Wildfires are scary things. Almost everyone has seen videos of wildfires in California and other western states and knows how devastating they can be. Although the most worrisome prospect is having your home destroyed by a wildfire, your car can also fall victim and it’s no small investment.
Damage to a car from a wildfire can range from superficial damage to the paint job by burning embers to complete destruction of the vehicle. No matter what the level of damage, the steps you need to take will be largely the same.
It should go without saying that if you find that your car is actively on fire, get at least 100 feet away from it and call 911. Do not attempt to extinguish the fire. Do not attempt to retrieve personal articles, no matter how valuable.
Burning cars are very dangerous. Although they don’t explode as Hollywood would have you believe, they do contain smaller components that can explode. Bumpers, hatchback doors, and shock absorbers often use gas-filled cylinders.
When those cylinders are heated by a fire, they can explode, causing the bumper, door or shock absorber to jettison outward. If you happen to be nearby, you could be seriously injured. Be smart and let the firefighters handle this.
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The Five Things to Do after Your Car Is Damaged by a Wildfire
- Document the damage. As soon as it’s safe to do so, take photos of your car and the damage. Take many photos, do it in good lighting, and get closeups. This will help ensure that you’re able to recover the full insurance benefits available to you, and it will support tax write-offs for any uninsured losses.
- Contact your insurance agent. Do this as soon as possible. Yes, odds are that if you’ve just been through a wildfire, you’ve got a million other more important things on your mind, but this only needs to be a single phone call. Have your insurance card or policy handy when you call if at all possible.
- Collect documentation. The fire department or agency that responded to the incident may be able to provide you with an incident report, but you have to request it. This report will corroborate your claim that your car was damaged by the wildfire. Add this report to the photos you’ve already taken to document your claim.
- File the claim. You will need to contact the insurance company that carries your auto insurance to do this, but your agent can help. Be prepared with your policy number, the incident report number from the fire department if you have one, the exact details of when it happened and where, the vehicle registration information, and details of any lease or financing on the car.
- Work with the insurance company. A claims adjuster will probably need to see the vehicle, so leave it as is until they’ve had a chance to inspect it. You can remove personal items, but leave everything else exactly as you found it. The adjuster will probably take more photos of their own and will want to inspect the documents you have. Record everything throughout this process. Keep copies of bids and estimates, repairs made, notes about discussions with contractors and the insurance company, and photos of damage and repairs in progress.
If the adjuster determines that the damage is more expensive to repair than the car is worth, the insurance company will probably declare your car “totaled.”
That means they’re going to pay you the market value of the vehicle (minus your deductible) rather than attempting to repair it. This is a likely outcome if the car was actually on fire rather than just suffering cosmetic damage from burning embers.
Keep in mind that what the insurance company offers you to settle your claim is only an offer. You can negotiate and don’t have to accept it.
This is another good reason to use an independent insurance agent. They can help you decide if the insurance company’s offer is reasonable and how to respond if you don’t think it is.
Why Choose an Independent Insurance Agent?
Independent insurance agents can provide you with a large selection of automobile policies that will provide you with the security you need to deal with any calamity, including wildfires.
Independent insurance agents simplify the process of shopping for and comparing auto insurance. They will explain the complex terms for you, cut through the jargon, and make sure you understand the fine print.
But perhaps most importantly, they work for you – not one insurance company. They can compare policies from many companies and pick the ones that are best for you at the best possible price.
They’ll also be there for you in the future if your needs change or questions arise. They work for you, and their only job is keeping you satisfied now and in the future.
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