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What Considers a Car Totaled?

From fender benders to multi-car wrecks, car accidents are a fact of modern life. With millions of cars on the road every day, the laws of probability eventually kick in, even for the safest drivers. But not all car accidents are equal.

In the best car accidents, there is barely a scratch on your vehicle afterward and nobody is injured. However, in the worst accidents, your car is little more than a crumpled heap of plastic and metal. You won’t be surprised to discover that when your car looks like that, it is considered to be a totaled vehicle.

But your car doesn’t have to be unrecognizable to be considered totaled. Quite the contrary. Many cars are considered totaled even when they have seemingly minimal or innocuous damage. This leads to the obvious question: “What considers a car totaled?”

This is a tricky definition that depends on state laws and the policies of your insurance company. Even an experienced mechanic might have difficulty determining what considers a car totaled.

However, before you take the word of your insurance company about whether your car is totaled, you should consult with an experienced car accident attorney at Morgan & Morgan. Contact us today for a free case evaluation and we’ll determine what considers a car totaled with respect to your recent accident.

Insurance Companies Are What Considers a Car Totaled

The term totaled is shorthand for “total loss.” However, while this may colloquially sound like it means the car is impossible to repair, that is only one possible interpretation of this term. In fact, it is typically the least common interpretation.

More often, when a car is considered totaled, it actually means that the insurance company has determined that the cost of repairing the vehicle would be higher than the value of the vehicle. In that case, the insurance company is permitted to pay you for the total cost of the car and then take possession of whatever is left of it.

Determining the Value of a Vehicle

Part of why it is so difficult to determine whether a vehicle is totaled is because it is often complicated to determine the actual value of a car. Despite what you might hope for, it isn’t worth whatever you paid for it when you bought it new. Instead, it has depreciated in value based on time and wear.

Vehicles start to lose value the moment they leave the sales lot. Typically, they lose the most value during the first few years of ownership. If you have owned a vehicle for at least one year, it is likely worth no more than half of what you paid for it. And if you have owned it for years or decades, it is probably worth only a few thousand dollars.

Unfortunately, there is no consistent way to determine the value of a car once it is no longer new. You could own the exact same car as someone else, purchased on the same day, and yet your car could have a significantly different value than their car. The value of your car is adjusted by:

  • How long you have owned it
  • How many miles it has been driven
  • How much damage it has previously suffered
  • Whether the original parts have been replaced and the age of the replacement parts
  • Where the car was driven
  • Whether the car received regular maintenance and inspection

A car driven 100,000 miles, primarily on poorly maintained roads, and stored outside when not in use is going to be worth much less than a similar vehicle driven 40,000 miles on good roads and usually parked in a garage.

However, just because you have kept your car in excellent condition, that doesn’t mean the insurance company is aware of that fact. You will typically have to prove that your car was in good condition, and this requires evidence. Pertinent evidence includes:

  • Pictures of your vehicle
  • Repair and maintenance records and receipts
  • A sworn statement by your usual mechanic
  • Proof that you own a garage
  • Registration information that includes mileage

The condition of your vehicle won’t be the only disputed factor when determining the value of your car. You can also dispute the method your insurance company uses to determine that value. There are multiple approaches, and your insurance company will likely try to use whichever one minimizes how much your car is worth.

Typically, most insurance companies use the Blue Book value of a car. But Blue Book isn’t the only source for valuing used vehicles, and your insurance company may use another party or even combine sources.

However, you can potentially dispute this value if you can show that similar cars are selling for significantly higher prices in your area. That requires research, though, and will likely take a lot of time. If you don’t have the ability to investigate yourself, a Morgan and Morgan attorney can help you determine a fair value for your car.

This valuation could be particularly important if the damage on your vehicle is close to the total value of your vehicle. A low valuation and a high valuation could easily be the difference between what considers a car totaled.

How a Car Accident Attorney at Morgan & Morgan Can Help

Just because the insurance company claims your car was totaled, that doesn’t mean you have to accept that determination. You have the right to fight that decision in several ways. The most effective way is to hire a car accident attorney from Morgan and Morgan.

Our lawyers have decades of experience dealing with car insurance companies and valuing damaged vehicles. We can fight the insurance company on multiple fronts, depending on the circumstances.

The Value of Your Car

Typically, the insurance company will try to assign as low a value to your car as it can get away with. This makes it easier to claim your vehicle is a total loss and decreases the amount of money it needs to pay you after that determination.

Our attorneys will research the true value of your vehicle and attempt to prove that it is worth more. This will be a lot easier if you have kept diligent repair records, but that may not be necessary.

For some vehicles, we can prove that the car is rare enough to be worth more than traditional valuation methods might otherwise indicate. When this is the case, we might be able to prove that the real value is quite a bit higher than what the insurance company is claiming.

The Cost of Repairs

Since cars are typically considered totaled when the repair value exceeds the worth of the car, we can prove your car isn’t totaled if we can find a way to repair it for less. Some insurance companies will intentionally choose expensive repair shops for their estimates just to declare a car totaled.

We will contact multiple repair shops and find you the best deal possible. If we can find lower costs for repairs, especially if we can combine that with proving a higher value for your car, we can get the insurance company to reverse a decision to total your vehicle.

Safe Repairs

While most cars are totaled because of the cost to repair, sometimes cars are totaled because a mechanic declares that there is no safe way to repair the vehicle. Not all mechanics are equally skilled or knowledgeable, though, so you don’t have to accept the determination of just one person.

Before we allow your car to be considered totaled, we will get a second opinion from the best repair shop available. If they disagree with the assessment, we can use that opinion as evidence that your car isn’t totaled and the insurance company should reverse its decision.

State Laws

The final option we have for disputing a finding that your car is totaled is referencing state laws. Some states limit the ways an insurance company can declare a car totaled. If your policy conflicts with state law, we can force the insurance company to respect the law.

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Get answers to commonly asked questions about our legal services and learn how we may assist you with your case.

  • Can I Keep My Car if It Is Totaled?

    Typically, the insurance company will take possession of your vehicle if it is totaled. This allows it to sell your car to a salvage yard for scrap and get some additional value from it. In some states, you can request to keep the car but the insurance company will pay you less than it would have if it received the vehicle.

  • Will I Get Paid Directly for My Totaled Vehicle?

    That depends on whether you own the car debt-free or not. If you own it and owe nothing for it, you will receive payment for the value. However, if it has been financed and you haven’t fully paid it off, the finance company will be paid first and you’ll receive the remainder.

  • Is There Any Way to Get the Insurance Company to Pay for a New Car?

    Typically, your insurance company will not pay for a new car. However, if you have a policy that covers the replacement value of the vehicle, you may be able to receive enough from the insurance company to purchase a new car. Usually, you can get this type of policy only when your vehicle is brand-new, and the policy lasts approximately a year.

  • Does It Matter if the Accident Was My Fault?

    Most insurance policies will decrease the practical value of your vehicle if the accident is your fault. This means that your car could be considered totaled even though the repair costs are less than the actual value of the vehicle.

    If you think that the insurance company has incorrectly determined that you were at fault in an accident, consult with one of our attorneys. We can investigate your case and prove that the other party was at fault.

  • Consult With Experienced Car Insurance Attorneys Before Accepting Compensation

    Everything can be stressful after a serious car accident. You have no means of transportation and probably not enough money to replace your vehicle. It can be easy to accept the decision of a car insurance company that your car is totaled and take the money. But just because it is easy doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

    If you want to ensure you are treated fairly by your insurance company, speak to an experienced car insurance lawyer before taking any money. They may be able to reverse a decision that your car is totaled or get you more compensation. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.

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