Well double fuck :(

State Farm Insurance just got back to me about my wet, moldy car. They claim that since it was probably caused by a leak in my trunk (which they claim without ever looking at my car) the problem falls under “maintenance” and they won’t cover any damages. Because apparently you’re supposed to know you have a leak before you have any evidence of a leak. I have comprehensive coverage which is supposed to cover environmental things like wind, hail, flooding, but apparently “rain” or “melting snow” don’t count. They didn’t look at the car at all, they just decided this after my description over the phone.

I’m trying to decide what to do next. Some people have suggested getting a lawyer to write them a stern letter – is this typical for when insurance companies aren’t cooperating? If I file the claim despite them saying I won’t get anything, will that hurt my insurance premium? I feel like I should try something before finding a place who could potentially clean/repair my car and paying for it out of pocket. They couldn’t even suggest a place that might be able to do this.

And for everyone who is asking if they can donate to help, I greatly appreciate it, but let’s wait for a moment. I want to try to get my insurance company to do its job instead of relying on random kindness. And I don’t even know how much this is going to end up costing me.

A couple pics of the moldiness below. A lot of the general moldy grossness is a thin film that doesn’t capture well on camera, but there are some choice disgusting parts:

The standing water, which has evaporated (probably to other parts of the car) quite a bit since I originally saw it. You can kind of see how high it used to be.


Double yum.

Buckle up. All of the seat belts look like this.

How many species can you spot?

Blotches of mold are on the floor, on the seats, in my trunk… Yeah.

I’m going to drown my sorrows in lunch and then try to deal with this in the afternoon. I want to get it figured out quickly so it doesn’t get even worse.


  1. DaveD says

    You might try your state insurance commissioner’s office as well, at least as far as finding out if State Farm is failing to touch second base or otherwise playing fast and loose with the rules.

    And like a good neighbor… (yeah, right)

  2. D.Blackwell says

    See if there is a crime scene clean up team in the area. Trust me when I say, those companies can clean up EVERYTHING!

  3. unbound says

    It may be worthwhile to hire a lawyer just to go over the insurance policy. The insurance agent has no incentive to help you out (the cost is probably pretty high to fix correctly), so they are likely using a standard out that a lawyer may be able to easily defeat.

    I had to hire a lawyer for an accident my wife got into many years ago (the person that hit my wife had the same insurance company), and that lawyer found things in my policy that I had no idea about which resulted in the insurance paying out more than they were up-front about…enough to actually pay for the lawyer in my case. And, all things considered, I wouldn’t even say that the lawyer I got was particularly good.

  4. says

    Lawyer. Lawyer, lawyer, absolutely.

    Insurance companies are in business to avoid paying claims. If they think they can intimidate you, they will. It’s likely you sound like a young woman on the phone–that’s raw meat to a claims adjuster.

    The policy covers weather damage; you had snow. It doesn’t matter how the snow got in the car. If they think you were somehow negligent THEY have to prove it. Juries don’t like insurance companies that refuse to pay claims without a good reason.

    See a lawyer–the initial consult won’t cost much and might even be free. It’s possible that the insurance company will see reason rather than have to deal with a lawsuit. See the lawyer BEFORE doing repairs. Once the repairs are done the insurance company can rightly assert that they were not given an opportunity to see the damage.

    The company will play hardball because it is quite possible the car is a total loss–mold is notoriously difficult to clean out, and there can be health consequences if it’s not done thoroughly.

  5. says

    Ahhh State Farm.

    In 1984 I was hit by a speeding pickup truck, fractured skull, shattered pelvis, internal injuries.
    The insurance was supposed to cover all related medical costs for the rest of my life.

    Two years after the accident they stopped paying the bills. Said they were not related (hello? how is a bowel obstruction from surgical adhesions from the previous surgery not related?)
    So other insurance paid.

    Then a few years later they said that the coverage had expired because I hadn’t made a claim in years. I had, but they’d turned them down.

    The professional liars kept promising they’d get back to me, excuses like “those files are archived offsite, it will take some time to retrieve them.” etc.

    Never paid, never contacted me, never returned my calls, etc.
    So now SSD is paying my medical bills.

    Or they were until cutbacks, so now my $1000 per month income (a result of the accident) is effectively $800 as I pay out of pocket.

    Hooray for the fucking insurance companies.
    I view them as being criminal enterprises.

    The job of insurance companies is to sell you a product and then do everything possible including breaking the law to not have to deliver to you the product you paid for.

  6. evilDoug says

    It is damned disgusting they won’t even send out an appraiser.

    If you are going to tackle some of the cleanup yourself, I really recommend a wet and dry vacuum cleaner. They can be found in the hardware or tool department of stores like Walmart, or any home improvement store. I recently bought a smallish but powerful one at Costco for about $30.
    Such a vac will suck up the pool of water on your floor in seconds. They work well to suck water out of carpets and upholstery. You can use one as a dentist or surgeon would use suction – pouring water in at one point and simultaneously sucking it up close by.
    If you get such a vac, get some sort of hearing protectors (muffs or plugs – plugs work better and don’t get knocked off in confined spaces, but they can be kind of unpleasant). Shop vacs are usually really loud – even the ones that claim to be quiet.

