Totaled Car or Not – 5 Tips so Your Carrier Declares a Total Loss

Your totaled car is sitting in the backyard when you get a

telephone call from your insurance adjuster. They will fix your car! In many

occasions this is good news, but when your car is nearly destroyed, and the

insurance company wants to patch it together and give it back to you, then

you’ve got a problem.

Think about it. The car will never be the same. If you want

to trade it in or sell it, you will probably have to take a substantial

reduction in price to be able to get rid of it. You also need to consider the

safety aspect of the car. Will your car ever be as safe as it was before the

impact?

In most accidents, cars can be fixed with no major

problems, but when you have a totaled car (or you are almost there) and the

insurance company will repair it and return it to you, you can be faced with an

uphill battle.

Insurance adjusters decide if you have a totaled car or a

fixable car. They need to first determine the value of the car and then

determine if the repair estimate is less than 70, 80, or even 90% of the car’s

value. So how do you protect yourself? Here are five simple tips.

Tip # 1: Ask for the repair estimate. Getting the

repair estimate will show you what the insurance company thinks is wrong with

your car. Review the estimate. Make sure the car will be painted and that all

the necessary parts to fix it are accounted for. If you do not know mechanics

that well, take that estimate to another shop and ask them to review it. You

will be surprised when other shops will tell you that your car should not be

repaired.

Tip # 2: Make sure you have the insurance company

account for all the cost associated with fixing the car before they start

working in your car. Have them account for all the parts and the shipping cost.

Make sure that the parts they are buying are actually in inventory. In many

cases, insurance adjusters price a part, but cannot find it. This will make you

wait longer and they would have to pay for more rental.

Tip # 3: Ask for a “tear down” so you know that

there is not a totaled car but a car that can be properly fixed. When insurance

adjusters and body shops write estimates, the do not get under the damaged

parts. They only look and estimate the damage that is visible. A tear down is

the process of taking off all the damage parts and looking to see if the parts

below are also damaged. More often than not, hidden damage will appear, and this

will make the estimate of damages higher and taking you closer to a totaled car.

Insurance companies do not want to pay for this tear down.

But if you insist, they will pay for it. This is a good idea anyway for two

reasons. The tear down will most likely than not increase the repair estimate.

You will also know if the integrity of the frame and chassis were compromised in

the impact.

There is no question that the body shop can put the car

back together. The question is if a fixed totaled car will be safe to be on the

road. Make sure some one looks at the mechanical and structural integrity of the

car.

Tip # 4: Use the rental expense to your advantage.

If your totaled car is going to get repaired, then it is likely that it will

take 20 to 30 days before your vehicle again. That is only counting body work

and paint and that all parts are on hand at the time the mechanics start

working. It will take longer if you have mechanical problems.

The insurance company will be looking at a rental bill that

could be over $1,000, depending on the limits of your policy. We have seen

rental bills of $2,000. If you have a totaled car, then the insurance company

will only have to pay up to three days of rental (sometime less, depending on

your state). They will be saving significantly if they do declare a total loss.

Tip # 5: Research your state law for

diminished or diminution of value claims. If you are making a claim against

your own insurance company, some states will allow you to ask for the difference

between what the car was worth before the accident, and what it worth after it

is repaired. Many states do not allow for first party claims like this one.

However, the restrictions only apply to first party claims. If you are making

this claim against the insurance company of the person that hit you, then the

claim will be allowed. Also, if you are making a uninsured property damage claim

against your own carrier. The claim will be allowed.

Click here for more tips on how to handle a totaled car claim.

Insurance Totaled My Car – What This Means

“Your vehicle is a Total Loss.” These words, more often than not, spark immediate controversy between an insured and their insurance company. The main cause of controversy between an insurance company and an insured as it relates to total loss is that most people feel their vehicle is worth more than it really is.

A vehicle, though historically not a good investment, is very personal to us. Many of us spend a great deal of time in our vehicles each day and grow attached to our car. Many others ”trick out” their cars and inherently feel that their modifications enhance the value of the car.

I thought it might help some folks if they heard exactly how an insurance company views this and how they go about compensating you for your car should it be determined to be a totaled. There are typically two main things involved in understanding this process: What exactly is a Total Loss and how is the value of a car determined. In this article I am going to discuss and define a Total Loss from an insurance companies perspective.

So, what exactly does it mean when your insurance company deems your vehicle a total loss? In general, there are two types or measurements if you will when it comes to making this determination: Financial or Economic Total Loss and an Obvious Total Loss.

Financial or Economic Total Loss

A vehicle is often declared an Economic Total Loss when the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the vehicle, plus sales tax, less your deductible. I am sure you have heard that there is a percentage used to determine if a car is an Economic Total Loss. You have probably heard numbers from 50% to 70%, or more. This is true, however, it is important to know that not all states set an actual percentage and that for the states that do not set percentages, it is up to the insurance company to determine what that will be.

Although all insurance companies that are free to set this number themselves are all different, a common number you will hear is 70%. What exactly does that mean? I thought a quick illustration might help:

Market Value $15,000

Plus tax $ 1,050 (7% used as example)

Sub-total $16,050

Less Deductible $ 500

Total Loss Value $15,550

Cost of Repairs $11,662

Repairs are 75% of the value

In the example above, your insurance company would likely determine your vehicle to be an Economic Total Loss. One thing to remember is that if you are paid the value of your vehicle, the insurance company will retain the salvage or damaged vehicle and then sell it to a vendor. Most insurance companies have negotiated contracts with salvage buyers and will use that avenue to recoup some of the money paid out for the total loss. In the example above, your insurance provider would know that your car had a salvage value of $3,000 (example). So, when making their total loss decision, they would factor in this amount and subtract it from the total amount paid of $15,550, bringing their net cost to $12,550.

One other brief point to make that is worth noting is that your insurance carrier will also factor in estimated supplemental damages were your car to be repaired. From my experience as an adjuster and claims manager, there are often supplemental or additional damages/repairs identified once a car begins the repair process. These damages are often discovered on “tear down” or after parts of the vehicle are removed and additional damages are more visible. In many cases it is almost certain that there will be additional damages based on the visible damages, however, an adjuster will only write for what they can see and note that additional damages are likely.

Obvious Total Loss

An Obvious Total Loss or OTL is in which the damages to a vehicle are so extensive in terms of repair and/or putting the structural integrity of the vehicle at risk with a repair, that the car is determined to be an OTL. Some examples of an OTL are:

  • Fire Damage
  • Rollover
  • A theft
  • Extensive Water Damage
  • High impact front-end collision
  • T-Bone or hard hit to the side of a vehicle at the center-point

In most cases, a claims adjuster will not have the direct authority to determine a vehicle to be an OTL. The two insurance companies I worked for required a manager approval to make this call. With today’s technology, that can be done easily in the field by simply sending some detailed photos to a Claims Manager or Property Damage Manager. In this case, there isn’t a cost of repairs necessarily but the valuation process is the same.

Hopefully this helps you understand what is meant when you are told that your car is a total loss. Your insurance claims adjuster should explain all of this to you, however, having a basis understanding will certainly help should you find yourself in this situation.