By on August 2, 2010

TTAC Commentator SexCpotatoes writes:

I lost a car this past weekend. No it wasn’t stolen…worse, it was totaled sitting outside my mechanic’s shop.  Let this be a lesson to 18 year old kids everywhere: Don’t Text, or call & drive or you will lose control, spin around and wreck into a car with the passenger side of your early 90’s Dodge Caravan, losing your cell phone out the window.  If you chose to leave the scene, the State Highway Patrol will track you down.

The only good thing is that he had valid insurance.  My frame is bent because it pushed the bumper over, so I’m pretty sure the insurance company is going to write the car off.  Which I had JUST (literally) had the shocks replaced with KYB G/2 Gas-A-Just shocks, two new front window motors put in, & the door lock actuators that had given up were on the list for being done early this week. So I guess I’ll never be getting throttle responsive LED strips put in the opera lights like I was thinking of doing if I ever got the money.

I’m writing Piston Slap to see if anyone has any tips for dealing with the kid’s insurance company.  I maintained this car in top mechanical shape, even replaced the rear tail lamps with LED’s and installed a sequential turn signal kit.  Sure it had about $500 or so worth of rust repair needed, but it was a great car. The insurance company is probably going to low-ball me.  My mechanic said they should offer me about 3-4 G’s, but on a ’91 Grand Marquis with only 114,000 mi.? I’ve got other people at work telling me I’ll see $5-700 offered, max.  There are only 3 cars within 300 miles of me for sale on AutoTrader.  If I expand the search to 500 mi. & include ever car of this body style ’88-’91 the avg. price works out to $2900 regardless of mileage.  EBay doesn’t have any ’91s for sale but their range of sold prices is $452-3988 (which makes the average $2225.) NADA & KBB wholesale numbers are not promising.

So I ask you, Sajeev and the Best & Brightest, any advice?

Sajeev Answers:

No, you MUST do the Opera Light mod on a Grand Marquis!  Too bad this one is a goner, unless you spend money out of pocket to laser-straighten the frame, hit up junkyards for a new front clip, get it all painted and then (retroactively) ask the insurance company for money. That’s worked before, but it’s a super risky. While admittedly pathetic, this is my plan if my fully depreciated, not-classic vehicles get totaled.

But I digress. This situation sucks. If at all possible, have your car insured on a stated value policy: list all the modifications, get a third party appraisal, whatever it takes.  Your car is worth $5000 or more when you factor time and effort, so do yourself a favor and get insurance that reflects this figure. I did this for my 1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7 after it reached “classic” status and received a T-56 transmission swap.  This is very necessary.

Back to your Mercury: I suspect that NADA value in good condition ($2400-ish) is what you’ll get from your insurance company, which means you’ll have plenty of cash to buy a suitable Panther Chassis and start over again.  And fall in love during the hunt, so to speak. Which isn’t so bad when you think about it.

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30 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Moment of Silence for the Mighty-Mighty Marquis...”

  • avatar

    I hate to advocate anybody take on debt but my move would be to use the insurance companies check as a down payment on a newer Panther platform. Just figure out what you can afford, get the loan from a Credit Union type institution and take the shortest loan that you can afford.

    When my 1987 Oldsmobile was stolen back during my time in Detroit (2001) I took the insurance companies check and went used car shopping. I didn’t end up with another Oldsmobile but the car I bought is still being driven by my ex-wife. (And was paid off LONG ago.)

  • avatar

    First off, I Am Not A Lawyer.

    Years ago, when our FIAT 128 3p was totaled, we were offered $500. That might be the “fair market price” for the car, but the true replacement cost would be closer to $1500.

    I had a police report blaming the other driver. A lawyer informally advised me to sue the other party in small claims court. DO NOT mention or sue their insurance company. No lawyers are invited to small claims court, so the insurance company can’t send one to represent their client. (If you sue the insurance company, they will send their lawyer to represent themselves, and that makes your job harder.)

