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What Happens When Your Car is Totaled?

September 22, 2023

Car accidents are traumatic, especially if you’ve been injured. Viewing your damaged car after an accident often causes a second shock if your vehicle has been totaled. After you’ve dealt with your injuries and you’re facing the road to physical recovery, the next step is wondering what happens now that your car is a total loss after the accident. How does an assessment of your car’s damage work, and what happens next? These are common questions you may ask a car accident lawyer after a serious car accident with significant property damage to your car.

If you were at fault in the accident or live in a no-fault insurance state, you must file a claim for property damage to your vehicle through your own insurance policy. However, in most states, including Washington, the insurance law requires proving liability on the part of the driver at fault for the accident so their insurance provider covers your damages, including a totaled vehicle.

What Happens When Your Car is Totaled?

When is a Car “Totaled?”

Insurers assess a car after an accident to determine whether or not it’s salvageable. If the extent of the damage is so much that repairing the vehicle would cost more than replacing it with a new one, the insurance company considers the car totaled or a total loss. In other instances, a car may appear relatively unscathed, but the insurer may decide the damage is such that the car would no longer be safe even if repairs were made.

In either case, the appropriate insurer owes you the cash value of your car before it was totaled. In most cases, the insurer uses the Kelley Blue Book value of the car to determine its fair market value before deciding on an amount to pay out on your insurance claim.

What Insurance Coverage Provides Compensation for a Totaled Car?

If you were at fault for the accident, your insurance provides compensation through one of the following coverages:

  • Comprehensive coverage
  • Collision
  • Uninsured motorist coverage (effective in the event that your accident was another driver’s fault but that driver had no insurance in place at the time of the crash)

If your car was still financed, the insurance coverage amount for the cash value of the car goes to the bank holding the loan, minus your deductible. Otherwise, the insurer must replace your car with one of similar value or offer a cash settlement. The settlement amount should equal the car’s value before the accident plus additional tax, title transfer fees, and registration fees.

What to Do With a Totaled Vehicle

If you decide to keep the wrecked car, the insurer will typically deduct its salvage value from your insurance payout. Keep in mind that body shops warn against rebuilding totaled cars because they are less safe and may be difficult to insure or sell. If you choose to keep your totaled vehicle, some options include selling it to a salvage yard, trading it in to a dealership that accepts a salvage title, or donating it to a charity.

If you feel the insurance company’s payout for your vehicle is too low, you can appeal the decision to try to get a higher settlement.

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