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The Do’s and Don’ts of a Total Loss

If you’ve been in a severe enough car accident, you may have been told your car was a total loss. This mainly means that it would cost more to repair your car than it would to replace it. The insurance company, either yours if you were at fault and had collisions insurance, or the at fault parties insurance company, will try to negotiate a settlement with you for the value of your vehicle. When negotiating the claim with your adjuster, there are some do’s and don’ts you should follow to get the maximum settlement.

Do take your own photos of your vehicle damage as soon as possible after the loss. Document any of your pre existing damage, as this damage will be used to decrease the value of your settlement. Make sure you check everything, as sometimes damage caused by the accident may be accidentally classified as pre existing and you will want to be able to argue those points. Get everything, interior, exterior, right down to the tread on your tires. That way, when they try to cut $50 off the top because your tires were worn, you can point to your photos that show the tread was within guidelines.

Do your own research on what your vehicle is worth and ask to see the insurance company’s research as well.  NADA guides is a good place to start as you can get a reasonable value on what your car is worth and it can help you find a new car as well. Don’t do your research on sites like Kelly Bluebook or dealership sites. These vehicle values usually include a high vehicle markup that the insurance company won’t consider in the valuation of your vehicle.

Don’t forget about your personal property damage. Check everything in the vehicle following an accident. Were any of your personal items, from your laptop computer, to the glasses on your face, damaged in the accident? Document the damage and find your receipts for the items as soon as possible. The longer you wait to file a claim for your personal property, the harder it will be to prove it was damaged in the accident.

Do ask about vehicle tax reimbursement or registration expenses when settling your claim. Some states will allow you to claim this, and some states require that this be considered. You want to make sure you are getting everything you are entitled to under your state’s laws.

Don’t immediately allow the insurance company to keep the car. Ask for figures where you retain salvage as well. If you know someone who works in the salvage business, you may be able to obtain more salvaging your own vehicle then allowing the insurance company to keep it. You are always entitled to retain ownership of your vehicle; however, you will probably not be able to register it for road use again.

Do turn over any documentation or receipts of recent work or improvements you had done to the vehicle. General maintenance works usually won’t be considered, but having just bought four new tires or added cosmetic upgrade might. Your best bet is to turn over any receipt for service you have had to the vehicle in the past 6 months and let the insurance company determine if it should be covered.

Don’t forget to ask about loss of use. Some states require it, some states don’t, and some states allow it but don’t require the insurance company to offer it. Loss of use occurs as a result of your vehicle being non drivable. It is usually the equivalent of the rental rate for a comparable car times the days you were without a car through the settlement offer.  This can add up quickly, especially if you are having a long drawn out settlement.

Do have realistic expectations of what your vehicle is worth. You are not going to get a settlement equal to the value of a brand new car. It is the insurance company’s obligation to ‘make you whole’ for the accident, not see you come off better for having had it. Sentimental value or the frustration of dealing with the process are not compensable damages. They are just part of life and they happen to all of us.

The total loss of a vehicle can be a frustrating, time consuming process. However, by knowing what to expect up front, and knowing what questions to ask, the process will go much smoother. If you stay calm, organized and efficient, you will be able to increase you settlement for the maximum value of your vehicle.

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