    If your case goes to trial, and you win (I had a police report), then the damages get decided then and there, in the courtroom. The judge will entertain evidence (you will bring lots of supporting evidence) of the value of your car, and if you convince the judge it was worth $5000 (or whatever is the financial limit at your local small claims court), then that’s the damage. And the other insurance company is obliged to pay.

    But it won’t get to court. When the other driver gets notified that you’re suing, his/her insurance company will probably become “more accommodating.” It worked for me; we got the $1500.

    Best of Luck,


  • avatar

    A co-worker was able to negotiate with the claims rep by going over recent work performed on a total, as the recent work does increase the resale value of the car.

  • avatar


    The totaled value of your vehicle is the same to the insurance company whether you take off your shocks, window regulators, sequential turn signals, etc. I’d do the work to strip those parts.. after all it was in for repairs, right? And, it’s going away to the crusher/yard on a flat bed so it doesn’t have to roll. If it does have to roll, it’ll roll on worn out tires just as well as the performance shoes you have on it now.

    You’ll feel better about your new panther, if it has a few momentos from your past love bolted on her.

  • avatar

    Impress upon the insurance adjuster just how good the condition of this car was at the time it was hit. You don’t need to mention the door lock actuators unless asked or the rust unless it is still obvious after the accident. You just may be able to get reimbursed at the high end of the comparables. A few years ago a guy at work was T’ed at a signalled intersection by someone running a red light. He convinced the adjuster that his POS Civic was actually in good condition prior to the accident and received the average of the comparables that they found on-line plus a little extra because he had a trailer hitch installed on his, which increases the value of any car, especially a Civic.

  • avatar

    I lost a 1957 Chrysler New Yorker 4-door hardtop nearly the same way. It was parked at the edge of the service station lot, and was hit in the right front by a car that came out of the lube room under circumstances which were never exactly known to me. My service station guy. a stand-up guy, had the fender replaced and the front clip painted. But the new fender was at the wrong end of the rather loose tolerances that obtained in the late 1950’s, and didn’t fit quite right. Even though I bought the car used with 150,000 miles on it, I had had good times with it and had hopes of one day restoring it, but that fender, added to all the other things the car needed, made me decide to sell it and move on.

  • avatar

    Sounds like you might be in for a fight over the value. At one time I took an auto damage appraisal class for the heck of it with a friend. I learned a lot about how the adjusters work and how to get the best deal out of them.

    Normally I would suggest bringing it to a body shop since those guys know how to make sure the adjuster includes every little thing that needs to be done. Since it will probably be totalled this won’t help you, you are concerned with value. Most insurance adjusters are supposed to total a car when the cost to fix approaches 70% of the value.

    How a car appears to have been maintained will have an effect on whether the adjust tried to lowball you. Especially when you are not their own customer, they will try to get away with as little as possible. Adjusters have a saying “if it runs and drives it is worth $500” so they should give you at least that. Showing them ads for similar cars will help as that is what you are supposed to be getting paid for, the cost to replace with a similar car and make you whole again. I have had luck also with recent repair bills, the more money you show them you have spent recently, the better.

    Do you have collision coverage on this car? If so, just go through your insurance company, they will be much more generous and also take care of beating up the other co for you. If not, you may have (or look into for any future beater) a cheap add-on called “limited collision” which covers you only when someone else is at fault. Sounds dumb, but it is offered for just this situation, your insurance company takes care of you, and fights with the at-fault driver’s co so you don’t have to. Last time I had that add-on it cost me about $15/yr.

    Most of what I know is MA centric, so things are probably somewhat different in other states.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m guessing he probably doesn’t have collision coverage. I know that my insurer stops offering collision coverage on non-classic vehicles when their reach a certain age/value threshhold and I bet he’s past it with this one.

    • 0 avatar

      My agent said that if it wasn’t my fault, don’t tell him. Your rates can go up just for being unlucky.

