The process of filing an insurance claim for a totaled car is complex. Understanding your policy’s details can help ensure you receive enough money to cover the cost of replacing your vehicle. Insurance companies typically use a mix of methods to determine a car’s worth and the amount they will pay out on it. Here’s what you need to know about getting the most money when your vehicle is declared a total loss.
How Does an Insurance Company Identify a Totaled Car?
Insurance companies use various criteria to determine if a car is a “total loss.” Generally, vehicles that have sustained severe damage due to fire, flooding or an accident may be declared a total loss. In some cases, the repair costs for such vehicles may exceed the car’s value.
Insurance companies typically assess the extent of damage and compare repair costs to the car’s value to decide. State regulations might also affect how much damage a vehicle must have before an insurance company can declare it a total loss.
How Can You Get the Most Money for the Totaled Car?
Insurance companies profit by paying as few claims as possible and at the lowest amounts. Consequently, drivers might not always receive a fair market value for their vehicles. Every case is different, but these general guidelines can help them get top dollar for their cars.
Estimate the Fair Value of Your Car
The only way to know whether you receive as much as possible is to determine your vehicle’s worth. Banks and insurance companies generally use Kelly Blue Book, and you can do the same. You will need to know the year, make and model of your vehicle. You can also use NADAGuides to estimate the car’s value.
Know Your Insurance Policy
Understanding the provisions of your insurance policy is critical when filing a claim. Review the coverage limits and deductible amounts, which will directly impact how much you receive. Most policies are “actual cash value,” meaning the insurance company will only pay for the car at its depreciated value or replacement cost.
Collect any documents you have related to your vehicle. Include photographs of the damaged car, if available, as well as repair estimates and maintenance records showing how well you cared for the vehicle. This will help you prove the car’s value and provide evidence that you have been a responsible owner. Documentation is also critical for showing modifications, such as towing equipment.
Hire an Experienced Attorney
If you believe the insurance company has not offered a fair settlement or there is a dispute over the coverage limits, it is wise to hire an experienced attorney. An attorney can review your policy and help ensure that you receive the highest possible payout for your totaled car.
What Steps Does the Insurance Company Take When Estimating the Car’s Value?
While you take steps to ensure you receive the maximum value, the insurance company takes steps to achieve the opposite. Some insurance companies do make a fair offer at the start, but only an experienced attorney can determine whether the offer fits the bill. Note that every insurance company uses a different formula for arriving at a final offer.
An Adjuster Reviews the Damage
An adjuster usually visits the site to inspect the car and assess the damage. The adjuster will use their assessment of the cost of repairs versus the value of your vehicle to determine whether it is a total loss.
Gather Data on Your Car
The insurance company may also reference data from sources like Kelley Blue Book or NADA Guides to determine how much a comparable vehicle is worth. Some insurance companies might look at similar vehicles in your area to determine the resale value. The insurance company may adjust the value depending on the age and condition of your car.
Here are some additional factors insurance companies may consider:
- Trim level
Compare Repair Costs to Estimate Value
The insurance company may also compare estimates for repair costs with the estimated value of the car. If repairs exceed the value, it is usually considered a total loss.
Make an Offer
The insurance company may then make an offer based on its estimate. You can either accept the offer or negotiate. Once you agree on a number, the insurance company may pay you directly. If you have a loan on the vehicle, the insurance company may pay the lienholder and send you the difference.
What Are Some Factors That Could Complicate Calculations?
You, your attorney and the insurance company could encounter some gray areas while estimating the value. Here are some common causes.
Vehicle modifications, such as aftermarket stereo equipment or custom paint jobs, might not be covered under your policy. If you did not alert the insurance company of these changes, it might not have to pay for them.
Even without customizations, you could own a unique ride in town. Your vehicle may be discontinued or imported from abroad. When this happens, the insurance company might struggle to put a price on it.
Your mechanic’s estimate of the damage might differ from that of the insurance company. This could create problems, especially if you think your vehicle is worth far more than they offer or if you do not want the adjuster to total the vehicle.
Can the Payoff Be Less Than the Loan Remaining on the Car?
Unfortunately, yes. Your insurance company is only obligated to pay for the car’s worth. If the loan balance on your vehicle is more than what the company estimates, you could still be left with some of the debt after the payout. In this case, you might need to pay the difference out of pocket or negotiate a settlement with the lienholder.
Car owners often counter this possibility by purchasing gap coverage with their insurance policies. When the payout is lower than the amount owed, the insurance company has a contractual obligation to cover the difference.
So, why would you owe more on your vehicle than it’s worth? Consider the following possibilities:
- Predatory loans: High interest rates and compound interest could cause the balance to grow if you only pay the minimum amount owed.
- Depreciation: Cars depreciate by 20% in the first year and continue to do so every year after that.
- Long loan terms: Because depreciation worsens over time, extended loan terms increase the risk of underwater car notes.
How Can an Experienced Attorney Help You Get the Most Money for Your Totaled Car?
Working with an experienced personal injury attorney can significantly improve your prospects. Here’s how.
- Negotiations: Your attorney may negotiate successfully with the insurance company to pay a fair amount.
- Expert Analysis: Your attorney may consult with auto experts to estimate the value of your car and its repair costs.
- Litigation: If all else fails, your attorney may take the insurance company to court on your behalf.
Having a qualified attorney in your corner can make all the difference when searching for a fair deal on your totaled car. Our team at Cellino Law has recovered more than $2 billion in settlements for totaled cars and other personal injury cases. Contact us to get a free consultation today.