    If you don’t have a suitable portable heater (extreme caution! they can be a major fire risk), even a household fan can be used to help circulate air.

    Water is NOT instant death to electrical systems, but corrosion is a possibility.

  7. says

    This just happened to me. Take the car to a detailer. For $100 or so they’ll clean all the mold out. Then take it to a body shop. They’ll fix the leak. All of that will most likely be less than your deductible.

  8. evilDoug says

    someone may have already mentioned this:

    If you belong to any sort of “auto club” (AMA sort of thing), get in touch with them and see if they can help in any way, from leaning on your insurer to recommending cleaning companies.

  9. says

    Unfortunately, calling an insurance agent and getting to the point where they open your file and start discussing a potential claim is treated more or less like you actually made a claim, even if they declined to pay.

    Writing a letter to a lawyers isn’t SOP, but it’s not terribly unusual either. It can’t hurt to try, and will almost certainly be cheaper than paying the entire thing out of pocket.

    In regards to water damage; As my agent once told me, when it comes to water, the policy covers water that “comes up” and damages your car. It does NOT cover water that “comes down”. I.E., you’re covered in a flood, but not because of a leak in the car.

  10. cowtown says

    When you signed up for your insurance, they should have sent you your policy, which is a many-page contract which will explain in excruciating detail what is and isn’t covered. You should check it to see what it says about water damage.

  11. neonsequitur says

    When all is said and done, I’d also recommend shopping around for a better insurance company. They are NOT necessarily all the same. I’ve had Allstate car insurance for a bit over 20 years; kinda screwy when it comes to billing, especially after relocating to a new state. But on the rare occasion I filed a claim, they did a good job and didn’t screw around.

    But don’t start that process until you’ve finished dealing with the current crisis, however it turns out.

  12. LawAnon says

    If your comp deductible is $500, don’t worry about a lawyer just yet — you need to do your homework first and figure out how much the repair will cost. If it’s less than $500, there’s not too much point in filing a claim — your premiums will probably go up and the insurance company wouldn’t be paying anything towards the repairs to boot. Try calling around to a couple local auto body or auto detailing shops (Yelp, Angie’s List, ask around — try to find a couple reputable ones) and asking for an estimate, which they should provide free of charge. If total cost of repair comes back <$500, that's the end of your inquiry.

    That said, if the cost would be significantly more than $500, then document, document, document (which you seem to have already done) and file a claim. It's hard to say whether they'd have an out on this without seeing your actual insurance policy, but it's unlikely — however, given that it's an insurance company, they save money by denying payments and forcing you to appeal, even when your claim is legit and obviously covered. The longer they make you wait, the longer they're making money by investing the money you're owed — and the more willing you are to take less to settle the claim. There's likely some sort of legal resource or referral available to you as a student — through a law school clinic or the graduate student association — that would be able to handle glancing at your policy and writing a letter for you.

  13. derek jacoby says

    yes, this is typical unfortunately. I’ve had to get a lawyer and threaten to sue state farm to get them to provide coverage. In a much larger claim than this, though.

    I think you’ll probably spend more lawyering up and fighting it, then applying your deductable, then you will just fixing it. This, of course, is precisely what they are counting upon.

    (btw. I’ve had good luck with a product called concrobium. I’ve mostly used it on the boat where mold is an ongoing battle, but if you have a hard time getting rid of mold smell under seats and stuff give it a try. Home depot carries it.)

  14. J says

    You must be kidding?
    I enjoy and appreciate reading your blog, from an intelligent person that can think and stand up for herself, even has a bio (= analytical thinking) backgound. I’m puzzled.
    When the roof is leaking or any other little desaster happens I guess it would be best to stop the leaking, clear the mess and not waste any more time.
    Is it typically American to turn to your insurance as a first and second reflex? And some specialized company as a third?
    As you must know, there is very little organic material of interest for molds in your car, except what you left there ;). So there is little damage. The car needed cleaning anyway. Start drying and cleaning it before rust sets in. Take out the carpet (you can do it!) and clean it under your shower. The rest can be dried using some towels.
    Place a fan and heater with the windows a little open and your trouble is over in a day.
    I’m sorry for you, but I bet you already wasted more time on the insurance.
    Hope you get back on track for the good work soon.

  15. says

    Here in the UK, I believe that your situation would be covered (in the same way fire damage would be covered even if it was caused by an electrical fault or if your exhaust falls off causing damage to the underside of the vehicle).

    The process here is to follow the official complaints process, and if the resolution is not satisfactory, to then complain to the Financial Ombudsman. I have no idea if there are any equivalents in the US… but since ‘regulation’ is a dirty word over there, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the insurance companies get the final say.

    Motor/Auto insurance isn’t very profitable here: In the sense that underwriting costs often exceed the premiums paid by customers. I don’t know if that is the case over there.

