Can you ask your insurance company to total your car?

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Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Aug 5, 2017

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Here's what you need to know...

  • When your car sustains major damage in an accident, there is the potential that the car insurance company will declare it a total loss because the value of the vehicle might be too low in relation to the cost of repairs
  • You always have the right to have your vehicle repaired at the shop of your choice, but you cannot simply demand that the auto insurance company declare it a total loss
  • A claims adjuster from the auto insurance company will take a look at your case and evaluate the damage to your car as well as a reasonable estimate of repair costs

When your car is damaged in a major accident, the car insurance company assigns a claims adjuster to review your case and make an assessment of the total damage and repair costs for your car.

The auto insurance company will decide whether to total your car if the cost of repair the car to the condition it was in before the accident reaches a certain percentage of your car’s overall value.

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Understanding the Process for Evaluating Your Claim After an Accident


Once your claim has been filed with the auto insurance company, you will receive a notification from the company that a claims adjuster has been assigned to your case. You should direct all of your questions about your claim to the claims adjuster.

One of the first things that you will want to ask is if the auto insurance company has a set formula for deciding whether a car is a total loss or will be repaired.

The next thing that you will want to find out from the claims adjuster is if there has already been an estimate performed for your vehicle.

You should get the amount of the estimate for your records because this will be used as a benchmark to evaluate your claim.

You will want to compare this estimated amount against the actual value of your car.

One of the most commonly used sources for evaluating the price of a vehicle is the Kelly Blue Book method.

Even if your particular auto insurance company does not use this method, it will still give you a general picture of what your car is worth.

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What to Do Next if the Repair Estimate is Too Low

If you think the cost of repairs that your car insurance company has set out is too low, you are free to get another estimate on your own.

In general, the estimate that you present to your insurance company is more likely to hold weight if it is an average of several auto repair shops in your area.

In this situation, the car insurance company cannot say that your repair estimate is unreasonable.

When you negotiate with the car insurance company, make sure that you do so in writing.

You want to have a record of communications so that you know the exact rationale for why the auto insurance company is not agreeable to declaring your car a total loss.

Depending on how valuable your vehicle is, you may want to engage a lawyer in negotiations with the auto insurance company so that you can be sure you are getting the best possible settlement in your situation.

Types of Coverage You May Need


If you are at fault for a crash, then you will need your own car insurance coverage to take care of physical damage to your vehicle. This would be comprehensive insurance or collision coverage.

If you are in an actual accident, the collision insurance would be the way that you recover for the cost of the repairs.

The limits of your comprehensive insurance or collision coverage will determine how much the auto insurance company is required to pay for your claim.

If the damage to your car is more than the limits of your policy, then the auto insurance company is not responsible for paying that excess amount.

If you have questions about how claims are handled, this is something that you might want to ask about when you are searching for insurance quotes online.

You can ask the auto insurance company generally about how they negotiate settlements so that you have an idea of the policies of the auto insurance company that you would be using.

You want to make sure that you are working with an auto insurance company that honors its policies and is known for processing claims effectively.

Going through the process of having to file a claim with your auto insurance company is a good way to find out that there are more considerations in choosing an auto insurance company than getting the lowest price right now.

You need to take into account the auto insurance company’s reputation for customer service as well as what options for coverage are available.

For example, some auto insurance companies offer more discounts than others, which could actually lower your particular auto insurance rate more than you would have expected.

Depending on Your Insurance Company


The decision of whether to declare your car a total loss or to cover the cost of repairing it will be entirely up to the auto insurance company.

While you may not necessarily want to have your car repaired after a major accident and prefer to receive a settlement check for its value immediately before the accident, this decision will not be ultimately up to you.

You do have the right to have your car repaired at the shop of your choice, but the car insurance company is only responsible for paying for a reasonable repair cost for your car based on the particular market that you are in for car repairs.

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