Can I Keep My Car if the Insurance Company Totals It?

If you have been involved in an auto accident and sustained enough damage that the insurance company considers it a total loss, you may be able to keep the car if you choose.

However, repairing the vehicle may not make financial sense, and you will not be permitted to drive it until you secure a “rebuilt” title as well as car insurance– which can be difficult to obtain once a vehicle has been classified as salvage.

Retaining your vehicle after it has been totaled requires you to navigate paperwork, insurance procedures, and state laws. The process is much less stressful when you work with a Pittsburgh personal injury attorney at Chaffin Luhana— because we are looking out for your best interests while holding the liable party accountable.

When is a car “totaled”?

A car is considered a total loss when the cost to repair it is more than the vehicle would be worth after repairs. The insurance company decides this based on a threshold or formula, which varies by state.

To determine whether a vehicle is totaled, the insurance adjuster must first determine its Actual Cash Value (ACV). This is the value of the car immediately before the accident, and it is usually calculated by entering attributes into a computer program.

Once the adjuster determines the ACV, he will estimate the cost to repair the damage. In some states, if the cost to repair is more than a certain percentage (often around 75%) of the ACV—it is considered a “total loss.”

In other states, like Pennsylvania, adjusters use the Total Loss Formula (TLF), in which they add the vehicle’s salvage value and the cost of repair. If that amount exceeds the ACV, then, again, the car is deemed a total loss.

Who pays for a total loss?

Compensation is not automatically paid, even if the accident did cause a total loss. Payment depends on who was at fault, your state’s insurance laws, and the type of insurance involved.

If the accident occurs in a fault-based state and the other driver was to blame, then their insurance company should pay for the loss. If it was your fault, you would need comprehensive coverage to be reimbursed; the most basic policy may not cover your damage.

Things get trickier in a no-fault insurance state. Personal injury protection pays for that but not property damage. In a no-fault state, you may be permitted to file a lawsuit for property damage against an at-fault party. Speak with a lawyer to discuss your options.

What is paid on a total loss?

If your vehicle damage is eligible for insurance coverage, you will be entitled to a replacement vehicle of similar kind and quality.

If you choose to keep the vehicle, you will still receive payment of the ACV, though the salvage price and a deductible may be applied. If you still owe money on the vehicle, the lienholder may also receive the check instead.

Complications with driving a salvage vehicle

Receiving the ACV settlement if you keep the vehicle is not a windfall; the car will receive a salvage title, and you will not be legally permitted to drive it until it is repaired and inspected. Even if you succeed in having the salvage title removed, it will be difficult to find a company that will insure a vehicle with a rebuilt title.

How to challenge the insurance company’s findings

If you disagree with the insurance company’s total loss determination, you may be able to challenge it by presenting additional evidence.

Providing photos and other documentation showing the value of the automobile immediately before the accident may increase the ACV. This, in turn, increases the number at which the estimated repair costs will exceed the total loss threshold.

If your vehicle is unique or has special qualities, keep up-to-date photos and records of improvements that document its features. If you are involved in a claim that includes property damage, consider working with a Pittsburgh personal injury lawyer to maximize the compensation you recover.

Discuss your case with an experienced lawyer

Learning your vehicle has been deemed a total loss only adds to the stress that follows an accident. Choose to be well-informed about your options by discussing your case with a skilled Pittsburgh car accident lawyer at Chaffin Luhana. Our attorneys have recovered over $1 billion on behalf of clients. Call today to schedule a free consultation.