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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: January 2024

A Eulogy for My 2002 Camry - A Sad Tale of Insurance Math

Stanley Peter Jaskiewicz


  • The cost of car repairs can exceed a car’s financial value.
  • A car’s excellent condition (other than due to the accident), maintenance history, and low mileage are irrelevant to the carrier’s calculus.
  • Car owners can experience their version of the five stages of grief.
  • Safety features can protect car owners and minimize potential injuries.
A Eulogy for My 2002 Camry - A Sad Tale of Insurance Math
Emanuel M. Schwermer via Getty Images

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Alas, poor Camry, we hardly knew ye – before my son and I walked away from the crash in which it was totaled (along with the car that hit us, of similar age).

The fact that you are reading this tells you that we survived the crash, thanks to our guardian angels.  (Some might credit Toyota’s 2002 safety technology, but who am I to quibble?)

In fact, I had owned the car for 21 years.  So I really “knew” it, which is perhaps why I already miss it.

(Afterward, I joked that a 21-year-old car was well over 100 in “human” years.)

You see, I bought the car when our son was still in his car seat.

I prioritized safety features, and that investment paid off 21 years later – my best long-term investment.  (Thank you, Toyota.)

To be fair, the crash was not quite as dramatic as I make it sound.

The cost of repairing a 21-year-old car, even for modest repairs, dwarfed its book value (even with less than 100,000 miles).  My daily commute to our local commuter train station is less than 5 miles, round trip.

Nonetheless, the accident and its aftermath have been a humbling experience.

Most importantly, we are all grateful that we suffered no injuries.  Fortunately, a full spinal exam in our local hospital emergency room on the afternoon of the accident found that our son’s minor neck pain just needed ibuprofen to heal, with time. 

I also appreciated the tremendous assistance I received from our auto insurance agent when I reported the claim.  The same goes for the many people at the carrier with which our agent had placed us.

(Although the agency was once my largest client, I think it provides that level of service to all its clients.)

In hindsight, however, I blamed myself for the accident, at first.

I made the “mistake” of stopping at a red light, on dry Saturday morning, on an empty suburban road in brilliant sunshine. 

I did not anticipate that the speeding car in my side view mirror would try not only to beat the light, but to pass me on a narrow road.

I also felt that I had jinxed us.

I had tempted fate by mentioning to my wife recently that our major financial risk would be having to replace one of our two fully paid-off cars (the 2002 Camry, and her 2007 Mazda).

I was even more shocked when the body shop to which our long-time mechanic had sent the car called, immediately after it arrived on a flat bed. 

Although I saw only a small dent on one side of the bumper, and dragging tail pipe – minor repairs, given the force of the crash - he told me that the car would likely be totaled by our insurance carrier.

At first, I wanted to explore whether I could convince our carrier to let me keep the car, with a repair of the bumper. 

In my view, it was still “like new,” with a new battery, and other recent repairs.

I changed my opinion when I saw that the body shop suspected damage to the frame from the force of the high-speed impact.

After absorbing such a hit, any future problems would likely be attributed to the accident.

I also still vividly recall the seconds before we were hit.

As they occurred, they seemed endless.  I saw the speeding car approach in my side view mirror, and knew would be hit - but could do nothing to avoid it.  Time seemed to stop as we waited for the impact.

(I had had a similar experience of inevitability in a workplace injury in 2021.  I fell on a fire escape during a false alarm at work, and knew that my head would slam into a concrete wall.

Afterward, my son had a touching reaction.

He posted his own eulogy to the car on Facebook, after he and my wife went to the body shop to retrieve items I had left in the car, when I thought I would get it back in a few days:

It's the end of an era...

This 2002 Toyota Camry was the car that got me and my family places for most of my life (even more than my mom's old Sienna). I remember taking this car to get to high school football games, family trips, certain stores in my area, and so much more. But after a sudden accident, it's time to say goodbye to this part of the family. Its replacement won't be the same, but it won't be forgotten.


I consider it a perfect memorial of the great memories we all had made in that car.

(He graduated recently with a writing degree from the family alma mater.  He is available for hire, if you like his work.)

Ultimately, my greatest surprise was the body shop’s explanation of “insurance math,” after it had evaluated the car.

(Although I have practiced business law since 1985, I have never been involved in property claims.)

Both the body shop and our insurance agent explained the simple, unchangeable reality that the cost of repair swamped the car’s financial value.

(Our emotions weren’t on the balance sheet.)

I was surprised, at first, that the car’s excellent condition (other than due to the accident), maintenance history, low mileage – not to say my replacement cost well above the payment we received - were all irrelevant to the carrier’s calculus.

So two weeks after the accident, I replaced the wrecked Camry – with a new Camry. 

However, I had to do something I have never done in my life: pay sticker price. 

I felt like one of my son’s favorite cartoon characters, who was embarrassed to learn that “no one pays sticker price,” as he had routinely done with his trusted local dealer. 

I also went through an emotional journey.

I have always thought that I had no emotional connection to cars.  Although my brother is a “car guy,” I compared buying my replacement car to purchasing a toaster – a needed appliance.

Yet my assistant at work pointed out that I spoke about the car like I had lost a romantic partner. 

Her comment made me realize that in dealing with the personal and financial aspects of the accident, I had experienced my own version of the famous 5 stages of grief.  

I certainly was “bargaining” when I tried to have the repairs made. 

As I still struggle to learn the many icons on the complex console, I am still not quite at “acceptance” of the many changes I have to learn in the new car.

And the body shop’s dispassionate prediction of our carrier’s total loss, death sentence hit me as an emotional blow, although I had thought myself intellectually prepared for it.

However, especially since this process occurred in November (the accident was on October 28), I have come to a new appreciation of the importance of gratitude.

From the many calls with our agent about the claim – she immediately set us up with a rental car - to how our long-ago investment in safety technology protected us, I appreciate all those who helped us through the stressful process.    

My purchase of a new Camry even put that gratitude into immediate practice.

Although I hope I never have to test the hypothesis, why change from the technology that kept us safe?