Can I Insist the Insurance Company Total My Car After an Accident?

Car insurance protects a driver's assets.
Car insurance protects a driver's assets. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The owner of a vehicle that has been involved in an accident has some say during certain parts of the insurance company's damage assessment. He doesn't have the power to force an insurance company to total a car unless it makes economic sense for the insurance company. If a driver feels the insurer has unfairly estimated his vehicle's damages or its market value, he can participate in the process and have the damages or value reassessed by an objective party.

Definition of Totaled

When insurance companies classify a car as "totaled," it means the damages will cost more to repair than the car is worth. According to the Insurance Consumer Advocacy Network, a self-help online consumer website, the insurance company uses an equation to decide whether or not to total the car. The cost to repair the car, in addition to costs for a rental car and paying for the car's loss in value, must not exceed the cost to replace the car and sell it to salvage yard for a small amount. Otherwise, the insurance company will total the car and send the owner a check.

Cutoff Percentages

Insurance companies also use a certain percentage cutoff to decide the point at which a car is totaled. Some insurance companies total a car when the damages and other costs exceed only 51 percent of the car's actual cash value. Other insurers wait until costs exceed 80 percent of the vehicle's appraised value before declaring the car totaled.

Value and Damage Assessments

The insurance company, like any business, benefits from keeping its costs as low as possible. A car owner can question the insurance company's appraised value of the car if she has an appraisal provision in her insurance policy. This allows the owner to have the vehicle damage appraised separately by an appraiser of her choice and have it reviewed by a third appraiser who acts as mediator, selected jointly by the insured and insurance company. If the car owner and insurer cannot agree on the car's damages or actual cash value, the mediator intervenes and helps find resolution.

The insurance company will estimate the value of the car based on the current market value of similar models. There may be certain characteristics or options on the vehicle that the insurance company has not considered. The car owner also has the right to hire an independent mechanic to provide a second opinion on assessment of the vehicle's damages.

Salvage Cars

Once the insurance company determines a car should be totaled or salvaged, it will send the owner a check for the replacement value. The car then goes to auction, and the insurance company will keep the proceeds from the auction sale. If a person wants to keep his vehicle, the insurance company will provide a check for the difference between the pre-accident market value and the salvage value.

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