If you have been involved in a car accident that has caused extensive damage to your vehicle, it’s likely your vehicle may be considered a total loss. Understanding what you need to do and how the insurance company proceeds in the event of a total loss can be new to many people. Let’s take a look at all the specifics regarding a total loss accident so you are better informed to handle the situation appropriately.

What Is A Total Loss? 

We’ve all seen pictures of those horrific accidents where a pickup truck gets turned into a convertible or a car gets crushed into a steel box. However, what determines what a total loss is? A total loss is a label given to any vehicle whose repair cost exceeds that of its actual worth. Some states actually specify the percentage of the vehicle that must be damaged in order to deem a vehicle a total loss.

What Happens Once My Car Is Deemed A Total Loss? 

When an insurance company evaluates the damage to your vehicle and determines that it’s a total loss, they will provide you with a settlement amount. The settlement amount is typically the actual cash value of the car or ACV. The ACV is the value of the car after depreciation has been taken out of the original value.

Once your car is deemed totaled, you have three different options you can take:

Agree To The Settlement Amount From The Insurance Company

If you agree to the settlement amount, you will be required to turn over your title and keys to the insurance company. They will write you a check for the settlement amount less the cost of your deductible.

Agree to A Partial Settlement Amount

In the event that you believe you can fix your car or make more money from selling it elsewhere, you can opt for a partial settlement. This is typically the actual cash value less the salvage value as well as your deductible.

Dispute The Claim

If you believe the insurance company is offering you a settlement amount that is well under the actual cash value of your vehicle, you can dispute the claim. Getting insurance adjusters to go up a few hundred dollars is typically possible with a phone call. For larger amounts, you are going to have to jump through hoops.

How Can I Dispute The Claim Settlement Amount? 

You always have the option to dispute the settlement amount from the claim in the event you feel it is below the actual cash value of your vehicle. A dispute can be filed with the insurance company by simply calling them and requesting another offer. This works sometimes, but more times than not you may have to take legal suit against the insurance company.

Your best chance to ensure you get a settlement check for the value that is actually owed to you is to contact an personal injury law firm. Your lawyer can help you to negotiate with the insurance company and sue them if necessary. It’s important to note that your personal injury attorney is going to need evidence to support the value of your vehicle that you believe it’s actually worth.

It’s very likely your personal injury lawyer will call in an independent appraiser to evaluate the value of your vehicle. Having current photographs and purchase information available can help to speed up the process. Realize that using an online car evaluator is not going to stand up in a court of law. You need to have an independent appraiser, who is an expert in their field, give live testimony at your court hearing.

What If The Settlement Amount Is Less Than My Auto Loan? 

Unfortunately, this is a very true situation for many out there. When you reach a settlement amount, you should realize that the settlement check will be supplied to the lienholder of the vehicle. In most cases, this is the bank you have your auto loan through. Once the amount of the settlement check is deducted from what you owe the financing company, you are still responsible for the remaining amount.

This can put you in an unfavorable position where you are still paying on the vehicle even though you no longer have it. One way to help prevent this from happening is having gap insurance as an add-on for your car insurance policy. Gap insurance essentially covers the remaining amount of your auto loan in the event the settlement check doesn’t pay off the entire amount owed.