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What You Should Know

Car totaled in a wreck? How to Increase an Insurance Company’s Offer on your Total Loss Claim

Not every car crash, thankfully, results in injuries. Despite the fact that no one involved in the crash got hurt, the cars are usually damaged to some degree. For almost everyone, that means dealing with insurance companies when trying to get the vehicle repaired. If the car is severely damaged, the cost to repair that damage can exceed a certain percentage of the value of the car (usually 80%). When this happens, the insurance company is going to determine the vehicle to be a “total loss” and pay the owner the reasonable market value for the vehicle, or replace the motor vehicle with a comparable motor vehicle. (The Florida statute governing these practices is Fla. Stat. § 626.9743.)

Typically, these claims go very smoothly and the insurance company will pay a fair value for the totaled vehicle. Most drivers navigate the process alone, and are almost never represented by an attorney. However, in some situations insurance companies attempt to pay slightly less than what they should. This might only be a few hundred dollars, but when you multiply that few hundred dollars by the number of claims the insurance companies pay out each year, it doesn’t take long for those hundreds of dollars to balloon into hundreds of millions of dollars. To prevent this from happening to you, I will share a few tips to ensure you are receiving a fair value for your vehicle.

First, you need to understand how the insurance companies determine the value of a vehicle.

  • After a collision, the insurance company will task an adjuster to look over the damage on the vehicle and come up with a repair estimate.
  • Once an estimate is made, the insurance company will make a determination as to whether it wants to repair the vehicle or classify the vehicle as a total loss.
  • If the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds a percentage of what the vehicle is worth (usually 80%) the vehicle will be determined a “total loss.”
  • After the vehicle is determined to be a “total loss” the insurance company will gather all of the data about the vehicle (make, model, mileage, features, accessories, etc.) and plug that information into a database. That database will search local auto dealerships and attempt to locate vehicles that match the same criteria as the one which is being replaced.
  • Once comparable vehicles are located, the adjuster will then compare the prices and the data between the vehicles adding or subtracting from the value of the vehicle based on these comparisons. (For example, if the adjuster finds a vehicle exactly like the one being replaced for $5,000 but it has 40,000 more miles, the adjuster would presumably value the vehicle being replaced higher than $5000. By doing this comparing and contrasting, the adjuster is going to come up with a value at which he/she values the car and will convey that offer to the vehicle owner.)
  • The offer will also include the sales tax that would be required to purchase a new vehicle as well.

Once the vehicle owner receives the initial offer from the adjuster, it should never be blindly accepted. Most people will simply accept the offer without looking at the report showing the vehicles the adjuster used as comparisons. One of the best ways to boost the offer on the damaged vehicle is to look through the report and ensure the vehicles it was compared with have substantially the same features and mileage. Using the example from above, it is highly unlikely that the vehicle owner would accept $5,000 for his damaged vehicle when he finds out that the exact same vehicle with 40,000 more miles sells for $5,000. Differences like that can add hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, to the value of the loss.

After looking through the valuation report, the owner should gather any receipts for improvements made on the vehicle in the last year. If the car had $1,200 worth of tires put on it 3 months prior to the wreck, the adjuster needs to know and the value of the vehicle will be raised. This could be for anything that was done to the car such as: replacing the transmission, new paint job, new stereo system, aftermarket chrome rims, etc. Any proof that can be provided to the adjuster showing value was added to the vehicle will increase the value of the offer. Adjusters won’t necessarily ask for this information, knowing that if they did they would be paying out more money. Often, they won’t mention anything about recent improvements to the vehicle until or unless the owner brings it up.

Lastly, don’t forget that if the car is not operational after the wreck, you are entitled to the lost use of your vehicle from the date of the wreck until you settle the property damage claim with the insurance company. Again, almost no adjuster is going to bring this up unless it is mentioned. However, the lost use amount is not valid if the insurance company provides you with a rental car during the claims process.

I get several phone calls every month regarding the fair valuation of a “total loss” vehicle. The techniques spelled out above are exactly what I tell every client. I would say in a vast majority of cases, if you simply look through the valuation report, provide receipts for recent additions/maintenance done to the vehicle and demand lost use damages, you will increase the value of your “total loss” claim. If you or a loved one are in a situation where you feel you are not being adequately compensated for a vehicle deemed a “total loss,” call the attorneys at Fasig and Brooks for a free consultation.