You treat your car like you would a child. You take care of it inside and out and no one could ever tell it recently celebrated its tenth birthday. Over those ten years, you and your auto have had some great times together, but now the unthinkable has happened and your car has been “totaled.” Does that mean that the two of you have to say good-bye?
Totaling your car means that you have wrecked it badly, so much so that it is up to your insurer to decide if it is worth fixing. The insurer’s decision is based on the car’s worth. Minor damage to a very old auto could result in your carrier deciding to total it, while major damage to a brand new one might not. Auto insurance claims adjusters typically determine a car’s cash value through their company’s proprietary database of prices.
The decision to total a car varies with insurers. Some companies will total a vehicle if after the accident it is only worth 51 percent of its cash value. Others will decide to total the car at 80 percent. The insurance company pays you the car’s actual cash value less any deductible and your car is sent to a salvage yard to be auctioned off. The end result is usually an auction bidder buying the car for parts. The insurance company keeps the auction money, which offsets any costs over the amount they have collected in premiums.
If you feel your car has been unjustly condemned to salvage, do you have any way to protest the decision? You do have some rights, but they are limited. You enter into a contract with your insurance company when you buy car insurance. That contract states that you can’t coerce your insurer to pay out more than your car is actually worth. However, your carrier is obliged to ensure that you are “made whole.” That means the company is required to put you in the same condition you were in before the accident happened.
If your car has been wrecked but you want to have it repaired, you should be able to do so. Tell your claims adjuster right away that you want to keep the car. Keep in mind that you will have to pay for the repairs yourself, but your insurer still has to pay you the car’s actual cash value, less the deductible and less whatever the car would have brought at auction.
Before you decide what to do with the car, think it through. If you give up your car but later change your mind, it will be difficult to buy it back when auctioned. In most cases you cannot attend the auction without an auto salvage or auto dealer’s license. Newer model cars bring higher prices at auctions because their parts are highly desirable. That amount is probably more that what the company paid for your claim, so don’t be surprised if your carrier decides to send it to salvage in spite of your objections.
Remember, if you keep the car and it is seriously damaged, you will only have a small part of the money needed to repair it. If it isn’t repairable, you will be left with having to dispose of the vehicle.
If you go ahead with repairs, be sure the car is completely repaired. When the insurer deemed your car to be totaled, your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) was notified. That’s because your policy expired with the loss of the vehicle. Insurers can refuse to completely underwrite a car that’s been totaled and repaired if the vehicle doesn’t pass a DMV inspection. As long as it passes, however, you should have no problem buying liability insurance, although buying comprehensive and collision insurance may be more difficult. Keep in mind, some insurers won’t provide this type of coverage for a previously totaled car.