    So in summary: I can’t help, sorry.

  16. Al Stefanelli says

    Bitch, whine, scream, complain and even cause another Boobquake, but don’t give up. It is the job of the insurance adjuster NOT to pay a claim, and they will try as hard as they can to justify it.

    They owe you a new car. Period. Call a lawyer if you have to, but if I were you, I’d write them a letter, include the pictures, and tell them that if they do not replace your car, you fully intend to sue them.

    A leak is not a maintenance issue. They are full of shit.

  17. gworroll says

    They diagnosed it as a leak in the trunk… without actually looking at the car?

    Even if they were right, given how freezing/melting/refreezing water behaves, that leak could have been caused by the recent storm. They should have sent someone to distinguish that from something like the seal drying out and cracking over time. The latter you might reasonably be expected to notice developing before bad stuff happens. A freeze/melt cycle? Not so much.

  18. Jonathon Ham says

    Hi Jen,

    I’m a big fan of your blog and also an Insurance Broker, my job is to work for Clients rather than for Insurance Companies. My email is jonham013(at)gmail.com, if you would like to, feel free to email me and I’ll look at your policy for you. (I’ve already been to your Insurer’s website in an attempt to have a look at your policy wording, no dice.

    I’ve got a lot of experience in claims and I won’t cost you a cent.

  19. Mango says

    Good luck getting anything out of State Farm. I’m still waiting for them to pay me for the car that one of their drivers totaled more than 7 years ago. And this is after the officer at the scene said that she was 100% responsible for the accident, the judge in traffic court agreed, winning the civil suit, two depositions, and a hearing in which the judge at district court denied her appeal of the civil court verdict.

  20. daveau says

    I had a denied claim with State Farm once. But it was their claims office I had trouble with. When I called my agent, she had the claim reevaluated and got it paid. The agent is not in the business of denying claims, the claims office is that particular gatekeeper.

    However, I don’t know how the coverage is worded for your issue. You should check out all the loopholes before you go talk to the agent, just so you don’t say some buzzword that will get it automatically denied again.

    You will not get a premium increase from a comprehensive claim. Those are not your fault.

  21. evilDoug says

    You must be kidding!

    Take out the carpets?! I haven’t seen a car for decades where that was even remotely easy. The mats will come out very easily. Look at Jen’s first and second photos. To remove the carpets it would be necessary to remove the seats, the centre console and and the anti-scuff trim. Removing seats is awkward with two people to do it. If the back seat has to be removed, there is some chance that a door would have to be removed to get the seat out. Depending on specifics, there will be cables for person-detectors and seatbelt alarms that will have to be disconnected (which may be fairly easy – or not). There is a good chance that Jen would encounter some special fasteners for which she does not own tools. Some of the work will probably require the ability to “see with fingertips”, which is something of an acquired skill.

  22. Another Matt says

    They can’t tell you where the leak was over the phone without seeing the car for themselves. At the very least you should get a body shop to find the leak for you so that you have some documentation on which to make your claim.

  23. says

    Once I was rear ended. The adjuster came and looked at the damage to my car, subtracted the amount of my deductible and cut me a check for $12.00.

    Then my premium was raised and extra $20 a month.

    Insurance exists to take your money, not to give you any.

  24. eigenperson says

    They’re full of shit.

    Do whatever you have to do to make them accept your claim. Lawyer if you have to.

    If they try to raise your premium, switch to another insurance company.

  25. eigenperson says

    Also, you might get a bit of mileage out of the fact that you have an Audience. Companies tend to change their tune when they realize you have N readers for sufficiently large values of N.

  26. Jonathon Ham says

    The very first thing an Insurance Company does when taking on a new client is check their claims record.

    Additionally, given that this is a Comprehensive Claim in America, the policy wording will state whether Comprehensive damage is covered inclusively or exclusively. Most likely this policy is exclusive. Which means that Comprehensive damage is only covered for the events listed on the Schedule. If it doesn’t say Rain or Snow, then there is no way to claim on rain or snow. It is possible however, that there are ways to get around that exclusion.

    Getting a lawyer and threatening legal action isn’t something new or exciting to your Underwriter. They have hundreds of ‘Letters of Demand’ coming in every single day. Additionally, I doubt the ‘full of shit’ defence will help you at all.

  27. Jonathon Ham says

    I’ll add a disclaimer that I’m not giving professional advice in the comment above, it is a comment made by a reader on your site, nothing more.

  28. Gwen Hartman says

    I would be extremely hesitant about vacuuming your car out yourself. Now that the car has had a chance to dry a bit, the mold may be sporulating. The vacuum filter may not be rated to handle mold spores and you might be in great danger of inhaling them. You could probably find a mask and other PPE to handle it, but as you know being a biologist yourself, no good can come of mold spores in your sinuses and lungs.

  29. jaranath says

    I live fairly near Bloomington-Normal, where State Farm’s national HQ is located. I also have family living there, and am frequently visiting or passing through. If having someone in the area turns out remotely useful to you, drop me a line and I’d be happy to help, if possible.

