If your car is damaged in an accident, the value of your claim generally is determined by the cost
of repairing it to its pre-accident condition.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may present this claim to your own insurance
company or to a company that insures another vehicle involved in the accident with you.
If the cost of repairing your car approaches its market value before the accident, the insurance
company may want to "total" your car. In this case, your claim will not be based on the
cost of repairing it.
If your automobile is totaled, you are entitled to the difference between the vehicle's value before
the accident and its value, if any, after the accident.
The value before the accident is usually determined by reference to directories such as the Kelley
Blue Book, newspaper ads offering similar cars for sale, and statements from car dealers or other
services that appraise automobiles. You also are entitled to some reimbursement for taxes and registration
If your car is totaled, the insurance company may require that the car and the title be turned over
to the company. You would receive the fair market value of the car.
Alternatively, the company could establish a "salvage value" for the car. You may then
be able to receive the fair market value of the car less the salvage value.
In that case, you would be able to keep the car. The car then will generally bear a "salvaged
vehicle" title to give notice to any new purchaser that the vehicle was previously totaled.
If you disagree with the figure the insurance company uses regarding the fair market value of your
automobile, you can negotiate with the adjuster using information from the sources mentioned previously.
Unfortunately, most insurance companies use a particular service to estimate value, and adjusters
may not be willing to give you more than that service indicates the automobile is worth.
If the company offers you substantially less than what you feel your car is worth, you can either
file a civil lawsuit against the person who caused the accident or file a claim against your own
insurance company, if that is where you made your claim.
You would be wise to discuss your problem with an attorney before filing a lawsuit.