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How to negotiate with a car insurance company after a total loss

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If you have full coverage auto insurance, your policy could pay you for the value of your vehicle if it is totaled due to a covered loss. Losing your vehicle to a total loss can be stressful, but understanding how the process works and knowing how to get more for your total loss vehicle settlement could help you set realistic expectations for the process. The total loss settlement negotiation process can be intimidating, but Bankrate’s team of insurance editors has done the research to help you understand how to negotiate your vehicle’s value.

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

When you file a claim on your car insurance policy, your case will likely be assigned to a claims adjuster. The adjuster’s job is to review the facts of the loss, determine what coverages apply, pay out the appropriate amounts and settle the claim.

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 or an expert witness. But if you just need a ballpark figure, there are online tools that you can use to determine your vehicle’s value.

Decide if the initial offer is too low

There may be no need to negotiate with your claims adjuster if the initial payout offer for your vehicle is sufficient. If the offer you receive is in line with your estimate of your vehicle’s worth, you could choose to accept the payout and close the claim.

Negotiate with your insurance adjuster

However, if you feel that the offer for your vehicle’s value is too low, you can begin negotiating with your claims adjuster. If you decide to negotiate, you may want to be prepared to show how you came up with your desired payout number. You could get a written estimate from more than one body shop as well as figures from online tools. The more documentation that you can provide, the stronger your case may 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 that you feel that 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.

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

What does it mean when your car is a total loss?

If a vehicle is determined to be a total loss, it either means that it cannot be repaired at all or that the cost of replacing it will outweigh the value of the vehicle. A total loss can also indicate theft of a vehicle, but in that case you must have comprehensive coverage to be compensated for the loss.

Can I keep my car if it is a total loss?

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. In this case, you can choose to retain the car. Your total loss settlement may be decreased because you keep the car. 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, because you have already been paid for the full value of your vehicle.

Should I get my own claims adjuster for total loss settlement negotiation?

If you are not happy with the offer presented to you by the insurance adjuster, you could choose to hire your own independent adjuster. However, this can be expensive and there is no guarantee that an independent adjuster will value your car more highly than an adjuster from your insurance company.

Written by
Cynthia Widmayer
Insurance Contributor
Cynthia Widmayer is an insurance contributor for Bankrate and has over two years of experience as a personal finance writer. She covers home, car and life insurance products for Bankrate, The Simple Dollar and among others.
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Insurance Writer & Editor