Judged a Total Loss by a Complete Sham
This summer, as you likely know, my office has been Millennium Park. Thus, I have had little need to drive much. Taking the Blue Line every day and night, my time in my Prius has mostly been limited to moving it from legal parking spot to legal sparking spot and letting sit as long as I can without getting a street cleaning ticket or some sort of shit.
So, when I was just waking up, sitting in front of my computer with a mug of coffee, at around six o'clock on a Sunday morning and I heard, from the street, “Mr. Hall?” The last thing I expected to hear was, “Don Hall? Your car has been involved in an accident.”
It was the cops and they waited for me to come downstairs (in clothing) to take me to my legally parked car. The street side of it was a bit mashed in. Scraped up and mashed in. It turned out that the night before a drunken kid driving his mother’s SUV hit thirteen cars in his inebriated reverie. The Prius was Hit #1 making my tiny hybrid the speed bump that slowed him down thus sustaining the most damage. I live in Wicker Park. I live above one of fifty bars on the strip. It’s extraordinary this has never happened before.
I took the information on him (they caught him that night) and checked online. I had his name, his address, his mother’s name (he lived with his mother), and the insurance company (American Access) and policy number. I went to the other site and reported the accident. I tried to get ahold of their insurance company to no avail. I want to be furious at this stupid 22-year-old chimphole but I remember that pretty much all 22 year olds are kind of stupid by design. I was incredibly stupid when I was 22 and certainly had my fair share of driving while plastered (although I never wrecked a parked car or a moving car for that matter.) I want to be pissed at him but I already know that being pissed accomplishes nothing so why waste the energy?
Later that morning, Dana and I went down to see if the car could be driven. It was fine. All body damage, no glass broken. Looking at it, I thought it would be around $4K to fix it. We hopped in and I took Dana to Oak Park for a gig to see how well it still drove. To assess the damage to its drivability. Because it seemed perfectly fine the worst thing I can say is that, now, I’m driving a real beater car and, while a pain in the ass, it isn’t the end of the world. It was his fault and his insurance was going to pay for it, right?
We all understand why it’s rigged, right? The government steps in and requires a license for people to legally drive a vehicle. The government manages that licensing process and, despite the fact that one generally has to stand for hours in a sweaty line in order to get up to the front only to find out you have an unpaid parking ticket from 1985 that you have to pay to get your license and you can only pay in the building across town so you take another day off work to stand in another long fucking line to pay it then go back to get your license, you still get the privilege to legally drive.
Oh, but then there’s the city stickers for Chicago:
During negotiations for Chicago’s 2012 budget, newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then-City Clerk Susana Mendoza agreed to hike the price of what was already one of the priciest tickets vehicle owners can get in the city. Citations for not having a required vehicle sticker rose from $120 to $200.
The increase, approved unanimously by the City Council, was pitched by Mendoza as an alternative to raising the price of stickers as well as generating much-needed revenue from "scofflaws."
Debt from this one type of ticket swelled, compounded by late penalties and collection fees. Collectively, drivers now owe the city some $275 million for sticker tickets issued since 2012.
The government also requires insurance as well, but hand that process over to private business with little regulation and those businesses are there to make money. So they make money telling you they’ll pay you back if something bad happens to your car. When something bad happens to your car, these companies often (and I mean often) find arcane ways to cheat you from the bargain of insurance.
For the record, American Access Insurance is no better than scanning an old insurance card and photoshopping new dates on it. After calling their office eight times in three days and listening to bad easy jazz for longer than my brain could handle, I turned to my insurance: Progressive.
I’ve had no problems with Progressive. I’m a Diamond Member (whatever the fuck that means) and technically speaking haven’t needed them until now, so it was time to see how good their promises on the idiot box held up. I have the iPhone app and I use it. I send the police report, the info on the kid and his mom, and request some promised pay for help.
First up at bat was Craig. Craig was helpful. Told me no problem, took my info, took the info on the other guy, told me to take the car to an auto shop and let him know where it was at. I did all that: taking my crunchy ride to Armitage Auto Repair and getting the old school Chicago man’s man, Harry, to contact Craig.
Craig had passed the buck to Angela and she arranged for Anthony to come out and assess the damage.