    I agree with some of the others that it sounds like you’re getting jerked around, I don’t think they can deny this claim without inspection, and even the excuse given sounds fishy to me. I suspect they heard “water damage” and went immediately into stonewall mode since, as others have said, that can ruin a car. Even if it’s repaired, new problems can pop up one after the other for years afterwards, depending on just what got wet how.

  30. eigenperson says

    “Full of shit” isn’t an argument to present to the insurance company.

    Also, the reason to switch to another insurance company isn’t necessarily to get a better premium (of course they will find out that you made a claim), although you might. It’s because if State Farm is full of shit AND tries to raise your premium, you should stop giving them money ASAP.

  31. efnord says

    Ugh- welcome to Pacific NW winters, where nothing ever really dries out.

    I’ve been in this situation without comprehensive coverage or money to detail the car. You can spray everything down with a heavy layer of bleach water, then leave a space heater running inside overnight. Wear a decent respirator, wipe down everything visible with a damp bleach towel, then Shop-Vac it out.

    Yes, you will inhale some mold spores, and noone with a compromised immune or respiratory system should even think about doing this. It’s going to miss some mold too- but it should leave a driveable car that doesn’t reek.

  32. Ysanne says

    You know, Jen already paid lots of money for the comprehensive insurance for a specific purpose: That they would cover the costs of repairing the car when it’s damaged by an accident of any sort.
    Why the hell wouldn’t she then file a claim, now that the car got damaged by weather? And obviously you have to do that before getting the car repaired, so you have proof of the damage.

    @Jen: Get an estimate of how much the repair would be compared to your deductible, and if there’s a difference big enough to worry over instead of shrug off, go to a lawyer. Insurance companies try to cheat all the time — it’s worth fighting back in a way that can hurt them.

  33. Caelan Aegana says

    The equivalent you’re thinking of here in the US would be the Washington State Insurance Commissioner. I think someone mentioned this already. Any lawyer she talks to may recommend this as well.

  34. Caelan Aegana says

    Jen: Since you are a student at UW, you may (not entirely sure on this) be entitled to some basic legal advice from the law school. I know the Gates building is a long schlog from the biology department (especially when soggy) but it’s worth a phone call to find out.

  35. Jonathon Ham says

    Ysanne, the problem with what you have said is that Jen most likely didn’t take out insurance that will “cover the costs of repairing the car when it’s damaged by an accident of any sort.”

    You should never take out Insurance without reading through the policy documents relevant to your risk first, its quite simple really. Lets take the massive flooding of Brisbane, Australia as an example. A whole host of people are suddenly claiming for flood damage and a large amount of them are amazed to find out that they aren’t covered for flood. Lots of noise is made in the media about how the evil insurance companies are screwing people over. But what doesn’t get pointed out is that in every one of those peoples policies, it said one of two things.

    1) “You are covered only for the following”

    2) “You are covered for everything except the following.”

    Hell, they all even included a description of what Flood was compared to what Storm Damage is.

    Its the same with everything in this world, if you don’t take the time to investigate thoroughly, read the documentation and compare with like products, you will get burned.

  36. Azkyroth says

    My suggestion would be to get a lawyer to write a sternly worded letter and not renew your policy either way.

    I’ve found AAA’s insurance to be the best priced I’ve ever encountered and them to be generally low-douchiness.

  37. geocatherder says


    I’ve been insured with State Farm since 1980 (vehicles & house) and never, ever had them baulk at paying a claim. Patio-roof-in-windstorm issues, chimney issues, two vehicle accidents (both of which cost a LOT to fix, and one which required shipping a camper back to Canada to the manufacturer for repair)… they’ve been a great insurance company for us. I guess YMMV, big time.

  38. Mike says

    Sorry to hear, Jen.

    I’ve thought about this since your first post, but I was kinda figuring that the insurance would deny the claim.

    To have the insurance pay for it you’ll need to find out how the water got into the car. If it is a bad seal, you’ll unfortunately not be able to file a claim. Buckets, a few friends and raincoats can help with this (while in the car, wear a raincoat and have people douse the seals with water). If, on the other hand, it came in through the vent system getting deluged, you can probably claim that. So, I’d say the first and foremost thing to do is find that out.

    Also, contact your insurance agent. They may be able to help you out, I know that when I’ve had trouble with claims, I’ve gone to my agent for assistance.

    I would also call around to repair shops, see how much they will charge. My guess is they will be charging about $3,000-4,000 for the repair, maybe even more, based on new parts. Keep in mind, here, all fabrics will need to be replaced, seat belts, the ceiling panel (I know new that panel alone costs $500). Just getting an idea of the cost of repair will arm you for the financial decisions ahead.

    The lawyer option may be help if you are up against a wall, but if you cannot prove that it wasn’t due to improperly maintained seals (yes, I know you have to prove a negative here, but that’s kinda how this goes. You’d have to prove an alternative method of the water getting in and demonstrate it, and that it wasn’t due to poor maintenance.) a lawyer won’t be able to help you out too much. They have plenty of cases of this exact thing happening clearly due to poor maintenance to be able to say that’s what it is right off the bat.

