Bring in your own people

Now may be the time to get your own insurance company involved. Ask your agent if he or she would serve as an informal advocate on your behalf to persuade the other carrier to loosen their purse strings. Leverage any history as a safe driver and a long-standing policy owner (insurance companies are always eager to hang on to good customers). If you have a strong case, ask your carrier to pursue a claim against the other driver's insurance company through intercompany arbitration. If your carrier does and prevails, the settlement will almost certainly be larger than what the other carrier offered initially.

Also, if you haven't already, provide your insurance company with all the facts and evidence pertaining to the incident. Even if the other driver has insurance, your own uninsured motorist coverage (required in most states) may provide you a better offer.

"If the other driver has insurance, your own company probably could avoid (paying you) for some time," says Eli Lehrer, the head of the insurance project at the Heartland Institute, a free market think tank. "But, provided that the facts are sufficiently clear and the other insurer is just being recalcitrant, I'd suspect that many insurers would, indeed, just pay if you have uninsured motorist coverage."

Your insurance company may also be of help if the other driver's minimal coverage won't cover all damages. Check if your coverage extends to underinsured motorists. With this, you can exhaust the responsible driver's coverage and tack on your own to make up any shortfalls.

Regardless, if you have collision coverage, authorities agree it's always smart to involve your own carrier no matter if the other person's company is cooperating satisfactorily or howling over every penny.

"Your insurance company has a duty to treat you fairly, and it may offer you slightly more money for your car than the other guy's carrier," says Orlando, Fla., attorney Shane Fischer. "If they don't treat you fairly, they know you'll take your future business elsewhere. The other driver's carrier doesn't have that pressure, so they are less likely to care how they treat you."

Repair, don't replace

If a reasonable solution cannot be reached, there's one final option, provided your car isn't already buried in a landfill: Accept the money offered by yours or the other guy's insurance company and use it to pay for whatever repairs are needed to get the car back on the road. It might not be the prettiest ride on four wheels, but it's a cost-effective alternative to buying a new car and possibly being saddled with loan payments.

Says Simeone: "This is helpful for older cars. It's not because it is damaged beyond repair, but because the value of the vehicle is so low, the insurance company can pay less by simply treating it as a totaled car."

The trick is not only getting the car back into sufficient driving shape but making sure it is safe enough to pass a state inspection. To hedge your bets, check with your mechanic first to see if, in fact, reasonable repairs will be sufficient for the powers that be to declare it safely drivable. That way, you avoid wasting money on a car that's simply beyond recovery.

"The biggest challenge in many cases is getting the title back in order," Van Jura said. "This will vary from one state to another. Most companies will provide liability insurance; however, many will not offer physical damage coverage to a salvaged vehicle."

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Above all, don't lose heart. Even if you have to pay your deductible to adequately cover your loss, it beats a penny-pinching settlement from the other driver's carrier or having to shell out a bundle on a pricey new model. But the process can be drawn out and maddeningly frustrating.

"Even if the other driver has insurance and they accept responsibility, it is still a pain to have to deal with a damaged car," Simeone says. "Avoiding a loss can be complicated."