How To Make Sure Your Vehicle is Totaled for Insurance Purposes

Your totaled car is sitting in the backyard when you get a telephone call from your insurance adjuster. They will fix your car! In many occasions this is good news, but when your car is nearly destroyed and the insurance company wants to patch it together and give it back to you, then you have a problem. Here are five simple steps you should follow to have your insurance company total your car and not attempt to fix it.

Ask for the repair estimate. Getting the repair estimate will show you what the insurance company thinks is wrong with your car. Review the estimate. Make sure the car will be painted and that all the necessary parts to fix it are accounted for. If you do not know mechanics that well, take that estimate to another shop and ask them to review it.

Make sure you have the insurance company account for all the cost associated with fixing the car before they start working on it. Have them account for all the parts and the shipping cost. Make sure that the parts they are buying are actually in inventory. In many cases, insurance adjusters price a part, but cannot find it. This will make you wait longer and they would have to pay for more for rental fees.

Ask for a "tear down," which is the process of taking off all the visibly damaged parts and looking to see if the parts below are also damaged. More often than not, hidden damage will appear, and this will make the estimate of damages higher and take you closer to a totaled car. Insurance companies do not want to pay for this tear down. But if you insist, they will pay for it. This is a good idea anyway for two reasons: The tear down will most likely increase the repair estimate, and you will also know if the integrity of the frame and chassis were compromised in the impact.

Use the rental expense to your advantage. If your car is repaired, it will likely take 20 to 30 days before you can drive it again, even if all the parts are on hand at the time the mechanics start working. The insurance company will face a rental bill that could be over $1,000, depending on the limits of your policy. If you have a totaled car, then the insurance company will only have to pay up to three days of rental (sometime less, depending on your state). They will be saving significantly if they do declare a total loss.

Research your state law for diminished or diminution of value claims. If you are making a claim against your own insurance company, some states will allow you to ask for the difference between what the car was worth before the accident, and what it is worth after it is repaired. Many states do not allow for first party claims like this one. However, the restrictions only apply to first party claims. If you are making this claim against the insurance company of the person who hit you, then the claim will be allowed.


  • Remember that NADA or Kelley Blue Book estimates are not taken into account. Double-check that the comps the adjusters are giving you actually exist. Make sure those comps are also in your local market.


  • Consult with a lawyer before you make any decisions regarding your claim.