    My final suggestion is going to be a financial one for you, that is do you even really need a car? When I went to school, I determined that this was a huge no, and I sold mine off and lived, and continue to live after graduation, without one. Zipcar is an option, one I recommend if you only need it rarely (it sounds like that’s the case for you). Another option is just living without a car, relying on rentals during the rare situation you need one.

    I hope that this is helpful, even if it’s a bit late. If you have any further questions, my email is mike (put an at sign here) tuxnami.org.

  39. jaycee says

    I have State Farm on my house and autos and they are notorious for denying claims. Only reason I have not quit is that it is too damn complicated and I don’t have time. On my house we had hail damage (well, there was a hail storm, there was damage, all my neighbors got their insurance companies to give them a new roof, and two roofers (independently) told me it was hail damage). What did State Farm say about all those little pock marks that appeared right after the hail storm: “no way this is hail damage” + “now you get pinged for daring to file a claim.” Insurance is a necessary evil and in my opinion this company jerks its customers around.

  40. jaycee says

    “Only reason I have not quit is that it is too damn complicated and I don’t have time.”

    But somehow I find time to post comments on FTBs.

  41. Ysanne says

    1) My main point in reply to #15 was that filing a claim when there’s damage is not some pathetic reflex, but the sensible thing to do if you have insurance.

    2) As far as the blog post goes, it seems that damage by environmental influences, in this case rain/snow, is covered, but the insurance company is saying that the mess in Jen’s car is not due to the weather but the result of poor car maintenance (without even looking at the car). It’s not about the specific weather condition.

    This is quite different from the difficulty that the definition of flooding varies wildly between insurance companies. It’s more related to how some insurers tried to weasel out of their own definitions in cases where they saw a chance (e.g. re-defining stormwater runoff as riverine flooding when there is a creek nearby etc). And seriously, hiding a restrictive definition of a common word like “flooding” in the fine print says a lot about an insurers’ approach to honest business.

    So yeah, check your rights and fight back if you need to. Don’t ever assume they’re being fair.

  42. Allie says

    1. Get a copy of your policy and read it thoroughly.

    2. If there’s room to interpret it in your favor, first ask for a claims adjuster to review your claim. If that’s already happened, ask for the adjuster’s manager to review it.

    3. Yes, sometimes a lawyer letter will help, but honestly? Going through the company’s mediation process is more successful….

    ~Former claims adjuster for Safeco insurance~

  43. redleg says

    Use Student legal services, that is if your school has this service. It’s also useful when your adviser is rotating you through versions A, B, and C of your dissertation on an infinite loop. But that never happens…

  44. Starfury says

    I used to work in the claims center for an insurance company, and I can tell you that this is not unusual.
    Most policies include a clause mentioning that they’ll pay for sudden and/or accidental losses. As a part failed, this would likely not qualify, as it was wear and tear. Its no one’s fault, it just sucks. There tends to be no malice in this regard, and no devious looking for ways to deny claims. I know that, in my case, I would have rather paid out on these claims just for customer service. Its not compassionate. Its leaving you in the lurch. I advise talking to your agent , and seeking legal counsel. The agent should be able to tell you why they’ll deny the claim, and the lawyer should be able to tell you if they’re full of it. Good luck.

  45. Anonymous Atheist says

    I am likewise a satisfied-so-far State Farm customer [proverbial finger-crossing].

    Doesn’t matter to me whether she decides to change insurance companies after this (I’ll point out that changing agents within the same company is also an option, btw), and I’d definitely understand doing it as a show of dissatisfaction, but I’ll add some additional balance to consider.

    There will be some amount of people frustrated with any insurance company (as with any bank), but one has to take into consideration the size of the customer pool in question – State Farm’s massive number of customers means they could easily have more people complaining about them while the complainants are a smaller percentage of its total customers compared to other competitors. One can get unlucky with any insurance company, and ‘unlucky’ can happen again at the next company one tries too.

    Some points that led me to choose State Farm myself were local offices, a better price for my situation than the alternatives with local offices (pricing can vary widely for different people between insurance companies), better communication availability than some competitors, and multiple types of coverage serviced through the same company. And at the time I chose them several years ago, I recall finding some sort of complaint statistics comparison online in which they looked relatively good. There’s better insurance companies for some people’s situations, but there’s definitely a lot of worse ones out there too.

  46. Marvin says

    OK now I’ve seen the pictures that is not something that can be lived with even by me. my advise would be.
    1 Keep on at the insurance company, they will try to make you feel small, alone, insignificant, ignorant and unaware of facts I am sure you know how to combat this as these are the same tactics you have probably encountered with theists!
    2 Decide if you are ever going to sell the car or run it till it is scrapped. (things like mismatched interiors and carpet sections Stanley knifed out are not a problem if you are never going to sell it.)
    3 Find out about the Re-call thing from Toyota mentioned in the previous thread
    4 Dehumidifyer
    5 fumigate
    6 upholstery shampoo
    7 Ask the technicians in the mech eng department to help but make sure you go for that technician level. At the very least they may be able to provide somewhere warm and dry and secure so you can leave it inside with the doors fully open ( turn off your interior light to save your battery) .
    Best of luck.

