Article Topics:

Totaled car? 5 insurance questions to ask

If your car's involved in a serious accident, your insurer could declare it a "total loss." This means the car will cost more to repair than it's worth.

In this case, you'll get the cash value of the car at the time of the accident minus your deductible. But that amount usually isn't enough to buy a new, similar car.

It may seem like the aftermath — finding a new car and dealing with the insurance company — is worse than the accident itself. Learn what you’ll need if you go through this process.

1. Who determines whether my car is totaled?

An insurance claims adjuster will come up with the actual cash value, or precrash value, of the car, says Carroll Lachnit, features editor at It will be based on mileage, condition, standard features, extras on the car such as a sunroof, and where you live. Sales tax, title and registration fees also will be included in the actual cash value.

If repair costs approach 50 percent of a car's value, that's typically the threshold for when a car will be totaled, Lachnit says. Some appraisers aim for 80 percent.

2. Will I get paid if I'm stay making car payments?

Not at first. Since you don't technically own the car if it's not paid off, your lender will be paid first and you'll get any balance. If the car is worth less than you owe, you still have to pay off the loan. If liability is clear and not much investigation is needed, you should get a check in a few days, says Kip Diggs, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance. If liability is unclear, it can take longer.

In this case, you can be financially rescued if you already have GAP insurance. GAP, which stands for guaranteed auto protection, pays the difference between what the auto insurance company says the wrecked car is worth and what you, the driver, owe on the auto loan. This applies only if the auto insurer decides your car has been totaled.

3. Am I covered for a rental car?

A week's car rental is typical after an accident, but check with your insurance agent — before you get in an accident — to see how long you'd be covered if your car is totaled.

4. Can I keep my totaled car?

Probably, but it's not a good idea. No matter how much you love your car, keeping a totaled car that can't be fixed can create hassles with trying to drive it or sell it. By law, the car must be branded as "totaled," meaning that any new owner must be made aware of that fact on the car title.

5. What if I disagree with the assessment?

If you don't think the car is a total loss, you can have it repaired by whomever you want, Diggs says, or have a mechanic or someone else inspect it to determine how much it would cost to fix. You also should provide documentation about why you think your car is worth more and should get your own assessment of its value.

If you disagree with the value set through, the insurance company may go to independent sources such as used-car dealers and classified ads to determine a price.

See also:

If a borrowed car is wrecked, who pays?

One car insurance claim can send your rate soaring by 76%

Story updated April 1, 2016


  • Jimminy said Reply

    Keep in mind the insurance company will do everything in their power to pay you as little as possible, even your own insurance company. They'll hire a so called third party, at least one that is owned by a private equity firm that invests committed capital from insurance companies. They insist on paying you wholesale. Why would they bite the hand that possibly might feed them? Dealers make more money if they can finance you than if they sell you a car outright, so keep that in mind when some insurance company says they have a check for a pittance amount since dealers like cash (which isn't true at all).

  • bailiek said Reply

    Hi Shelby, the best thing for you to do is call your insurance company and see if you have comprehensive insurance - this is the part of your policy that will cover deer crash-related damages. You can find out more here:

    Good luck!

  • mariahk said Reply

    My husbands car was totalled. Its been over 3 weeks they finally offered 2200 less then what Nada says its worth. Then they want to charge us 700 for keeping the car, we don't want it. It should not be our responsibility to get rid of it. But they say they do not do that. Also it has been over three weeks my husband has no car he needs To go back to work. At the rate they are going he will not see a check for a while. Any advise? The insurance was the other guys, and they were totally at fAult. We had cops as witnesses.

    • mel said Reply

      As a claims adjuster. People always thinks that the insurance company wants to trick them or take advantage. In my 8 years as a claims adjuster. I've work for 3 companies already. I've never been told to lie or not to pay a claim just because. The Department of insurance of each state is very involved with the companies. I don't want to lose my job for a bad faith claim. Every decision made is fair and reasonable and by the book. We don't make commissions on anything in claims, so why risks are job? You can't gain more after a loss. People always think that if they were in an accident and not at fault that they hit the lottery. Is illegal to try to recover more than how things were before the accident.

      • John said Reply

        at Mel . Saying everyone thinks insurance company's are out to cheet them or saying that we think we hit the lottery is your false assumption !!!! In fact most just want to be treated fairly ! Having just been in a reck ( of no fault ) with my family in toe . Our 09 Honda oddessy that we have just about paid off is totaled ! Have paid almost 15 thousand and owe less than 10 thousand on it . So now we're out the 15 thousand we have paid in it . Because blood suckers like the ones you work for think that's fair !!! that is 15 thousand that has just gone down the drain !! Fair would be putting me back in the same spot I was in . Owing less than 50% on our still new van ( less than 57000 miles ) !! I hope your in that same spot one day to know how these poor people feel !!! Have a great day you self Rightious prick !!