  • avatar

    Insurance companies where there was no personal injury just property will not pay above their limit they set on the property – regardless of any emotional damage the owner has from his loss. It is too much of a flood gate to give extra compensation for emotional attachment. It is also unlikely they will cut a bigger check for modifications (in real life most modifications done to a car do not actually increase its value). If you have receipts of improvements done to the car that were damaged b/c of the crash then you maybe able to get those repaid. However the parts undamaged will likely be ignored and you will have to remove them and put the original items back on.

    Take the check and put it towards a nice used Marauder and call it a day.

  • avatar
    Eric M

    I recently had a car hit (and nearly totaled) while parked. I did research much like you describe, and came up with a retail price. I added in sales tax and tag fees and got a price range (+/- 10%) that I thought was fair for my loss. That price range is what it would take to walk into a dealer, pay asking price with cash, and buy a comparable car. When the insurance company called with total offer it was well inside my margin of error and a very fair price for my car pre-collison.

    Just when you get that offer, make sure tax and tags are included. Then make a deal on the replacement and pocket the difference (or ‘invest’ in some upgrades).

    If they low-ball you, send them ads for cars close to you as similar to the lost car as you can find. Evidence makes it easier for you to justify the higher price.

  • avatar

    The ins co won’t make any allowance for how well you maintained it or whatever extra stuff you had installed.

  • avatar

    Go on and post in the “1979-1991: The Boxes” forum, see if anyone there can help you out. Boxes are becoming few and far between, especially one in the kind of shape I suspect you would want your replacement to be in.

    I’ve owned two of those, an ’89 M74 and a ’91 M75. Loved them except for the piece of shit AODs. If you can swing it, find a low mile ’98 or newer. Anything older than that will have the small front brakes and lack the Watts link on the rear suspension. Those two items make a huge difference. On the downside, you’ll see the famed Panther de-contenting really getting started that year, so it’s a bit of a trade-off.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Man that sucks. I hate it when a car that has just gotten broken in gets totaled.

    That said I say this is an opportunity. Take the salvage title and the cash. Wrench off the mod pieces. Upgrade to a 2001, which is ten years newer and according to Edmunds should be available for about $5,000. You will be able to install your mods, and you will get many extra years of driving pleasure.

  • avatar

    No matter who pays, the insurance company will hire a 3rd party firm to comb car ads to determine actual value. NADA etc don’t apply. That’s the offer they’ll make. You can become stubborn to a point, but it’s still a 19 year old car. If you feel the offer is too low, tell them specifically why and they may reconsider.

  • avatar

    Members of the B&B, you’ve jogged my memory in regaurds to an often told joke regaurding an old lady who had a two decade old car totalled in a similar fashion. She went to visit her insurance agent and he told her what the insurance company was willing to pay, which was far to little to purchase a new car. She protested and the agent told her (holding up the NADA guide); “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but I’ve got a little book here that says that’s all your car was worth.” The old gal got silent and thought for a min. “I’ve got a little book too. It says “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” The agent revised his offer accordingly.

  • avatar

    If the police don’t charge the kid for reckless driving, talking on a cell phone while driving ect. make sure you do. As a citizen in my state you are allowed to file charges against the other driver. At least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that he/she will be paying outrageous premiums for the next few years. If the kids parents have any sense, you can be assured that they will be walking or taking the bus for a while. If only the bumper support is bent, buy the car back and straighten the frame. BOF cars are pretty tough, and much easier to repair than unibody.You may want to pay a local ambulance chaser $100 for a half hour of their time for tips and tricks in your area.

