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Ask Our Lawyer - May 2001

Q: I have a bike that I bought stock five years ago and have made a number of improvements to it since then, including a lot of chrome, custom paint, and other customized equipment. My bike was stolen last month, and the insurance company only wants to offer me book value for the bike. By my estimation, it's worth about twice the book value of a stock bike. Is there any way I can convince the insurance company to re-evaluate their offer?

A: There may be a way to do that, but it depends on how good your records are. Most insurance contracts cover customization and items added to bikes, but the insurance company has to assure itself that the customizations that you claim you added were actually added to the bike and became a part of the bike. There are a number of ways to do that. The easiest and best way is to document all the customizations done to the bike. This means keeping meticulous records of the modifications done to the bike, who did them, when they were done, how much they cost, and what effect those customizations had on the value of the bike. Oftentimes that requires hiring the services of an appraiser to evaluate the bike with and without the modifications.

Let's assume you did a custom job with three distinct components: First of all, you did some body work - you put on a new fork, new handlebars, and new wheels. You did that during the course of one season and didn't plan on doing any more work that season. It would be a good idea once that work was completed, to take pictures of the bike, put them together with all the receipts from the work done to the bike and send copies of all that information to your insurance company, asking them to add that to your file and explaining that those modifications have been done to the bike since you purchased it. You may at that point want to get an appraised value for the bike from an appraiser. Often, appraisers will work at a motorcycle shop or dealer. You would want to get an appraisal if the value of the bike in total with the additions is more than the value of the bike plus the value of the additions. For example, you bought the bike for $5,000.00; you added $5,000.00 worth of additions, but those additions caused the bike to be worth $15,000.00 rather than the value of the bike plus the parts, which was $10,000.00. In that event, getting an appraisal would be in your best interest because you could prove to the insurance company that the bike is worth more than the sum of its parts.


Now let's assume it's the next season, and you have added a lot of chrome to the bike. Again, you would want to take pictures of the bike, keep copies of the receipts, description of the work done, and submit it to the insurance company for their files so you can maintain the value of the bike. Let's assume now that you have decided to complete the customization and get a custom paint job on it. Once you finish all the customization that you plan on doing, at that point you almost always have to get an appraisal of the value of the bike to show the insurance company what it's worth with all the customizations. With all those documents and evidence of the customizations, you will be in a good position to prove the value of the bike to the insurance company should you need to make a claim.

Also, some insurance companies offer riders for customizations or for bikes with historic or antique value. If you bike has value for collectors beyond the book value for a stock bike, check with your insurance agent about modifying your insurance to make sure your investment is covered.


If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-2850, or email to brianshadiow@abatelegal.com.

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