What Happens if Your Vehicle is Totaled in a Car Accident?

Being in a car accident can cause disruption in your life. Aside from any injuries, just dealing with not having transportation, even for a few days, can throw your life off. If the damage to your vehicle is significant, the insurance adjuster may declare it a total loss. But how does the insurance adjuster determine if your car is totaled after an accident? And what should you do if that happens?

When is a Car Declared a Total Loss?

If it costs less to replace your damaged vehicle than it does to repair it, the insurance company will declare it a total loss. Florida Statute (§ 626.9743(5)) states that a vehicle can be considered a total loss if the cost of repairs will exceed 80% of the vehicle’s pre-accident fair market value. The age of the vehicle, the mileage and its condition immediately before the accident will be used when calculating the fair market value of your car.

What Losses Can I Include in the Insurance Claim?

In addition to the value of the vehicle, the damages claim submitted to your insurance company should include any other financial losses that were a direct result of the car accident. Consider the following to see if they are applicable to your situation.

  • Lost items. When a collision occurs, anything inside the vehicle can be thrown around with tremendous force. Objects that were damaged, such as laptops, cell phones, car seats, and eyeglasses, will need to be repaired or replaced. The cost to repair or replace damaged items should be included in your claim. Sometimes even your clothing was damaged due to airbag chemicals and they can be included.
  • Rental cars. If you rented a car while your vehicle was being repaired, that expense may be covered, and should be included in your damages claim.
  • After market improvements. If you made changes to your vehicle that increased its value, they need to be included. The insurance company will need receipts.

Next Steps After a Total Loss Accident

Knowledge is power. And knowing what to do after an accident can be calming and empowering in a stressful situation. Here are the steps you should know.

  • File an insurance claim. You should file your claim as soon as possible after the accident. Frequently a total loss claim takes time to finalize and filing right away gets the process started. No one wants to be without their vehicle for any longer than is absolutely necessary.
  • Get a rental car. You should check your insurance policy to confirm whether you have rental car coverage or ask your insurance agent. Make sure you are clear on the rental rate your policy covers, the length of time you can have a rental, and the type of vehicle that is permitted under the policy.
  • Get your car to an auto body shop. You should check your insurance policy or ask your insurance agent if your vehicle has to be towed to one of their approved body shops for inspection, or can you bring it to one of your choosing.
  • Get your paperwork together. You are going to need certain documents pertaining to the purchase of your vehicle, such as the title, and if there is a lien on the vehicle, loan information, including the lien holder’s contact information, loan payoff amount, and if you have gap insurance. Remember if you do still owe on the vehicle, the lien holder will have the title of the vehicle.
  • Get the fair market value of your car. You should research the fair market value of your vehicle. Kelley Blue Book is one of the most widely used resources for determining the value of a vehicle.

What is Gap Insurance and Why Do I Need it?

If your vehicle is leased or financed through a bank, credit union or car dealership, they hold the title on the vehicle until the loan is paid in full. In order to protect their interests in the vehicle, they may require that you include gap insurance as part of your auto insurance policy.

Gap insurance bridges the gap between what the insurance company will pay you for your totaled vehicle and the outstanding loan balance of the vehicle. Say you have a $20,000 vehicle which is financed through your bank. The vehicle suffered severe damage in an auto accident, and it will cost $17,000 to repair. The insurance adjuster declares the vehicle a total loss because the cost of repairs is greater than 80% ($16,000) of the vehicle’s actual value. Gap insurance would pay the remaining $4,000 it would take to pay off the outstanding loan amount with the bank. Gap insurance guarantees that your financial obligations are covered in the event of an accident.

If My Car is a Total Loss, Can I Still Keep It?

In Florida, once the insurance company pays for the total loss, they are entitled to the car. But, if you want to buy it back from them, you can always ask.

But there are things you should be aware of. Once a vehicle has been rendered a total loss, it becomes a salvage vehicle. If you wish to keep the vehicle, you will need to obtain a salvage title. A salvage title is necessary if you plan to operate or sell the car. The insurance company should apply for a salvage title with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). Salvage titles are perfect for anyone planning to rebuild and drive their car. However, if you plan to sell the car for parts, a certificate of destruction must be obtained from DHSMV.

Do I Need an Attorney to Help Me?

Frankly, you know the value of your car the best. We normally let our clients handle the property loss aspect of the claim on their own. We advise you to try and get the insurance company to pay you as much as possible and take it. I have rarely, if ever, heard of anyone filing a lawsuit over a discrepancy on a total loss and winning. Ultimately, you would spend more money fighting over it than it is worth.

If you have an injury in addition to a property damage claim, that’s where we come in. Your attorney will review your situation and tell you whether filing an injury claim would be appropriate.

At Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we are experienced Florida personal injury lawyers who can help you get the fair compensation you deserve as a result of someone else’s negligence. We pride ourselves on providing our clients compassionate, honest, and dedicated legal counsel. As one of Florida’s leading personal injury firms, we have helped countless car accident victims recover compensation.

Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation or call (727) 381-2300.