Follow-up report on our car, USAA, salvage titles, and the whomping willow

Back in the first half of September, I posted about the whomping willow (actually a pollarded, dead Norway maple) falling on our car and taking out ten feet of our chain-link fence. Our car is a 2011 Ford Focus sedan with 86,000 miles. I'm immaculate with the maintenance, doing it all with the dealer. This becomes important later on.

The fence guys estimated they'd need $1,000 to repair (to like new!) ten feet of chain-link fence. Bill and Dear Son repaired it themselves for about $50 and a few hours. The repair is obvious because Lowes doesn't sell dark-green vinyl coated fence parts. We don't care. The moral? See if you can do it yourself for less.

After a few days and some harsh words, Larry the landlord felt guilty and sent us a check for $500. This more than covered the fence AND covered the actual repair cost of the car.

The car was the big issue.

Once we called USAA and started the ball moving, we couldn't stop the train. Once Faulkner Collision decided the car needed $5,000 worth of work to return it to a like-new condition, USAA insisted we total the car because the cost to repair (like new!) was more than the value of the car, especially after subtracting our $1,000 deductible.

Because we bought the car new and did exactly what the owner's manual recommended with the dealer, I knew the car was in excellent condition. The damage was only cosmetic. I didn't need to repaint the entire car or replace dented panels. The sole, actual damage was the broken taillight. I've done all my work with Maguire Ford, including buying the car from them. They were very easy to work with.

Maguire Ford fixed the car by pounding out the dent (the repair shows), a replacement taillight, and touch-up paint as needed. It cost $400.

We still had to get a salvage title because the state of Pennsylvania says if a car is totaled, it has to be thoroughly inspected with photos to prove the car doesn't have a bent frame or spent weeks underwater during a flood. The salvage title dealer was a quick $400 or so. I still had to get re-inspected by Maguire (state law). The notary public and the tax I had to pay was another $400 or so.

Finally, with all the paperwork done, the salvage title safely in the safety deposit box, USAA sent me my check for about $4000.

As you can see from doing the math, we came out ahead by several thousand dollars! We worked for that money, let me tell you.

Lessons learned: if the car is older, in excellent condition, and the damage is minor, think before calling the insurance company. If we HADN'T called USAA and gone straight to Maguire Ford, Larry the landlord's check would have covered our fence costs AND the car repair. I wouldn't have had to arrange for salvage title inspections, spent hours on the phone and online with USAA, visited PennDot multiple times, dealt with the notary public, or had to rent a car (covered by USAA). That was a lot of aggravation, a lot of time, anxiety, and constant worry about what would happen next and were we jumping through the bureaucratic hoops correctly.

Yes, we came out ahead. Because of how upsetting it all was (I don't handle stress well) I'm still not entirely sure it was worth it.

Larry the landlord lost money. He paid us $500 AND paid to remove the whomping willow. If he had paid his tree guys any time in the last ten years, he'd have saved himself the $500 he paid us, along with the aggravation.

So we are essentially back where we started: we have a working car and a fence that keeps the dog in the yard.

Teresa from Hershey

ClareBroommaker's picture

Ugg-- I feel for you. I can hardly bear doing that kind of thing! Dealing with insurance and titles and neglectful landlords and such!

The whole thing rings a bell, as the landlord of the house next door would not remove a dead tree on the edge of his property. It fell and damaged the fence of the neighbor on the other side of the lot (not mine). That lot is where one of my gardens is. Naturally the tree also smashed two beds in the garden. The guy would not even return phone calls. Finally I cut it off the fence, and called my friend who uses a smoker to come help me cut it to size and gently remove the thing from the garden. He took as much wood as he wanted. Nine years later the fence remains damaged as the day it happened. At least it took out no cars.

Yikes! At least Larry wrote us a check. He also has known us for years and when the house is vacant, Dear Son mows for him.
I suppose he saw some value in keeping us happy.

Teresa from Hershey