Two days later, Adam sends me an email with the estimate attached with the sentence “We’ll take care of this and you should have your vehicle in a week or so. Notice the $250.00 deductible in the estimate.”
I look over the estimate. All body work. Nothing wrong with the car itself. $3,600 minus the deductible. I call Harry. He’s on it.
Same day, in the afternoon, Adam calls me. He now tells me that Anthony has reassessed the automobile and has deemed it a “Total Loss.” Meaning that it would cost more to fix it than it’s worth. While he’s on the phone, I drill up the CarMax website and the Bluebook for Used Cars. I look up my exact model, year and mileage.
“Adam. That doesn’t compute, man. I’m looking at six different cars, almost identical too mine and the average is $9,000. $3,600 isn’t even half of that.”
Adam proceeds to tell that Anthony went around the neighborhood and assessed ten vehicles similar to mine and determined that the basic body work made mine a “Total Motherfucking Bullshit Asslicking LOSS.” Progressive is going to take possession of my car, strip it and sell it for parts and give me $3,500.
“What the fuck are you talking about? I can’t buy a goddamned Vespa for $3,500 let alone a Prius in fucking any shape! Let’s give the money to fucking Anthony and let that jackass go find me a comparable replacement for $3,500!”
Yeah. I kind of lost my shit. I threatened to sue them. Empty threat. I went off on what a horseshit scam this all was. Pointless. Yes, I’ve spent a long while tamping down the Hulk Rage in my life but every once in a while, I’m reminded that it’s always still there just waiting for an excuse to erupt. I’m not proud of this just as I’m not proud of the occasional cookie or cheese binge I go on, or nights when I just let loose and drink too much booze.
I calm down. I get my ushers briefed but they can tell something is off. We disperse and my phone rings again. It’s Adam.
“Adam, first let me apologize. I work in a job right now where angry people yell in my face about things beyond my control all the time. I should know better. Sorry about that. And I am aware this call is being recorded.”
He laughs. He then tells me that he spoke to his supervisor and there is a second option. I can take possession of my own car, they’ll send me the balance of the claim, and my car will be listed as a salvage title should I ever want to sell it. I need the car — not to get to work or around a lot in the city — I need this car to get to and from Kansas, to and from Pennsylvania, to and from the various Team Retreats Dana and I like to go on.
On top of that, at this point in the space-time continuum, the idea of getting on a commercial airline seems kind of horrifying. Decreasing leg room to the point that if you were to crash, you couldn’t get out of your cracked-ass seat anyway. I just read about commercial flights having bed bugs. Shitpickles who feel entitled to put their bare feet on your tray table. Are you kidding me?
As I wrote once a long time ago, wheels equal freedom. Having once lived in my car, this rings truer for me than most.
I go for the second option.
He offers me $2,000. I ask Adam to send me the assessment from Anthony.
“I’m not supposed to...”
“Send it to me now.” I say in the don’t-set-me-off-again-Adam voice.
He sends it.
It turns out that Anthony has canvassed the neighborhood, found ten cars that fit the profile (Hybrid, 2008-2009, 100,000 miles or more.) The average resale price is $8K but then he has adjusted each down to an average of $4K. No notes to establish how he came to this adjusted average. He officially estimates the value of the Prius to be $4,350.
It occurs to me that if my driving record depreciates, the insurance company raises my monthly payment but that as my car depreciates and their obvious commitment to paying the freight should something go wrong wains, they should charge me less as the value of the vehicle goes down with age and wear and tear. But, oh, I dream of a world of fairness and justice for all, for work that pays a living wage, and free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with hot chocolate every night as well.
I call Harry. He is sympathetic. He tells me to haggle for more than $2K and that he’ll cut me a deal on repairs.
I haggle with Adam. The fact that I know the assessed value from Anthony’s notes helps. They send me closer to $3K. Harry fixes my car for $2,400. It looks brand new.
Harry is one of those Chicago guys. Hard bit, rough around the edges, blue collar honest. If you need your ride fixed, call Harry. He’s solid. He's at Damen Auto Repair & Body Shop.
I’m still with Progressive but I’m down to the most basic, General Liability policy they have because, apparently, Full Coverage doesn’t mean a fucking thing.