Key takeaways

  • A car is totaled if the repair cost is more than the vehicle is worth, it’s damaged beyond repair or stolen and not recovered.
  • You can only get an insurance claim payout if you carry full coverage on a vehicle.
  • An insurance adjuster will examine your car to determine how much it’s worth.
  • You can negotiate the car’s value with the adjuster or hire an attorney to come to a settlement.

Accidents can be stressful, especially ones that result in a total loss (aka a totaled car). Having good car insurance in place can make the aftermath easier to navigate. If you have full coverage, the insurance provider should offer you a fair market value for your vehicle if it’s damaged beyond repair. But if you feel like your claim payout is too low, don’t panic. Here’s what you need to know to negotiate with a car insurance company after a total loss.

How do you determine if your car is totaled?

There are a few ways to figure out if your vehicle is considered totaled. First, it’s deemed totaled if it is stolen and not recovered. Also, it’s considered totaled if the vehicle is damaged beyond repair. Lastly, your car is totaled if the repair cost is more than the vehicle is worth at the time of the accident.

What is the role of an insurance adjuster?

Your insurance company might refer to an insurance adjuster as a claims adjuster, but they are the same role. The adjuster investigates your coverage and insurance claim after an accident. Specifically, they will look to see that you do in fact have full coverage, and they may gather statements from those involved in the accident. If a police report was submitted, the insurance adjuster will also review it.

If the insurance adjuster believes the claim is covered, they will typically inspect the vehicle to determine the cost of repairs (or whether repairs are even possible). If your vehicle is totaled, it means it can’t be repaired, or the cost exceeds the value of your vehicle at the time of the accident.

How to negotiate a car’s value after an accident

If your vehicle is determined to be a total loss — meaning that it cannot be repaired or the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the vehicle — the insurance company will likely send out an adjuster. The adjuster will be tasked with examining the car to determine its worth.

However, you may find yourself in a situation where you are offered less than what you perceive the value of your vehicle to be. In this case, you may be wondering how to negotiate the best settlement. Here’s what you need to know.

Determine what the vehicle is worth

Before negotiating a total loss settlement with your insurance company, arm yourself with knowledge by independently determining the value of your vehicle. Your vehicle’s value will depend on several factors, including:

  • Make and model
  • Year of manufacturing
  • Mileage
  • Physical condition
  • Accident history
  • Number of owners
  • Value of similar vehicles for sale online
  • Value on websites like Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and Edmunds

You could get an estimate from 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 free. Just go to or the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) website. Regardless, the estimate you get from your car insurance company may differ from other estimates 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 the 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 vehicle’s 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.

By having more evidence to show that your insurance company undervalued your vehicle, you’ll build a stronger case for negotiating your vehicle’s settlement value.

Hire an attorney

If negotiating with the claims adjuster proves unsuccessful but you still feel you have a strong case, you could hire an attorney. Although likely 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 will be more familiar with the process.

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

Obtain a written settlement agreement

Once you reach a settlement with the insurer, you may want to confirm the terms in writing to verify that everyone agrees. This protects both parties by setting appropriate expectations and helping to ensure they will be met.

Frequently asked questions

    • 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 likely 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.
    • If your vehicle is deemed “totaled,” your insurance company will look at your car’s actual cash value (ACV). This is the amount the vehicle was worth prior to the loss. The ACV will always be less than what you purchased the car for since your vehicle begins to depreciate as soon as you drive it off the parking lot. To determine your vehicle’s ACV, your insurance company will assess the severity of the damage, your vehicle’s age, its make and model, plus any recoverable costs.
    • If you have liability-only insurance on the totaled vehicle, it is not covered and you won’t receive a payout. If you have full coverage and your car was damaged by something other than another driver, like a fallen tree or a deer hitting your car, your insurance company will most likely pay out your claim. However, if another driver was involved in an accident that totaled your car, the company that pays out the claim depends on your insurance policy and state law regarding fault.
    • It might help to shop around and compare rates for coverage. Start by researching the companies writing the cheapest policies and request quotes from several of them. Use the same coverage types and amounts so you can do an even comparison. Don’t forget to check for available discounts before purchasing a policy.