After a car has been in an accident, the insurance company may need to determine if the damage is severe enough to total the car. To do this, the company will use the actual cash value (ACV), which is the car’s current market value minus depreciation. There are several ways you can determine your car’s ACV, which can be helpful if an insurer decides to total your vehicle instead of paying out a claim to fix it.

A few steps to determine your car’s value include:

  1. Research car price guides and websites like Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and Edmunds.
  2. Determine what you want to do with your car, such as trade it in, sell it to someone else or a car company, etc.
  3. Compare similar vehicles for sale online.
  4. Determine if your car is damaged or needs any repairs.
  5. Determine other factors that can raise or reduce your car’s value, such as location, accident history, year of car and number of owners.

Online pricing guides and estimators

There are several factors online pricing guides and estimators use to determine a car’s market value. This includes current mileage, the condition of the exterior and interior, any mechanical issues, your ZIP code, and the year, make and model of the vehicle. Fortunately, you can determine your vehicle’s value online. Here are the top sites to help you determine your vehicle’s value:

Kelley Blue Book

KBB is an industry-leading automotive research company. You can see the value of your vehicle, put your vehicle up for sale, shop for new and used cars and compare new and used cars online. However, there is a lag in determining price information, and it can potentially overestimate the value of a vehicle.

National Auto Dealers Association

NADA represents over 16,000 franchised car dealerships and provides information on the automotive industry’s trends. You can also search for a new or used car and compare the prices of vehicles on their website. However, NADA focuses more on the vehicle’s wholesale price and assumes the car is in good condition, which could give you a higher value than your car is worth.


Edmunds provides a resource for vehicle information. You can research new and used cars, compare vehicles, get your car value, and view dealer inventory listings. Edmunds car value appraisal tool enables you to see your car’s value and compare it with other car values from KBB.

It is a good idea to compare the value of your car using multiple tools to get a better sense of what it is worth. To use Edmunds, NADA and KBB, you will need your vehicle year, make and model, vehicle identification number (VIN) and license plate number and state. You will also be asked some questions about the vehicle’s condition and any damage it has sustained.

Car values defined

There are also different types of car valuations. These values usually differ from your insurance company’s determination of value and ACV since your provider will consider your car’s depreciation and replacement costs when calculating the value.

  • Trade-in value: This is the value of your car after trading it in to a dealer for another car. Trade-in value is calculated after the dealer assesses your vehicle’s condition and factors in what they think they can sell it for. Trade-in value is typically the lowest of the values for a car.
  • Private party resale value: This is the value you can expect to sell your car at directly to a private buyer. Your vehicle will be sold in its current condition with the private party value and will have no warranty. The final price will be determined by similar vehicles and local market conditions, so these values can fluctuate quite a bit.
  • Dealer retail value: A dealer retail value is the price a dealer will sell your car for after any repairs or modifications have been made. This value will also include a profit margin for the dealer.
  • Certified pre-owned value: A certified pre-owned value is the value of a vehicle that has been inspected by third-party inspectors. Vehicles backed by certified pre-owned factors include a factory warranty and other benefits. Given the additional guarantees and benefits the new owner will get, along with the cost of certifications, this is typically the highest valuation for a used car.

Why does value matter when my car is totaled?

Insurance companies define a car as totaled when expenses to repair the vehicle exceed the car’s value. Many insurance companies will reimburse you for your vehicle’s ACV in this case, which is the cost of your car minus any depreciation in its market value. If your vehicle is older, this means that your insurance payout will not cover the cost of purchasing the same vehicle in a newer make and model.

If you disagree with the ACV of your car in a totaled situation, you may be able to negotiate with your insurance company. You will need to prove that your car value is higher than the value your insurance company determined and will have to provide detailed records of your car’s maintenance.

If you own a rare or particularly expensive vehicle, it is not a bad idea to have it appraised by a licensed appraiser periodically so that you have proof of its current or recent value in the event it is totaled.

Actual cash value (ACV)

ACV is used to determine how much of a payout you will receive for a totaled vehicle. It is determined by the replacement cost of your vehicle minus depreciation, which considers things like age and wear and tear.

Most insurance policies cover the actual cash value of your car in the event of a claim and will use a third party to determine the ACV of your vehicle.

Replacement cost, or the cost to replace your vehicle with a similar and sometimes newer model at current prices, is available through some insurance companies. However, a car insurance policy that includes replacement cost rather than ACV will have higher premiums to account for the potentially higher payout with a claim.

Why does value matter if my car needs repairs?

Even if your car is damaged without being totaled, knowing its value matters. Your insurance company will send a claims adjuster to inspect your car and determine how much it will cost to repair your vehicle back to its original condition. The adjuster will evaluate your policy, the reasons behind your car’s damage and the actual damages to determine how much the repairs will cost.

After the claims adjuster determines the amount the insurance company is willing to pay to repair your vehicle, you can either sign a release to accept the payment and make the repairs or reject the assessment and try to negotiate the claim. If you reject the adjuster’s assessment, it is essential to understand the value of your car before attempting to negotiate with your insurance company.

Negotiating an insurance claim

Auto insurance companies are for-profit businesses like any other and want to pay out the lowest amount possible to settle a claim. Should you decide to negotiate with your insurance company about your claim, you should be prepared to prove that your proposed estimate is more accurate than theirs.

Researching the value of your car using KBB, Edmunds, NADA or even a third-party appraiser or claims adjuster can help determine your car’s value and give you a sense of what is a fair payment to settle a claim.

If your claims adjuster and insurance company are unwilling to revise their estimate based on your argument and evidence, you can ask for justification of their estimate. The goal of the negotiation is to reach a satisfactory settlement for all parties.

Frequently asked questions

    • If your car is modified for safety, style or performance, those car modifications should be discussed with your insurance company to ensure you have coverage for those extra investments in your car. Your insurance company might not cover all modifications, so you might want to speak with them before making modifications to decide if it is worth it.
    • Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and NADA are all great tools to determine your car value. The best tool is a personal decision and depends on what you are trying to accomplish by valuing your vehicle. Research each of the tools with your end goal in mind to determine which estimate might best serve your needs.
    • Besides comprehensive and collision coverage, there are other coverage types that can help pay for your vehicle damage after an accident. If you have a loan or lease on the new car, gap insurance will pay the difference if you still owe after the vehicle has been totaled. New car replacement coverage is another valuable coverage you may want to consider. If your totaled vehicle was within the last few model years, the insurance company will offer a payout based on the same year, make and model, even if the amount is higher than what your car is worth.

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