  47. jamessweet says

    I assume you already did this, but did you express extreme displeasure to your local State Farm office? I have All State, and one time I had damage to my car that they probably really honestly didn’t need to cover, and I just kinda complained that it really sucked because they weren’t really coming through when I needed them. They called back a little while later and had found a way to at least partially cover it. You never know…

  48. says

    First thing you need to do before letting heel fire and damnation rain down on the insurance company is to make sure your car doesn’t get worse. I’d recommend getting a load of silica gel (like you get in those little packets in most electronics these days) and putting it around the car to dry it up. One cheap way to get it is (at least here in the UK) as a form of cat litter. It’s exactly the same just marketed for a different audience. Get a big bag of the stuff put it in some tupperware containers (lids off) and put them around the interior. That should dry it up fairly quickly and stop it the mould spreading even further.

  49. Siobhan says

    Always always always fight the insurance company. They save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars each year from people who just accept the first “no” they get. You’re paying through the nose for comprehensive coverage and they’re not covering something that totally should be covered. They’re just trying to get out of a huge payment. That’s what they do.

    You don’t need to go to a lawyer yet. You can start by just asking to talk to someone with more authority than the phonedroid you get when you call the main number. You can insist that they send someone out to actually look at the damage. Your state might have an office in charge of making sure insurance companies are doing what they’re supposed to, I’d find out more about that and give them a call about your situation.

    Also, document document document. Photos of everything you can think of and get the first and last name of every single person you speak with at the insurance company and write/type details about your conversation while you’re talking to them on the phone. Make sure they know you’re taking copious notes. Date and timestamp everything.

    You may have to get actively hostile with people on the phone for them to listen. Sometimes, I don’t know why, they only actually listen to the seriously unpleasant people. Don’t swear at them, but if they start giving you a serious run around, feel free to be cutting and nasty to them. They’ll shift you up to supervisors faster then.

    I have had many battles with many types of insurance companies for various things through the years, and I rarely lose because 1) I’m not trying to screw them out of anything I just want them to give me the coverage I have been paying for and 2) I don’t back down.

    It would be one thing if you were trying to pull a fast one, like trying to get them to pay for more than just the damage done in an accident or something, but this situation is NOT maintenance, no matter how much they try to say it is. This IS NOT NORMAL. This level of a leak, not normal. No form of wear and tear on a car that I’ve ever heard of would cause this sort of leak and allow this level of damage (and I have owned many, many cars of various types and conditions over the years). You are correct and don’t let them get you to question what you know to be true. That’s how they win.

  50. Siobhan says

    Also, when this is all over, find a new insurance company. I work with Safeco and I’ve been fairly pleased with them since signing up.

  51. says

    I am an insurance agent.

    Comprehensive coverage does indeed exclude damage due to lack of basic maintenance. This means that they will not replace your engine if you never change the oil, they will not replace your wheel if you never put air in it and drive around on a flat tire. This is transparently not such a case.

  52. says

    I am an insurance agent.

    Comprehensive coverage does indeed exclude damage due to lack of basic maintenance. This means that they will not replace your engine if you never change the oil, they will not replace your wheel if you never put air in it and drive around on a flat tire. This is transparently not such a case.

    This is exactly the sort of bizarre weather-related disaster that Comprehensive Coverage is meant for.

    First off, I’d do some legwork and get estimates of what it would cost. I think it’s very likely that you’re looking at expenses way over the $500 deductible, but on the off chance that it could be fixed cheaper than that, then I wouldn’t bother beyond that point (with the important exception of shopping around for new insurance).

    If it turns out to be as expensive as I think it might be, I’d hold off on a lawyer (they’re pretty expensive themselves). First, I’d talk to your state’s Department of Insurance. That’s exactly what they do; hassle insurance companies that try to pull nonsense like this. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, too.

  53. fastlane says

    Jen, if you get to the point where you feel you need a lawyer. I have a lawyer in the Seattle area that might be able to help. Not sure if he handles cases like that, but he might be able to point you to someone who does.

  54. ZombieFood says

    Maybe call the local news media. I’m sure State Farm would cough up the money pretty quick if the local news wanted to interview them to ask why they’re not covering a college student’s weather damage, even though it’s covered under the policy.

  55. Georgia Sam says

    Sorry if this is redundant, but in similar situations that I have seen, the sequence went like this: (1) get the car fixed, preferably at a place that routinely does work covered by State Farm; (2) file a claim; (3) if/when the claim is denied, complain to the state insurance commissioner. Before implementing this plan, however, some legal advice would be a good idea. Somebody mentioned student legal services; that’s a good place to look first. Beware of lawyers that say you need to turn the problem over to them & let them handle everything (for $$$$$, of course). Look online for ideas about how to write a complaint letter to an insurance commissioner.

