What Does it Mean to Total a Car?

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What Does it Mean to Total a Car?
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 7/11/2022


After an accident, your pain and injuries might be leading you through a tough recovery, but that recovery will be even more difficult without a reliable vehicle. Car repairs may be your top priority, which means repairs or replacement are on the horizon. The insurance jargon and bureaucracy and be a nightmare. Understanding the lingo and steps towards revitalizing your vehicle will help you move forward to focus on issues that are more important.

So, what is a “total loss”?

If your vehicle was damaged, with the right insurance available, the policy should provide coverage for repairs or replacement. In the broadest sense, if your vehicle is worth $15,000 and has $5,000 in damages, it is likely your car will be repaired. If your vehicle is worth $5,000 and requires $10,000 in repairs to restore to usable condition, then the insurance company is likely to consider your car a total loss and will refuse to repair the vehicle.

A total loss often means that the parts and labor necessary to repair your vehicle exceeds the value of your vehicle. In many cases, insurance companies will even total out your car if the necessary repairs exceed a certain percentage of your car’s fair market value. This “total loss formula” is based on the repair expense, the vehicle’s salvage value, and the actual cash value from prior to the crash.

Does a total loss mean I won’t have a vehicle?

It’s up to you whether you keep your vehicle. In the event the insurer totals your vehicle, you can keep the salvage and pay for the repairs yourself. In that case, the insurance company may provide you a check for the difference between the actual cash value of the car and the remaining salvage value. You can use those funds to fix your car if you so choose. Alternatively, you can give the vehicle to the insurer, who will then give you the funds equivalent to the salvage as well.

Can I Dispute a Total Loss?

Yes! Though, insurance companies are stubborn and often unwilling to budge from their decision. The best way to remove the total loss tag from your car is to show evidence that your vehicle is worth more than their estimated value. If they believe your car is worth $10,000 just based on the year, make and model, but they failed to include low mileage, customization, or other value boosters, you may have the opportunity to change some minds. If you are able to show documentation to support your claim, point out inaccuracies in their reports, or negotiate well, insurance companies may alter their position.

Even if the insurance company doesn’t change its mind, if you are able to establish a higher actual cash value of the vehicle, you’re only doing yourself a favor. Again, when the car is totaled, the insurer will write you a check for the actual cash value of the vehicle. If you can prove that the value is higher than their estimate, they will give you more cash.

Does it Make Sense to Retain an Attorney for my Property Damage?

Sometimes having an attorney can make a difference, but a lawyer is no guaranteed win. Attorneys know the ins and outs of what insurance companies are looking for in their evaluations. Often, your counselor might review their reports and find inaccuracies that you missed – maybe a salvaged titled comparison or comps that just don’t match your precious ride. Alternatively, having an attorney on board might provide you just the leverage you need to get your way. The law offices of Magnuson Lowell, P.S. are revving in the background waiting to help you with your car insurance questions. Call today for a free case evaluation.

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