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Car Questions

Automobile Accidents

What do I do when I have a car accident?

  • Call the police if a) someone is injured or killed; b) a car cannot be moved; c) there is substantial property damage (over $500 to either vehicle); or d) if the accident involved a hit-and-run driver;
  • Get the other driver\'s name, address, telephone number, license plate number, driver\'s license number and the name and policy number of her/his insurance;
  • Give the other driver the same information about you;
  • Get the name, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses;
  • Be careful of what you say. Emotional comments can be misconstrued by others or may be misquoted;
  • Notify your insurance company immediately unless nobody else was involved and the damage to your car is less than your deductible;
  • See your doctor if there is a chance you may be injured;
  • Report the accident to the Department of Public Safety within ten days if there is an injury, death, or if total damages exceed $500; and
  • Talk to an attorney to get advice about your rights.

If the other driver caused the accident, what should her/his insurance company pay?

  • Medical and hospital bills;
  • Wages lost because of injuries;
  • Loss of use of your vehicle while it is being repaired;
  • Repair or replacement of your car, for its "actual cash value";
  • Compensation for pain and suffering if anyone is hurt; and
  • Towing expenses.

What if my bills are more than the other driver\'s policy will pay?

  • Medical: File a claim for the difference against your uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage and against your health insurance; and
  • Auto Repair: File a claim for the difference (minus your deductible) against your collision or UM/UIM coverage.

If I have only liability insurance, does my policy pay my medical and car repair bills?

No. Your liability insurance pays only for other people\'s injuries and property damage if you cause an accident.

What if I do not have a license or do not have automobile insurance?

Driving without a license is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $200 for the first offense and up to $200 for a second offense occurring within one year of the first. A third offense occurring within one year of the second offense is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to six months in jail, or both.

Driving without automobile liability insurance is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $350. If a person has been previously convicted of the offense, a second conviction is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of between $350 and $1,000.

In addition, causing (or being at fault in) a motor vehicle accident that results in serious bodily injury or death to another person while operating the vehicle without a valid license or financial responsibility is a Class A misdemeanor.

What is "actual cash value"?

Insurance pays for repairs or replacement only up to a car\'s "actual cash value"-the amount it would have sold for before the accident.

What if the insurance company "totals" my car?

If the car repairs are estimated to cost 70% or more of the actual cash value of the car, an insurer will usually "total" the car and offer to buy the car from you for the actual cash value of the car. An industry benchmark for determining the value is the National Automobile Dealers Association Used Car Guide ("Blue Book"), but you should also get price quotes from used car dealers and newspaper used car ads.

If the insurance company wants to "total" my car and I want to fix it, what can I do?

You can keep your car if you are willing to subtract its salvage value from the insurance settlement. You can get estimates from salvage yards.

What if I do not agree with the amount I am offered to "total" my car?

Your policy offers a procedure called "appraisal" as a way to resolve the dispute. You and the company each choose a damage appraiser who selects an umpire. An estimate agreed to by any two of these three people is binding. Each party must pay its chosen appraiser and split the other expenses of the appraisal process.

Can an insurance company tell me where to get my car fixed?

No. You have the right to choose whether to repair your car, and if so, by whom.

Do I get a rental car while my car is being fixed?

  • If the other driver was to blame, her/his liability insurance should pay for a rent car for a reasonable period of time while your car is being repaired. If your car is "totaled" the insurance company will pay for a rent car only until it makes an offer of payment for your car; or
  • If the accident was a hit-and-run, or if the other driver was both uninsured and at fault, your UM/UIM property damage coverage will pay. Otherwise your own insurance company will not provide a rental car unless you have rental reimbursement coverage.

When should I sign a release?

  • Do not sign a release until you are satisfied with your total settlement, and you have consulted with a doctor and a lawyer. Normally, it is okay to settle the property damage portion of your claim first and to wait until you and your physician are certain that you have achieved maximum medical recovery for any injuries you have received before you settle the personal injury/pain and suffering portion of your claim. Be certain of exactly what you are settling and read the document before you sign it; and
  • If the insurer delays paying for your car repairs to pressure you into signing a release on your injury claim, file a formal complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance.

Texas Personal Automobile Insurance

What insurance coverage is available for my car?