  • avatar

    I just went through this. I had a 96 Odyssey totalled by another driver. It was in really nice shape. Everything worked, and I had driven this car all over the state, but it had 214K miles on it. I had just spent $1500 on the timing belt/water pump plague that hits Hondas every 100K. Insurance company wanted to give me zero credit, saying this is maintenance and all the figures assume the car is properly maintained.
    You did not say who your insurance company is. Their practices will vary W-i-d-e-l-y. I was dealing with one of the tougher ones.
    I argued with them. I took figures for NADA, Kelly and Edmunds and averaged them. They said these are irrelevant. I went on AutoTrader and found lots of similar cars, and charted trim levels, mileage and year on 95-98 Odys.
    They eventually offered and I accepted an appraisal. I had to hire an appraiser. He went and looked at the car. The insurer also hired an appraiser and the two of them came to a figure. It was not as good as I wanted, but it was at least at the lower end of reasonable.
    I should also tell you that I am a lawyer that represents insurance companies in property damage cases. The small claims route was available, but frankly it wasn’t enough money to make it worthwhile to take about 2 days to prepare and try the case, and hope the judge agrees with me and not the lawyer on the other side. And there was that “fool for a client” thing, too.
    The insurance company will look for comps on Auto Trader. This is your best info. If you have lots of flattering photos of your car, I would send them, along with the value guide info, and Auto Trader comps to the adjuster and hope for the best. But your upgrades/repairs will likely get you nowhere.
    Unfortunately, this is what we get for refusing to drive another 2005 Impala.

    • 0 avatar

      > I should also tell you that I am a lawyer that represents insurance
      companies in property damage cases. The small claims route was available, but frankly it wasn’t enough money to make it worthwhile to take about 2 days to prepare and try the case, and hope the judge agrees with me and not the lawyer on the other side.


      The whole point of taking it to Small Claims Court is: evading their lawyer. If you sue the other driver, without mentioning or suing his/her insurance company, then the insurance company cannot send their lawyer to Small Claims Court.

      In SCC, it will be you versus the other driver (assuming s/he shows up). If you have overwhelming evidence of guilt, the “trial” will be reduced to a determination of damages. Assuming you have some documentation to support your claim, and given that the other driver is unlikely to present any evidence that your car is only worth $500, the judge just might grant you the damages you ask. Then the insurance company must pay.

      …And the insurance company knows this, and they don’t want a court judgment against them for a penny-ante claim (looks bad to the state insurance regulators). After I filed suit in SCC, the insurance company (CSAAA) became dramatically more accommodating, long before the trial date arrived. :-)


    • 0 avatar

      Stuart, you are wrong on this one. When you sue the driver, he turns the papers over to his insurer. His insurer hires an attorney to defend him. Doesn’t matter if the insurance company is sued or not. Where I come from, you cannot sue the insurance company separately – you have to sue the driver.
      If the driver is insured, you are going to go up against a lawyer even if you go to small claims.

  • avatar

    A ’91 Marquis is worth $2400 in good condition? Jesus. I’d have assumed they weren’t worth the muscle to push them into the lake, running or not! A quick Craigslist here and I’m seeing a 2000 for $2800, a ’93 for $1200, a ’95 for $1k, a ’97 for $2400, another ’97 for $1200…

    The closest in price and year I can find is a ’92 for $2700, and that has 43k on the clock and new tires…

    • 0 avatar

      Non-OEM Taillights, new shocks, and rust? 114k? $2400?

      I got $2000 as a trade-in (very generous) for my ’85 GM with similar miles….

      10 years ago.

      $2400 for a rusty 20 year old car with “custom” taillights?

      Remember: Puff puff pass.

      “their range of sold prices is $452-3988 (which makes the average $2225.)”
      That’s not the way you calculate averages.

    • 0 avatar


      If 5,000 cars sell for $458 and one with 3000 miles, a nav system, 18″ BBS rims, and 2000 watts of subs sells for $3900, that does NOT mean the average value of a Marquis is $2400.

    • 0 avatar

      Those cars you see on Craigslist aren’t exactly comparable. You have to take into account maintenance, mileage, condition, etc.

      The AVERAGE mileage for a car my year in the report the Insurance Company gave me was 163,000.

      The $2400 is retail KBB dealer price.

