When Is a Car Considered “Totaled”?

car is totaled

It’s common to hear a car accident described as resulting in one or more “totaled” vehicles. But a car is not declared totaled just from looking at it. There is a lot that goes into the determination beyond the degree of damage to the car or how severe the accident is.

An auto insurance company can declare a vehicle to be a total loss due to something as insignificant as a dented bumper or as severe as a high speed collision. The determination depends on the value of the vehicle.

What Are the Types of Accident Damage?

There are various ways an auto insurance company will categorize the extent of damage. These descriptions range from minor and moderate damage to severe damage and total loss.

  • Minor damages: Minor damages such as minor dents, dings, scratches, scrapes, or small fractures in the windshield, can be caused by a minor collision. The cost of minor damage will depend on the car’s value and the cost of the parts for repair.
  • Moderate damages: Moderate damages can include larger dents, large cracks, or significant windshield cracks. If an accident occurs where airbags weren’t deployed, the damage is usually classified as moderate.
  • Severe damages: Severe damages occur in a high impact collision. If the vehicle sustained significant damage to the body or frame, this is considered severe. Most often, in a high speed accident, the car’s condition is beyond where it could be safely repaired.

What Does it Mean if a Car is a Total Loss? 

After inspection, an insurance company may determine that a car is “totaled”, which is the same as a “total loss”. It means that the cost to repair the car damage is too high relative to the value of the car. If a car is declared a total loss, it is not worth it financially for the insurance company to spend money repairing it. 

So, how does an insurance company determine a totaled car? The insurance company will calculate the cash value of the car at the time of loss. They do this from looking at the year, make, model, and mileage of the vehicle. They also look at the salvage value, or resale value of the parts of the car. And finally, they determine the cost of repair for all of the damages done in the accident.

A total loss is generally declared when the repair cost exceeds the actual cash value plus the resale value of the parts of the vehicle. This sometimes varies, as it may be considered totaled if the repairs are a certain high percentage of the car’s value. Because of this equation, a car can sustain only moderate damages and still be a total loss.

What Are My Options if My Car is “Totaled”?

  • Accept the total loss evaluation. In this case, you’ll receive a settlement equal to the value of your car at the time of the accident. This value is determined by an evaluation by the insurance company. They will then usually come retrieve your car and sell it for salvage value.
  • Dispute the total loss evaluation. If you feel that the evaluation was incorrect, you can notify the insurance company that you would like to dispute their evaluation. You may be able to get a different estimate from an auto body shop on the cost of repairs.
  • Keep the car and repair it yourself. This option is only legal in some states. If you do this, you will receive a smaller cash settlement that is the difference between your car’s current and former value. To know if you are authorized to keep your car after a total loss determination, talk to your insurance company.

If you decide to keep your car and repair it, the damaged vehicle will be returned to you and you will be given a “salvage” title. Any future sale of the car has to list it as a salvage title, even after it has been repaired.

Get an Auto Repair Estimate After an Accident

If you are considering your options after an accident, then it’s best to talk to an auto collision repair shop. The shop experts can provide you with a cost estimate for repairs. They can advise you on decisions about making significant repairs. 

If you want to dispute the total loss evaluation or keep the car to have it repaired, a quality auto body shop can let you know about the costs associated with your options. Valley Collision in Salt Lake City provides a free auto repair estimate after your collision.

Check your Auto Body Repair Status on carwise.com