The Texas Personal Automobile Policy offers eight types of coverage:

  • Liability insurance is the most basic coverage. Texas law requires that if you own a car, you must purchase liability insurance. The minimum liability insurance required by law is $20,000 per injured person, $40,000 for everyone hurt in an accident, and $15,000 for property damage. Failure to carry basic liability insurance can result in the suspension of your driver\'s license, impoundment of your car, and a fine up to $1,000. This insurance covers other people\'s expenses for accidents caused by you, your family member, and anybody else driving with your permission. It also covers you and your family members when driving other people\'s cars-including rental cars-but not a car regularly available to you such as a company car.
  • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) covers your losses for an accident caused by a hit-and-run driver or an uninsured motorist (up to your policy\'s dollar limits), or an under-insured driver (one who did not have enough insurance to cover all your expenses). However, you are still responsible for payment of any deductible.
  • Medical Payments pay medical and/or funeral bills arising from car accidents, including those where the victim was a pedestrian or a bicyclist. It covers you, your family members and passengers in your car, regardless of who caused the accident. You cannot "double" collect from both your medical payments and your UM/UIM coverage. You probably do not need this coverage if you have good health insurance on your family.
  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP) pays the same as Medical Payments (fault being no consideration), plus 80% of lost income and the cost of hiring someone to take on the household and caregiver responsibilities of an injured person. The usual amount of coverage offered is $2,500, but you can obtain it in higher increments if you desire. It covers the same people as Medical Payments. If you do not want PIP, you must reject it in writing. This is a worthwhile coverage even if you have good health insurance.
  • Collision pays the cost of fixing or replacing your car after an accident-regardless of who was driving or who was to blame. Payment is limited to your car\'s actual cash value, minus your deductible. We strongly urge you to obtain this type of insurance as you may not otherwise be able to replace your car after a wreck that is deemed to be your fault.
  • Comprehensive (Physical Damage Other than Collision) pays to replace or fix your car if it is stolen or if it is damaged by causes other than a collision, such as fire, vandalism, tree damage, or hail. It also pays for a rental car or other temporary transportation if your car is stolen. The coverage is limited to your car\'s actual cash value minus your deductible. It will not pay for auto theft unless you report the theft to the police.
  • Towing and Labor pays for towing charges when your car is disabled and labor charges-such as changing a tire-at the place where your car is disabled.
  • Rental Reimbursement pays a set daily amount for a rental car if your car is stolen or is being fixed because of damage covered by your auto policy.

Is my Texas policy good in Mexico?

No, unless you get a special "endorsement" to extend your policy\'s coverage to infrequent trips as far as twenty-five miles into Mexico. You can buy Mexican liability insurance from Texas agents who specialize in it.

Will my auto policy cover equipment such as cellular phones?

No. For coverage for tapes, CD\'s, cellular phones, citizens band radios, or stereo equipment not permanently installed in your car, you must pay extra for separate coverage.

Automobile Repairs

Legal Services for Students no longer advises on auto repairs.

Towing Law

When can my car be legally towed?

  • Police can order a car towed if it is parked in violation of a city ordinance;
  • A private landowner or parking facility can order a car towed only if one or more of the following conditions have been met:
    • If one or more conspicuous signs state who may park in the designated area, and prohibit others from parking there;
    • If the owner or operator of the property has notified you to "move the vehicle or it will be towed;" or
    • If the vehicle is blocking an entrance, an exit, a fire lane, or an aisle of a parking facility.

If my car is illegally towed, what are my remedies and whom should I sue?

If your vehicle is towed illegally, the individual who requested the wrongful towing will be liable for any damages resulting from towing and storage, any towing and storage fees, and attorney\'s fees, if any. If the court determines that probable cause existed for the tow, the owner of the vehicle must pay the costs of the tow and storage.

What are the court procedures if I wish to file a wrongful towing suit?

The car owner is entitled to a hearing to determine whether or not probable cause existed for the tow. Before the fourteenth day after the date of the tow, the owner must request a hearing before:

  • a justice of the peace or magistrate in whose jurisdiction the vehicle storage facility is located; or
  • municipal court judge in whose jurisdiction the vehicle storage facility is located (in municipalities that have a population of 1,200,000 or more).

NOTE: Any damage done to your vehicle by the towing company during the tow is the responsibility of the towing company.