        • lilome said Reply

          in reply to " Mel said Saturday, February 28, 2015 7:25:46 AM"
          Seriously, are you for real? Yea I guess you are..
          Your a real F'n MORON.
          " fair and reasonable and by the book" ?
          And just what BILLION DOLLAR entity do you think has the greatest influence in the price amounts for "that so-called book" ? The insurance industry. YOU IDIOT.

          Maybe if the insurance industry used a moral scale with their monetary scale value system, people would not be claiming injuries as much to make up for loses they are forced to take on their property..
          OOOOOPS! MY BAD!
          You need to know what morals are to understand the question concerning them.
          DO STRIKE THAT .
          BUT I TOTALLY AGREE with what " John said Monday, May 25, 2015 12:31:38 AM" in his reply.
          You really are a self righteous prick.
          You think because the entity you work for, which is the same one that governs the value of used /totaled vehicles , tells you to " offer this amount" because that offer is fair?, so it's fair.
          You think because what your company says is fair , then that is the end of it.?

          Well now It make more sense to me , since I heard it from the asses mouth
          It makes sense that people who are not even hurt , will claim injuries in the 10's and 100's of thousands of dollars because the insurance industry will screw them if they don't do it first.
          And as long as we have insurance agents thinking what they offer is fair, then there will continue to be outrageous personal injury claims to make up for the knife they are getting stuck in the back with.

          I have been wondering why. WHY WHY this country is sue happy.

          WELL PEOPLE, MEL just explained why.
          It's because you need to accept what they offer you.
          Because MEL says it's fair.

  • Korrena said Reply

    Hi Mariah,

    First, you don't have to accept the offer from the insurer, particularly if you're not satisfied. Second, you should contact your state insurance department as laws regarding totaled cars vary by state. Good luck getting a fair settlement.


  • Jeremy Bonner said Reply

    I just got rear ended while stopped on business hwy 45 trying to make a turn. I was ttranspored by ambulance and had tests. The x-rays came back negative. They diagnosed me with a neck sprain. I filed on the other guys insurance. I spoke with an adjuster and irs determined that they were at fault. They said that they would contact me within 48hrs. What should i expect to hear?

  • rosie said Reply

    Progressive is trying to declare my car a total loss but the mechanic and my parents say that's not the case the car can b fixed as it was almost a snapped decision before they even tried to do an estimate. I feel as though it's a cop out bc I didn't want to use their shop

  • Marcie said Reply

    My car was wheather damage the insurance company is saying flooded. When they asked me to get a copy of the tow bill I faxed it to them, the tow company put the wrong date. Not an investigator is involved, i did not know that the puddle was deeper, that caused my car to get wet underneath. All the electrocal went out. Its been two month. Im told that they are waiting for the investigator to give them the amount of coverage if any. Then i am told that the adujustor will do a full inspection. So many stories. I had paid the insurance then two days later this happened to me n my son in the car.
    I am at a loss, if i dont call or email. They will not keep me posted. Help me understand, :(

  • Pat Oz said Reply

    Hi, I was in an accident, a little over a year ago, where someone else was at fault and the damage to my car was determined to be greater than it's worth, so my insurance company settled the matter as "totaled" on my vehicle. Just yesterday I was in another accident, again where someone else was at fault, and I'm wondering what the "totaled" title on my car will effect the outcome of me getting it fixed? The new damage is minor, but all the airbags in the car went off and I'm worried that even though (again) I wasn't at fault, that my/their insurance company won't layup to fix the vehicle or properly accommodate me for my loss. Thanks in advance for your reply. - Pat

    • mel said Reply

      If your car was a total before and you kept the "salvage" the salvage you are driving is worth very little. And if your salvage car is involved in an accident again. It might be deemed a total loss again. Example, the value of your salvage car now is 1000 bucks and the damages are 700 bucks or even 600 bucks. It's considered a total loss. The same if you bought a car with a salvage title from someone else and gets in an accident they won't pay you much for it. Because the car is worth peanuts if it was salvage already

  • Alli said Reply

    Hi- I accidentally hit a concrete pillar in a garage, which cause a dent in the car door. The damage is cosmetic: door opens and windows go up and down. It's a Honda Accord 2006. So now progressive says it will cost $6K to fix (!), and since they've assessed the car as worth $8500 they want to total it. I'm not happy. A quick check on carmax has similar cars selling for $11K. I get offers all the time to buy the car because it's appreciated in value since I bought it. Is my best course of action to try to get the valuation changed? It really feels like progressive is trying to make a profit here.

  • Christy said Reply

    I was careful to finance a car for LESS than it's value. I drove it for less than two years when I was broadisded by someone who ignored a stop sign. It has been declared totaled. EVERYONE ASSUMES I JUST GET A NEW CAR. That is NOT how it works, and though I will have a couple thousand after it is paid off, that's only a downpayment for another car I will now have to make payments on. Because I changed jobs in the past few months it is difficult to get qualified for ANYTHING.

