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Insurance says my car is a write-off. I disagree. Now what?

I hit a deer that jumped into my path and my 2009 BMW X5 was damaged. My insurance company's claim department accepted the $16,400 estimate for repair – until the auto body shop submitted a new estimate that was more than $18,000. The insurance company now says my car is total loss because it's only worth $16,600, less deductible, based on comparable vehicles around Toronto. I could never buy a similar car for that here – prices on average are at least $5,000 higher. Am I stuck with adjusted value and not market prices? Do I have the option to go to another auto body repair shop, get a lower quote and insist the insurance company repair it instead of writing it off? – H., Ottawa

If your insurance company says your car's a write off, you have a right to another opinion.

"The customer can certainly dispute this, including what they believe to be the value of the vehicle and the amount to repair it," said John Bordignon, State Farm Canada spokesman, in an e-mail. "If you cannot come to an agreement with your provider, you can submit an appeal under the Insurance Act – this would involve the customer obtaining their own vehicle appraiser and having that estimate and one submitted by the insurance company reviewed by an independent umpire."

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Why do companies write off cars? If the cost to repair it is more than it's worth, then the insurance policy allows the company to "declare that vehicle non-repairable, or a total loss," Bordignon said.

Section 7.7 of the policy states, "We will pay the lower of the following: the cost to repair the loss or damage, less the deductible; or the actual cash value [ACV] of the automobile at the time it was damaged or stolen, less the deductible."

If it will cost more than the ACV – what it should cost you to replace it with the same model from the same year – to fix it, then they'll take the car, declare the it salvage and give you the cash.

"The total mileage, age, overall condition and average retail selling price of your vehicle will all be considered in determining its actual cash value plus applicable sales tax," Malon Edwards, Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) spokesman, said in an e-mail.

To figure out the ACV, the insurance company does a report which lists similar vehicles, their selling price and where they were sold, Bordignon said.

"A customer can discuss this evaluation with their provider and submit research into similar vehicles to their own including what they are valued at in their area," Bordignon said.

So where do you research? Google. Check out classified ads and the Auto Trader. Look for asking prices for the same make, model and year, with similar mileage and options, FSCO's Edwards said.

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"Although these are asking prices, not the selling prices, this should give them an idea as to what the vehicle may be worth," Edwards said. "Write down the prices of five similar vehicles and then take the average – if this average is significantly higher than the cash settlement being offered by the insurance company, speak to the claims adjuster."

If your insurance company won't budge, that's when you can request an appraisal in writing.

This applies to repair costs, too. You can provide other estimates – and use the appraisal process if the insurer doesn't agree.

And, you're free to get your car fixed anywhere you want – as long as the company approved the estimate, Edwards said.

"However, an insurance company may suggest the consumer bring the vehicle to one of their "preferred" body shops," Edwards said. "The consumer may find using one of their "preferred" shops easier, because this may offer the insured additional benefits, as the onus is on the insurance company to ensure the work is done satisfactorily."

And what if the umpire agrees that your car will cost more to repair than it's worth?

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"The vehicle owner may be able to negotiate a settlement with the insurer for the value of the repairs, and retain the salvage vehicle to have the repairs done on his own," said Pete Karageorgos, director of Consumer and Industry Relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. "If the vehicle is written off, and the repairs are done, it must be inspected and re-branded as rebuilt by the Ministry of Transportation."

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Since Canada's a pretty big place, let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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