Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager Chris Harrigan

UPDATED: Sep 27, 2020

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Key takeaways...

  • Whenever auto damage claims are filed, the insurance company will investigate the loss thoroughly before paying
  • When the adjuster is investigating, they will inspect your damage and estimate how much it’ll cost to fix
  • Cars are totaled when the damage exceeds what the car is worth or a percentage of the car’s value
  • If the estimate is higher than the car’s Actual Cash Value, you’ll get a notice that the car will be totaled
  • If you feel like the estimate or the value is wrong, you can ask for it to be reevaluated and corrected

A car crash can easily turn a good car into a wreck. If you’re in a minor crash, getting your car repaired could be a simple as filing a claim and hiring a shop to do the bodywork.

Unfortunately, more serious accident claims can be more difficult to deal with. Instead of filing a claim for money to repair your car, you’ll be filing a total loss claim.

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There are some scenarios where a car has just enough damage where it could be either repaired or totaled. These scenarios are tough for both the insurance adjuster and the policyholder. Some drivers want to keep their cars and invest money into fixing them.

Other drivers would rather total the car out. Here’s how you can affect the total loss decision:

How is a claim investigated after your car is damaged?


If you have full coverage on your own policy or you’re hit by a driver and you file a claim against their insurance, you can file a claim.

When you’re filing a claim, you’re asked a ton of who, what, when, where, and how questions so that the adjuster can look into the details and investigate.

It is your claims adjuster’s job to investigate your claim. If you’re filing a third-party claim for benefits, an adjuster representing the other company will also investigate:

  • Reports will be run
  • Pictures at the scene will be reviewed
  • Statements will be taken
  • Professionals will estimate the damage

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What happens after the damage is estimated?

After the adjuster allocates fault and the estimator comes up with a detailed damage estimate it’s the adjuster’s role to calculate the vehicle’s value. The insurance company will use the car’s Actual Cash Value when settling a claim.

This is how much the car is actually at the time of the loss after factoring in depreciation.

If the estimator gives a report saying that the car will cost more to repair than the adjuster has determined that the car is worth, the vehicle will then be declared a total loss.

A total loss means that the car is being written off because of it’s condition or because it’s suffered major structural damage making it unsafe.

The insurer is never going to pay you more than they are obligated to repair your car.

Since the company has written in the contract that they will only pay up to your car’s value to settle damage claims, don’t expect to receive any more than that or the company would be losing money.

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What is a total loss threshold?

There are states where the estimated damage doesn’t even have to exceed the car’s damage for the car to be totaled. If you have recently had a loss and you want to ask that your car be totaled, you should familiarize yourself with the Total Loss Threshold (TLT) rule.

If there’s no exception to the total loss definition then the TLT is said to be 100 percent. This means that damage must equal 100 percent of the vehicle’s value before the carrier can legally total the car.

In other states, the TLT could be as low as 60 percent. When this rule exists, the carrier can legally total out your car if the damage exceeds only 60 percent of your car’s value.

Do you have a say in the claims decision?


As the policyholder, you do have the right to stay involved in the claims process. Your adjuster is supposed to be your advocate when settling a claim. They should always give you updates and they should always let you know your rights when you don’t agree with a claims decision.

As a policyholder, you have the right to appeal claims decisions and make requests after a settlement offer is sent to you. You have to file your appeal in a timely manner and complete the process before you can expect anything to change.

To avoid the complicated and drawn out process, you should first ask for the estimates and ACV reports to be reviewed.

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Can you have the adjuster reassess the value of your car?

When you would prefer that your car be totaled and your adjuster has valued your car higher than you expected, you might be offered the option to get your car repaired instead of it being declared a total loss.

If this happens, the first step to take is for you to reassess the valuation report.

If there are errors on the valuation report that are driving up the value of your car, then you should have them fixed as soon as you can. This could be why the estimate doesn’t exceed your car’s value.

Many times, the agent will put the wrong sub-model with the wrong vehicle features. Some trim levels can raise values if they are rare.

Is it possible to have someone else estimate the damage to your car?


If you think that the error was in the estimate and not necessarily in the valuation of your car, ask the carrier to send another estimator out.

If this estimate is close or the damage estimate goes down, you can also hire your own third-party to come out and do their own unbiased estimate.

Then, after there are three independent estimates, the carrier will take all of the figures and average them out to come up with a final number.

No one wants to drive a vehicle around that has suffered so much damage that it will never feel the same. If you don’t think your car can be repaired or you believe that the claims settlement offer is wrong, you can question it and then appeal the decision.

Ask if the adjuster can adjust the values and total your car out. If you’re not happy, get online quotes instantly and then switch to another carrier. Use our free comparison tool today to find the best rate on car insurance.