One of the terms heard often after a car accident is “totaled.” It is short for “total loss,” which most people understand: The car is so badly damaged that it is not worth fixing. But how a car is determined to be totaled, and by whom, is not as well understood. And what does it mean that your car, most likely one of your most valuable possessions, suddenly has no value?
The insurance company handling the damage claim after a car wreck will declare a car totaled if the cost to repair it is more than the car is worth. The insurer will consider the car’s book value and its own data about car sales in your area, and any damage that existed before the accident to determine its actual cash value (ACV). If the repair cost exceeds the cost of paying you its value and recouping some of that money by selling the car for salvage, a claims adjuster will declare the car totaled.
Once a car is declared totaled, the insurer is supposed to provide a settlement for its value. Your acceptance of the check settles your claim, which is what the insurer wants. But that’s not always in your best interests. You don’t have to automatically accept your insurer’s appraisal of your damaged car, and in most cases you shouldn’t.
Learn About What Your Insurer Isn’t Telling You…
A ‘Totaled’ Car Is Not Without Value
If the accident is YOUR FAULT, you carried collision coverage and your car is totaled, the insurance company is supposed to write you a check for its actual cash value, minus your policy’s deductible. If ANOTHER DRIVER is at fault his insurance company pays the claim regardless of whether that vehicle had collision coverage. No deductible should be taken out of that settlement. The check goes to you if you own the car, or to the bank, credit union or whatever institution has a lien on the title of the car if you are still paying for it.
Obviously, the higher the ACV of your totaled car, the better it is for you. But your insurer has its own bottom line to protect. You can — and often should — challenge the value a claims adjuster puts on your “totaled” car.
You can simply make a counter offer to the insurance adjuster and ask for more than they say your totaled vehicle is worth. But in most cases you’ll need evidence to convince them to part with more of their employer’s money. This will require some knowledge of car values and some research.
Replace or Repair? Know Your Options
You might counter an insurance adjuster’s offer if you can show:
- Fair market value of comparable vehicles.
The insurance adjuster may not have good local data or may have taken a shortcut to determining your car’s value prior to the wreck. If you can find several comparable cars of higher value, you can suggest he base his findings on them.
- Upgrades or significant repairs to your car.
Maybe your car isn’t comparable to other cars. If you recently repaired your car, the new parts increased its value. If your car had a custom paint job or upgraded aftermarket parts, for example, it was worth more than typical cars. If you have a classic car, such as a late 1960s muscle car, chances are the adjuster does not understand its true value.
Another option is to take the insurance company’s settlement, keep your car and have it repaired. The settlement the claims adjuster provides in this case will be less, because the insurer will deduct the amount it would have obtained by selling your car as salvage. The insurer will also withhold your policy’s deductible. In New York you will also have to file a salvage title with the DMV, which will result in a small fee. Keep in mind that even after you repair the car, its value will be less because it now carries a salvage title.
In some cases, you may want your car declared totaled after an accident so you can get on with replacing it with a new car. If the adjuster balks, again, you can argue the point. You might insist that there could be hidden damage, such as damage to the frame, for example, which might sway an adjuster who wants to close a case.
Getting a fair settlement after a serious car accident can be a complicated process. But if you understand the process, you are likely to fare better. The Syracuse car accident lawyers of Scott C. Gottlieb & Associates, LLP, have that knowledge. We can review your claim and the settlement offered for your totaled car to be sure you are being offered a fair deal. If we honestly feel the settlement is appropriate, we will tell you so. But if you aren’t being offered appropriate compensation and we think we can help you, we will tell you how we can help.
Contact a Syracuse Car Accident Attorney Today
The car accident attorneys at the law offices of Scott C. Gottlieb & Associates, LLP, have helped many Syracuse residents recover the compensation they deserve after a car wreck. Whether we resolve your case by negotiating successfully with an insurance company or proceed to trial, we can help ensure that you receive the maximum amount of damages available to you by law.
If your car has been declared totaled after a Syracuse car accident — or it hasn’t and you think it should be — call our New York car accident attorneys for a free case review. You can also contact us via our online contact form.
- Netquote: What happens if my car is totaled?
- Edmunds: “A Total Loss?”
- Edmunds: “Confessions of an Auto Claims Adjuster”
Last Updated: Oct. 27, 2014