  56. says

    If Student Legal Services can’t provide support — and, in many instances they won’t (due to lack of expertise) or can’t (due to peculiarities of local law regarding what Student Legal Services is allowed to do) — contact the King County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (http://www.kcba.org/lrs/) for a low-cost initial interview, this one falling into the $45 class. Most of the lawyers who work for bar association referral services will not keep a stopwatch on that 30-minute interview, and will provide quite a bit of advice on self-help things to do… and they’re all familiar with the claims history of the major insurers in their jurisdictions. I have enough colleagues in Seattle, the Bay Area, and LA to believe that State Farm’s western-US claims adjusters are much more difficult to work with those in the Midwest until the magic “Esq.” appears on a letter relating to a claim!

    This is not legal advice for any particular situation. I am not licensed in the state of Washington. Imagine your own further ridiculous disclaimer information here if you wish… because I can guarantee that some lawyer, somewhere, thinks it’s either necessary or appropriate.

  57. says

    Also work in Insurance (albeit in a different Country)
    Contact the Insurance Ombudsman with your complaint.

    Responsibilities of Local Insurance Ombudsman:

    “One of the responsibilities of your local ombudsman is to monitor insurance companies, and make sure they are complying with federal and / or state law. This can also include taking a consumer advocacy position with respect to pending policy changes or availability of insurance coverage.

    Another responsibility of your local ombudsman is to monitor the insurance landscape; looking for what appears to be emergent patterns of abuse. This includes consumer complaints regarding automobile insurance claims or settlements, insurance credit scoring, homeowner insurance cancellations or non-renewals, claim and underwriting practices of insurers, as well as health insurance issues.”

  58. kerfluffle says

    I wish I had some advice but I don’t. All I can say is that sucks! I’m really sorry you’re going through this and hope that you find the info you need from all the very helpful answers.

  59. says

    Others have covered the insurance aspects well. My wise ass comment: Clearly you ought to consider a career as a mycologist. If you can grow this much mold without trying, think of how well you will do when you are trying to grow the stuff!

  60. Francisco Bacopa says

    Just a word of advice From a dude who lives in hurricane country. I can sum it up in one word.


    best thing for odor control. Pet supply stores sell as carpet deodorizing crystals with the name “Clear the Air”. Zeolite is sometimes used as chemical filtration in pond and saltwater systems, so a large aquarium store or pond supply store might have it.

  61. Azkyroth says

    I think you much as well skip straight to “n!(fuck)” …I guess that’d be a “fucktorial.” O.o

  62. Art says

    You can try asserting that it wasn’t a poor trunk seal that leaked but the buildup of snow and ice, plowed up around your car?, that caused your car to be flooded. It might be true.

    To find out if there is an actual leak, whether or not you wish to report your findings is up to you, it would be simple enough to park in the same spot and water the trunk area with a hose with someone stuff inside with a flashlight.

    Insurance companies make their money taking premiums and denying claims. Every claim paid off represents a loss of ‘shareholder value’. Keep it in context. This is not about being fair and finding the truth. They do not, and you should not, IMHO, care about the truth. This is about getting them to return on what you have invested in them. Don’t jump too quickly on the legal side. Insurance companies keep a bench, both deep and wide, stocked with lawyers. Many are on retainer and get paid either way.

    Be aware that they tend to pay out, even if it isn’t entirely justified, to people who make noise. Use your blog and any other media you can to leverage your position. They are going to want to avoid appearing to beat up on sympathetic figures. One well illustrated and compelling case that makes them look bad can counteract millions of dollars worth of advertising. They know the jig and are entirely used to paying people money to ‘maintain the peace’, even if they aren’t otherwise deserving. It is just one of the costs of doing business.

    Start by filing a claim and working through their system. At the same time blog and tweet the hell out of every step. Use the company name and every representatives name and what office they work out of. Tell your story in a compelling manner while seeming reasonable. Use your voice and make it worth their time to treat you very well. Document everything even if you don’t everything public. Work it. Work it hard.

    Looking at the pictures I have to say I’ve seen worse. I imagined worse. That might be marginally salvageable. It will likely never be the same but it may be usable for a some years to come.

    I would call around to janitorial supply houses and ask around for a product called “Alive!”. It is a witches brew of select spores and bacteria in a water base that digests organic materials and colonizes porous materials with a strong subset of non-toxic, non-pathogenic microbes that push out the bad guys.

    The way we used it was to remove any bulk, standing water with wet/dry vacuums, then apply Alive! generously with a garden sprayer to inoculate all porous materials and then work hard at removing all remaining moisture.

    Rapid moisture removal, after you suck up any standing water, is pretty easy with a car: Get it running and crank up the heat with the windows closed. Get it up over 100F. Then crank the air conditioning on maximum until it is very cold and quite dry. Wash, rinse, repeat …

    They do this with waterlogged houses with industrial sized AC/heater units.