      As far as the “average” comment goes, there were 0 cars listed on Ebay Motors, so I did a quick average of the low and the high prices to get an average of the price range on Ebay.

      The rust was surface, and just starting (a few areas 3″ or so square @ bottom behind rear door, and behind wheel wells, not bad at all).

      Another post at the bottom for details on how it turned out.

  • avatar

    Dibs on the rims/wheels! My 89 Town Car’s Michelins are age rotting. I’m using the car for a winter driver since it has positraction, if you can hold out till spring and a little more rust, I know I’ll be selling it for under $1000, and it’s 8.5/10 overall 10/10 mechanically. It almost became a demolition derby car for the fair this week, but changed my mind a few months ago because I found out it was worth more than a few hundred bucks.

    That being said, if I get into an accident that isn’t my fault and get offered $2000 for it, I’m going to drive it around an Odyssyville/ Siennaville/Caravanville neighborhood until I get hit.

  • avatar

    Wow, I must work with a couple of you guys. When my ’88 CRX-Si got totaled (T-boned by a light runner) in 1998 they initially offered me $3000. I told them I’d looked at new cars before the wreck and decided fixing up the old ride made more sense. I then started rattling off every repair and maintenance item I’d done over the last year: new tires, brake job, new exhaust system, hoses, belts, fluids, repair sun roof, $500 sound system, and yes, a trailer hitch. I got $4800.

  • avatar

    Sometimes all it takes is to ask. When my Probe GT had its door damaged by an a-hole, I took it to the GEICO (my insurer) for the repair appraisal. The adjuster asked me if I ever drove my car, as it was 13 years old at the time and didn’t have as much as a door ding. I told him that I was not so keen on Bondo in my car. He actually gave me enough extra money to re-skin the door. The list of items actually listed the reskin as “for customer satisfaction” His being a Mark Martin fan (he noticed the number sticker on my window) led to some racing talk and presto, I’m a fan of the gecko…so try the good guy approach…not all people suck, even if it seems that way most of the time…

  • avatar

    Search Auto Trader. Several MM low mileage less than $5k and later years than yours.

  • avatar

    Thanks for all the suggestions, everybody.

    I accepted their offer, $2080 and change + $100 for turning down the rental car.

    This happened on the weekend before I went on vacation, and I really didn’t want this crap hanging over me or having to tie up the family phone arguing with the Insurance Co. from down in WV (where I went to a family reunion & spent the rest of my vacation).

    I probably could’ve argued for more, but I wanted to get it taken care of before I left on my vacation, and also get it out of my mechanic’s way as it was sitting in his lot all week.

    I never want to have a car payment, my dad sold new and used cars at a Lincoln/Mercury dealer for 32 years, so I always had access to some good deals (sadly, they closed down recently). I have two other cars (beaters) and I may get rid of the ’94 Taurus wagon that the hatch stopped opening w/tail light out (can’t get in to replace the bulb & has a few other issues), and buy a ’94 Crown Vic off my brother that he’s looking to get rid of.

    The rest of the money goes into savings or goes to pay down bills/put away for future repairs, etc.

    Thanks again for all your helpful advice everyone!

  • avatar

    One last thing.

    Anyone who thinks it’s ludicrous that a 20 year old car would be worth over $2000 even if not in “Car Show Trophy Winning Condition,” you can’t touch a used car for under $3000 at a dealership these days. And I live in NE Ohio, an area with one of the lowest costs of living in the entire U.S.

    I’m talking about 1-2 owner, low mileage, clean, well kept, dependable vehicle. Religious maintenance and no Jesus Fish on the car.

    Anything out there at a used car lot under $2500-3000 is likely a stuttering shite-pile held together just barely enough to get it off the lot.

    Private party sales, you face a different set of problems, but you can find decent well-kept cars for a reasonable price if you put in the work.

    But as John.Fritz pointed out, good condition ‘boxes’ of this vintage are growing pretty scarce.

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