Can you ask an insurance company to total your car?

You can ask an insurance company to total your car, but it is up to the discretion of the insurance adjuster to decide. Learn when a car is considered totaled and how to handle insurance disputes.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: May 20, 2022

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Things to remember...

  • Totaling a car is a complex process that may not be in your best interest
  • If your car is totaled, you will receive a payment for buying a replacement
  • When an insurance company totals a car, your auto loan lender will receive priority

When your vehicle gets severe damage from an accident, it’s tempting to think, “I want to total my car,” because you have heard other people say the same thing. But that doesn’t mean you should do the same.

You need to understand what totaling a car really means in order to make the best decision.

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Can you ask an insurance company to total your car?

Accidents determine the extent of the damage. Some only cause a scratch that can easily be fixed, while others are severe and may destroy the vehicle beyond repair.

So what is a totaled car?

A totaled vehicle is one that is so severely damaged that the cost of repairing it is likely to exceed the auto’s actual cash value (ACV). This is the value of the car at the time of the loss, which considers the vehicle’s depreciation, age, and current condition.

Sometimes, the insurance company chooses to total a car even if the repair costs quoted are less than its actual cash value. That happens when the true extent of damage is unknown and the car insurance company is not willing to risk more financial losses later on.

Various states have different ACV thresholds that determine when a car can be totaled. However, an insurance company could choose to use its own formula for totaling a car. You may need to research or ask the insurer what they consider during this process.

If you want to total your car and the insurance company does not agree, you have the option to appeal their decision, but it’s ultimately not in your power to decide.

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How to Get Compensated After an Accident

Remember, if you file a car insurance claim, your premiums are likely to increase in the future, so be sure to think about that when trying to get compensated.

Below are the steps you should take to ensure your insurer caters to the car damage costs.

  • Once your car has been involved in an accident, check your insurance policy to determine the timeline you should adhere to.
  • Start by filing a claim online, in person, or by phone. It depends on the contact information your auto insurer has provided you. If there is a mobile app, use that.
  • Ensure you provide evidence of the accident including photos of the accident scene and police reports.
  • Once you file a claim, an insurance adjuster will be assigned to you. And their work will be to judge the extent of the vehicle damage, estimate the cost of repairs, and determine whether your car should be repaired or totaled.
  • Try to negotiate for additional costs you may incur if your car is totaled by providing supporting evidence such as the title fees, sales tax, and additional vehicle features the appraisal did not include.
  • If your insurance covers rental car expenses, request one for the period that you wait for your claim to be processed.
  • Keep track of the claim status and call for updates if delays occur.

If the other driver is at fault, their liability insurance will likely cover the accident costs. However, if there is damage to your vehicle that requires your policy to pay for the expenses, your comprehensive or collision insurance cover will cover those expenses.

How to Handle Car Insurance Disputes

If you feel that your car should be totaled because the money the insurer has paid out is less than what it would cost to repair it, you can dispute the compensation. In such a situation, you should write a letter to your insurance company outlining why you feel your compensation should be increased and provide documentation to back up your assertions.

If the insurer agrees with you, you will receive the additional payout. If the company declines, you can file a complaint with your state’s insurance board or use a third-party arbitrator to solve the matter. If that fails, you can sue with the help of an attorney specializing in insurance.

What to Do With a Totaled Car

You can keep a totaled vehicle, or sell it at a salvage car auction. Alternatively, you could sell it for spare parts. These options work best if you have no car insurance. If your insurance company has paid your claim for the totaled car, you can’t keep it. You may negotiate with the insurer to keep the car, but you won’t get both a check for the value of the car and the car as well.

However, if the insurance totals your car, you may be required to transfer the ownership to them so they can auction it with a salvage title.

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Totaling a Car Depends on Many Factors

Various factors will determine whether your car gets totaled or not. But you are free to negotiate for more compensation.

However, if you attach a sentimental value to your vehicle, it would be best to fix it instead of asking for it to be totaled. Alternatively, you can keep it after its totaled and accept less compensation in lieu of what the insurer would have gotten by selling it as a salvage-title vehicle.

Remember that your auto loan lender will get compensated first in order to cover the debt you owe. You will receive the remainder of the insurance payout.

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