You’ve been in an accident. Thankfully, you’re not hurt, but unfortunately, you can’t say the same for your vehicle. If the repairs on your car cost more than your vehicle is worth and it needs to be totaled, in the insurance world it is considered a ‘total loss.’ 

Sounds expensive, right? Don’t worry, your auto insurance policy is designed to protect you in case of an accident. Here are some FAQs to know what to do if this happens to you or a member of your family.


How do you know if your car is totaled?

A vehicle is usually considered a total loss if the damage meets or exceeds around 80% of its value. The insurance company will send an adjuster to look at your car in most cases. The repair shop also may weigh in. The mechanic will examine the structure of your vehicle. He or she will list the repairs needed. Your insurer will check state laws – because some states have rules about how much damage qualifies for a total loss. In all, this assessment will determine the cost to repair your car. If that amount is too much, your vehicle is considered “totaled.”

It is worth noting that you don’t have to be in a car accident to total your vehicle. Your car also could be damaged beyond repair by fire or extreme weather. If a tree falls on your car, that could total it too. The claim process works the same way for those situations.


How much will you get for your car if it is totaled?

If your car is totaled, your insurer will pay you for the actual cash value (ACV) of your car. That amount is determined by your vehicle’s age, condition, mileage, options, and resale value. Since newer vehicles depreciate once you drive them off the lot, the cash value of your car may not be the same as the price you paid—even if the accident occurs soon after you purchased the vehicle.


What if the accident was the other driver’s fault? 

If the accident was not your fault, you can file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. Their policy will pay you using their property damage liability coverage. But what happens If the other driver doesn’t have insurance, or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover damages? Then you will be covered under uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage. These are optional coverages in the majority of states. In some states, you are not allowed to carry collision and UMPD at the same time. Also, sometimes UMPD has a policy maximum or cap on the amount it will pay. If you have UMPD/UIMPD, and it isn’t enough to cover the total cost of your car, your own collision coverage will help.


What if the accident was your fault—or the fault of Mother Nature?

If you caused the accident, and your car is totaled, your insurance company will pay the cash value of your car minus your deductible and any state taxes or fees. When you are at fault, your collision coverage kicks in. Collision pays for totaled cars after colliding with another vehicle, tree, rail or other structure. You have this coverage if you are financing or leasing a vehicle; it’s required. 

If Mother Nature caused the damage, comprehensive coverage pays for it. Again, this is coverage that is required if you are financing or leasing a vehicle. Comprehensive covers natural disasters, fires, vandalism, theft, and animals that damage your vehicle. However, if your car was paid off, and you don’t have comprehensive or collision insurance, you would be responsible for the full costs to repair your totaled vehicle.

Your car doesn’t look that bad. How could it be totaled?

You can’t always tell the extent of the damage by looking at a vehicle. For example, a car that sat in flood waters higher than the seat would have extensive flood damage to the engine. Looking at it after it has dried out might not tell you that parts need replacement. In addition, 

repairs from collisions can cost more than you think. Finally, your state may have regulations that require vehicles with a certain amount of severe damage to be declared a total loss.


What if you want to keep your car anyway?

We understand that you may have a sentimental attachment to your car. Talk to your claims adjuster to see if you are able to keep it. Your settlement will be less if you decide to do so. In addition, you will have to talk to your insurance agent about the possibility of keeping a totaled vehicle on your policy or if you have to find other insurance. Proceed with caution. A car that has been totaled is usually better off replaced than rebuilt.


What if you haven’t paid off your car yet?

Accidents happen. That’s true whether your car is paid off or you’re still making loan payments. If you total your car and you’re still paying for it, you will continue to be responsible for the amount owed. That’s true even if you’re no longer able to drive the car. The good news is that you can use the money from the cash value of your totaled vehicle to repay the lender.

After you get the insurance check, there may still be an amount owed, and you will be responsible for it. Consider gap insurance also known as loan/lease insurance. This type of insurance covers the difference between the loan or lease payoff and the cash value of your car. It can provide peace of mind should you find yourself in this situation.


What if you totaled a leased car?

Your insurer will send the check for cash value to your lender. You will be responsible for any additional charges. If you still owe but the accident was not your fault, contact the other driver’s insurance company to cover that additional payment. It’s always a good idea to continue to make your lease payments until the insurance company issues the check so that your credit rating doesn’t suffer.


What if your teen totals your car?

In most cases, teen drivers are covered under their parents’ policies. The coverage selected by the policy owner will apply. If you have comprehensive and collision insurance, your teen will have the same deductible that you selected. Your or your son/daughter will pay the deductible and the insurance will cover the remaining cost. If, however, you don’t have comprehensive and collision, you will be responsible for the full amount.

Make sure you add your teen driver to your policy. Some insurers will deny coverage if your son or daughter is in an accident and not on your policy. Others will charge you for back premiums from the time the teen was licensed. National Teen Driver Safety Week is Oct. 17-23, 2021. It’s a good time to talk to your teen about car maintenance tips and distracted driving to help keep them safe on the roads.


What are the steps to take if your car is totaled?

After an accident, totaled vehicles are often sent to the impound lot, or tow yard, which is a holding place until the next step. If declared a total loss, they could be sent on to a salvage auction. Because the car may not be in your possession, you will want to remove all important information right after the accident.

    • Make sure to clear out your personal belongings. Check all storage areas within your vehicle, including the glove compartment, trunk, and cubbies. 
    • Get all copies of the key. 
    • Get the title. If your car is leased, request that the title be sent to your insurance company. If you are not leasing, and you own the car, you can request a copy of the title from the DMV.
    • Schedule vehicle pickup or drop-off with your insurer. 
    • Your adjuster will advise on handing over the title, and the keys if not already with the car. 
    • Sign the paperwork and receive payment.



This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or

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