    The combination of Alive!, or similar, and fast drying might get you to the point where the car is still usable. I would be tempted to drill a few holes in the truck in places and in a manner that would allow the trunk to drain without promoting rust. Most of my older vehicles had drains in all the floor pans. It makes hosing them out after a trip onto the beach a lot easier. I had plugs to keep water out as I waded through the Florida sunshine we get in hurricane season.

    Hope that helps.
    Hang tough.
    Don’t let the bastards get you down.

  63. Unbeliever says

    I know you want to fight this out with insurance first — and by all means, do so! — but you SHOULD consider the power of crowdsourcing your problem to your mighty legion of followers.

    Surely, a majority of us wouldn’t think twice about throwing a buck your way, as a micro-payment towards all of the entertainment and thought-provoking material you constantly provide us for free.

    Assuming you have at least 60,000 readers, half of us sending you $1 should cover a pretty stylin’ (do the young folk still use that word?) new ride.

    It’s no imposition on US. And if you feel guilty, hey, double your number of posts for a week or two. Share pics of the new car. Donate any extra to a women’s charity of your choice (after taking your BF to a fancy meal, on us)! POOF. Problem solved.

    Good Car-ma. ;)

  64. NoxiousNan says

    Hey Jen,

    I’m an insurance agent in another state, and won’t bother with advise on your claim as others have already addressed it.

    I advise you consider this an awesome event of discovery. It doesn’t sound like you’re going to be out much more than a few dollars and some elbow grease, and what a small price to pay for this early warning.

    1. Do you due diligence BEFORE a claim. People only hurt themselves when they don’t read the policy; it’s a legal document! Two policies might look the same at first glance, both with a $500 comp deductible, but the exposures they cover(flood, vandalism, etc.) could be wildly different.

    2. After reading call your agent and ask questions. Make them explain as much as necessary so that you truly understand the policy. Document the call, who you spoke with, date, time and content. You should also do this for claims and when you make changes to the policy. Trust me, THEY are doing this.

    3. Consider an independent agent. Your agent, if you even have one, only sells State Farm (captive rather than independent). Independent agents sell policies from a variety of carriers, and they know things about the carriers they sell (like who is slow on claims paying).

    4. Go generic on your shampoo, not your insurance. Seriously, a legal contract is no place to use pricing as your primary deciding factor, but I see it all the time (and I sell to insurance agents that should know better). Find a good policy with a good carrier and an agent you feel comfortable with. Both individual agents and ins carriers can be checked out through the insurance commissioner’s office. Get complaint ratios on the carrier to see if they trend toward bad service or slow claims payment, etc. Also, find out the carrier’s A M Best rating, which your agent should be able to explain to you. A M Best tracks the financial strength of carriers.

    And c’mon people, claims adjusters are not in business to deny claims. Way to paint a whole industry with that not so skeptical brush.

  65. merryoldlandofoz says

    Ok, I while I accept that the legalese in insurance policies can easily mean you’re not as covered as you think you are (blah blah due diligence, but come on, sometimes…) they’re screwing you here. If they’re not willing to even look at the car, they’re screwing you. I would consider getting not just quotes on cleaning, but an independent assessment of what caused the leak. In the end, it’s your money & your time. On principal, fight it! Big thing due & don’t have the time? You are lucky in that you could raise money from your blog. Either way, you lose out, which sucks. All the best.

  66. says

    The entire insurance industry is crap because they in effect give people a false sense of security while retaining full control over whether they choose to pay out in any particular circumstance. Buying insurance is like playing the lottery — on average, you lose. Fuck it and get the bare minimum cheapest insurance required by law.

  67. Azkyroth says

    That’s an awful lot of work for decent people to do to clean up after people who could easily just do business honestly in the first place.

  68. Melissa says

    Best of luck getting this taken care of! I drive the exact same car and looking at the pictures of the mold in your car made me gasp out loud and feel sick to my stomach. I will be following your story and keeping my fingers metaphorically crossed for you!

  69. NoxiousNan says

    It’s not about cleaning up afterword. It IS an awful lot for people to do to make sure they protect themselves from potentially dishonest companies or dishonest individuals within those companies. Are people’s financial assets worth the extra work? I’m not suggesting the same degree of vetting of a landscaping company would be necessary.

  70. NoxiousNan says

    That’s a pretty sweeping statement for a skeptic. I sincerely hope no one follows your advise. The limits you have protect the people you hit and they protect your assets. Hit someone with minimum limits and two very bad things could result – 1) You could leave an innocent victim without the necessary means of recovery, and 2) They will come for your personal assets when your limits are exhausted. Did you just total someone’s 50k car with 10k property damage limits? Just write that 40k check and head on back to mom’s house.

    Perspective is a funny thing. Most of the comments here at least touch upon the perspective that insurance is highway robbery and claims are never paid. I see that too sometimes (I’m an agent). I also see otherwise good people (as they see themselves anyway) treat insurance like they’ve hit the lotto. But mostly, far and above all the rest, I see insurance companies paying out reasonable sums to mostly grateful people.

    Health insurance is another beast entirely.

  71. says

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