.

Tip 5: collect your tax disc from your car in the event of a write-off – you paid for it, so you are entitled to the refund.

Revisiting the car at the repair centre was a bittersweet occasion. A Rover 400, it had carried me nearly 100,000 miles very reliably over the course of a decade. Actual mechanical problems had been rare; any failures had only usually been peripheral components, such as rotor arms or batteries. I had intended to run it for another year before trading it on but, sadly, this was not to be: it was therefore time to move on.

Before getting a new car, I had to agree a value for my old one with my insurer. In my case, I wanted account taken of its recent repairs and so pulled together a PDF of the receipts all ready to send to the claims assessor. In the event they weren’t needed and I was able to agree a value with which I could be satisfied.

Tip 6: prepare your pitch beforehand, know your bottom line and what incentives you can trade, as with all sales negotiations – effectively, I was selling my car to my insurer.

My search for a replacement took place almost exclusively over the Internet. The site to which I returned most often was Autotrader, lured by its powerful search facility. This enables you to narrow your criteria by vehicle model, proximity to a location of your choice, price, body type and a range of other parameters so that a handful of cars are displayed out of a database of over 360,000. It also displays the number of models that meet specific criteria, making it feel instantly responsive; you don’t have to wait a couple of seconds for results from the database.

I took advice from family and friends looked at a wide range of models – Volvos, Jaguars, Hondas, BMWs and many more – but for me the front runner remained the Rover 75. Whilst the availability of spare parts in the medium term is a concern,  steep depreciation (thanks in no small part to the collapse of the manufacturer) means that you can get a lot of motor car for a lot less money than comparable marques. Above all, though, I’ve always liked its retro styling and found a model in Oxfordshire that ticked all of my boxes.

Tip 7: before looking at a car in person, undertake due diligence via the Internet. In particular, read expert and owner reviews, obtain a valuation from Glass’s Guide and check its history via Vehicle Check. to under check the car

The dealer took a very hands-off approach and allowed my wife and I to take the car away for a test drive by ourselves. It handled well and felt very comfortable. We were able to check it thoroughly inside and out: bodywork, the engine, the interior and, not least, that the serial number on the engine matched that on the passenger door arch. He also left the log book with us, enabling us to confirm for ourselves that it had been regularly serviced by a reputable garage.

Tip: 8: Take a used car checklist with you: a variety can be found by Googling ‘used car checklist’.

Conventional wisdom is that you should shop around for a used car. I had a couple of other vehicles in mind to view but, having seen this one, we decided to buy it. It was advertised for sale at just over the price suggested in Glass’s Guide, so I doubted that there would be any room for manoeuvre on the headline price. Before I signed on the dotted line, however, I asked for and obtained six month’s road tax and the repair of a small fault I indentified during my test drive as part of the deal.

Tip 9: Look for extras as part of the deal.

When I last bought a car some years ago, I negotiated a reduction on the asking price. Although Iwas pleased with myself at the time, I am fairly certain that the garage clawed back some of their discount by, for example, replacing the car’s alloy wheels with standard metal wheels trimmed with plastic.

Tip 10: Take a few photos of the car when you first view it and then, if you are collecting it a few days later, check it before driving it off the forecourt – if you suspect sharp practice. you then have proof of specification changes with which to confront the sales representative.

Having taken delivery, I have been very pleased with my purchase; it drives well and is in good condition for its age and mileage. I hope to get a good few thousand miles from it without incident. Changing cars during a month of unusually cold and wintry weather in the run up to Christmas has been far from ideal, yet I hope you can learn from my experience. Are there any lessons you’ve learned from a similar experience?

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