    I don't know what is more aggravating: having a car I loved dearly and couldn't replace at full value (because it was an unusual model) even if one could be found and I had unlimited funds be destroyed because of someone's inattention or the number of people who keep telling me how "easy" it is to replace it. No, it's anything but. That harsh reality is that I am going from a fairly new, very nice and clean low-mile vehicle that was a delight into some decade-old high-mile riskfest because I don't have several thousands set aside to pay cash for my next car.

  • mark Herter said Reply

    I hit a deer dec.23 430am. Today is jan.15.truck is totalled and I still have no $. 6 more days will be one month. I am Un happy and will be shopping for new insurance. I currently hold 9 policy with state farm

  • Glenn said Reply

    I have insurance with State Farm. Some time ago I had my vehicle caught in a sandstorm and sandblasted the paint and glass on it. I got an estimate from a body shop and turned it in to State Farm. State Farm had sent their adjuster to look at it also. I get a phone call from State Farm a few days later and their adjuster wants to meet with me. So I'm getting all fired up about this as I figure State Farm is going to deny some of the repairs. State Farms adjuster shows up with my estimate and his estimate. He shows me on my vehicle several items that were damaged but my estimate I turned in did not have them included on the bid. So he asks me if its OK if State Farm pays me from their estimate, which was $700 dollars more than the estimate I turned in. When an insurance company comes out to you and offers you $700 dollars MORE than you put in for, that makes me a believer in that insurance company. I have always been happy with my claim settlement at State Farm. Never once in 42 years have I had to argue with them.

  • Korrena said Reply

    Hi Glenn - thanks for sharing your story - it's great to hear such a positive endorsement of an insurer and it's fantastic that they did such a good job handling your claim.

    - Korrena

  • Mike said Reply

    I leased my car just 3 months back for 4 years and met with an accident recently with DUI in toronto and this car had gap insurance . The insurance company has declared the car is total ....pls help me in this that how insurance will calculate and how much i have to pay as i am the defaulter and who will get the salvage money ......pls pls help me in this matter.

  • joann said Reply

    My friend has State Farm, he was rear ended by someone with Progressive. My friends truck was totaled. His payoff is $3500 that he owes the bank. His value is at $5000 for the the truck. The adjuster from progressive totalled out the truck and wants to give him a check for $1500 and the bank the 3500. This leaves him with no truck and a check for a pittance. He wont even have enough to buy the truck back? let alone fix it. How is this possible? Does he need to contact his own insurance company? Will or can they do anything? Also, he had to go to the hospital for multiple ct scans. They want to give him a check for $500 for medical pay. Does that mean they are no longer liable for the hospital bills if he cashes that check? What about the fact that he couldn't work for a week from pain? Will they compensate him for that too? We are very confused. Please explain.

  • Darrell said Reply

    State Farm will hide behind their corrupt 3rd party minion subcontractor to screw you on the evaluation of your car! Even if you as their insured are 100% not at fault by the police accident report, they don't care! Their claims adjusters attempt to put a spin on the words in your policy as to disrespect you as being that stupid!

    The only language State Farm understands is from your lawyer when you have to sue them to fairly administer the terms of your policy!

  • Nichelle said Reply

    Wow people are so misinformed I have a title that is labeled totaled Reconstructed Can't seem to find out exactly what that means I do live in Oregon I got insurance no problem and its not very much. people take things that are mole hills and make them in the mountains it's amazing. my cars a great car its really old but you know what it's been the best car I've ever had.

  • Nichelle said Reply

    Wow people are so misinformed I have a title that is labeled totaled Reconstructed Can't seem to find out exactly what that means I do live in Oregon I got insurance no problem and its not very much. people take things that are mole hills and make them in the mountains it's amazing. my cars a great car its really old but you know what it's been the best car I've ever had.

  • Fred408 said Reply

    on the 2nd of February,a silverado in opposite direction lost control and jumped the center island.Hitting the car in front of me i turned my wheel to avoid hitting but the truck flipped and was sliding so i got hit..Police took statements and took pictures. The man in the truck was taken by ambulance. my car is a 2007 Camry,i have 5000 left to pay My insurance has informed me its totaled they did their evaluation not everything was checked. when i got hit i no longer had the ability to steer or turn my wheels.That wasnt listed on damages list.9,154 is what they came up with.havent heard from the party at fault

Add a Comment

When to Make an Auto Insurance Claim

Wondering if making a claim will affect your rates? Find out now.

See what claim amount is worth a potential rate hike:
  • $
  • $

Loading Progress

Submit Your Question!

Featured Video

Real Parking Lot Car Accident Tips

Even if you’re only driving across town to the grocery store, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it home without any problems. One out of every five car accidents takes place in a parking lot. So, what should you do?