Accidents can be stressful, especially ones that result in a total loss, but having a good car insurance policy in place can make the aftermath easier to navigate. If you have a full coverage insurance policy, the insurance contract is a promise between your insurance company and you, the policyholder. In exchange for the insurance premium, your insurance company guarantees to make you whole again after a loss.


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This promise includes paying a fair market value for your vehicle if it’s damaged beyond repair. But in the event that your car was totaled in a covered accident, you may feel like your claim payout is too low. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic. Bankrate’s insurance editorial team may be able to help. We did the research to help you understand how to negotiate your vehicle’s value. Here’s what you need to know to negotiate with a car insurance company after a total loss.

How to negotiate with car insurance adjusters about a car total loss

If your vehicle is determined to be a total loss — meaning that the vehicle cannot be repaired or that the cost of repairs exceeds the vehicle’s value — you may find yourself in a situation where you are offered less than what you think your vehicle is worth. If you are wondering how to negotiate with an insurance adjuster during an auto total loss claim, there are some steps you can follow.

Determine what the vehicle is worth

One of the first steps in total loss settlement negotiation is determining the value of your vehicle. This will depend on numerous factors, including the year, make and model of your vehicle, any upgrades to the body style, how many miles the vehicle has and its physical condition.

Estimates can be done by a qualified mechanic, but if you just need a ballpark figure, there are online tools that you can use to determine your vehicle’s value. For example, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) or the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) can give you a general idea of what your vehicle may be worth. However, the estimate you get from your car insurance company may differ from that estimate depending on the condition of your vehicle and other factors.

Negotiate with your insurance adjuster

If you feel that the vehicle appraisal from your car insurance company is too low, you can opt to negotiate with your claims adjuster. There are a few things you can do before and after the appraisal process that may improve your chances of success:

  • Get a written estimate: Obtaining a written estimate from a professional body shop can help show your adjuster that your vehicle is worth more than the appraisal.
  • Use online tools: Take advantage of online tools to get ballpark value of your vehicle and print out the results.
  • Find comparable vehicles: Location can have an impact on a vehicle’s value. Find cars for sale in your zip code that match your year, make and model and bring these listings to the negotiation.
  • Ask for your Certified Collateral Corporation (CCC) report: A CCC report is an itemized list of your vehicle’s features that an adjuster uses to help determine the market value of your car. Look over the CCC report and ensure your vehicle’s features and trim level are listed correctly.

The more evidence you bring showing that the insurance company undervalued your vehicle, the stronger your case will be.

Hire an attorney

If your negotiations with the claims adjuster prove unsuccessful, you could hire an attorney. Although this is likely to be considered a last resort, litigation could help you get the settlement you feel you deserve. It could also help to relieve some of the stress surrounding total loss negotiations. An attorney is likely more familiar with the process and knows how to fight the insurance company regarding your totaled car.

It is important to point out that there will typically be a cost associated with hiring an attorney, and there is no guarantee that you will win a new settlement even if you hire one. Additionally, it may be a good idea to ensure that the attorney’s fees won’t outweigh the potential increase to your settlement if your insurance company agrees to a higher payout amount.

Obtain a written settlement agreement

Once you reach a settlement with the insurer, you may want to confirm the terms in writing. This helps ensure that everyone agrees on the settlement amount and protects both parties by attesting that the insurance company agrees to pay a certain amount and that you agree to that amount.

Frequently asked questions

    • Three instances could lead your insurance company to declare your vehicle a total loss after a covered claim: the cost of repairs exceeds the vehicle’s value, the vehicle is damaged beyond repair or your vehicle is stolen and not recovered. It’s important to remember that the only way you will get a claims payout in these scenarios is if you carry full coverage car insurance.
    • Yes. In a typical total loss settlement, you are paid for the value of the vehicle, which means the car becomes the legal property of the insurance company. But in some cases, it could take very little damage to officially total your vehicle. If this happens, you can choose to retain the car, but your total loss settlement may be decreased. You may also be required to remove comprehensive and collision coverage from your vehicle until the repairs are done. Even then, if your vehicle is damaged again, your claim payout may be reduced since you have already been paid for the full value of your vehicle.
    • If you feel that your insurance company valued your vehicle too low after it was declared a total loss, one option you may have is to hire a public adjuster. A public adjuster is an independent claims adjuster who works for you rather than the insurance company. After you hire a public adjuster, they will handle all aspects of the claim on your behalf. As with hiring an attorney, there is a fee associated with hiring your own adjuster, and there is no guarantee that they will be successful in negotiating your claim.