Insurance companies will typically choose to “total” a car if the cost to repair it is more than the vehicle is worth. This can also be called a “write off,” as in “written off as a total loss.” In fact, this can happen even if the cost to repair it exceeds only 70-75% of the vehicle’s value.

When an insurance company chooses to total your car, they are essentially buying it from you rather than paying to repair it.

Not all vehicle owners want to accept a check from the insurance company to go buy another car when their vehicle is totaled.  This is especially true if they still owe money on the original car or if they believe the car can be repaired for cheaper than the insurance company’s estimate.

Most times the check the insurance company writes you won’t be enough to buy a new car on its own, especially these days with escalating vehicle prices. That means if your car is totaled, you may need to pay the difference out of your own pocket.

Thankfully, there are ways to protest if an insurance company wants to write off your car after a wreck, but you don’t want to.

Related Reading: Is My Car Totaled if the Airbags Deploy?

You Can Appeal an Insurance Company’s Appraisal

Georgia uses a calculation called the “total loss formula” (TLF) to determine when a car is totaled. Take the fair market value/actual cash value (ACV) of the car and subtract the vehicle’s scrap value. If the remaining value is less than the cost of repairs, the car is considered totaled.

To avoid having your vehicle officially considered totaled, you will need to appeal the insurance company’s appraisal. There are three ways you could go about it:

  • Provide evidence showing their estimate to repair the vehicle is too high
  • Provide evidence showing their estimate of the vehicle’s ACV is too low
  • Provide evidence showing their estimate of the vehicle’s scrap value is too high (if the scrap value is low, it is more unappealing for them to total it and sell as scrap)

For example, the insurance company’s estimates of the vehicle’s ACV may be based on the average mileage for the age of the car, but if the vehicle was in good condition with low mileage before the crash, it may be worth more than the adjuster originally estimated.

Most of these appeals will involve a lot of legwork on your part getting estimates from repair shops and salvage yards. You will likely need to provide proof of regular maintenance. You may want to hire your own independent appraiser or even a lawyer. However, this may be worth it to you because this is the only way to avoid your car ending up with a salvage title.

Related Video: Bad Faith Insurance Claims

Keep the Car

If you like, you can simply keep the vehicle. From there, you can repair it on your own, sell it for scrap on your own, or even trade it in for a new car, as some dealerships may accept totaled vehicles as trade-ins. However, no matter what you decide to do, the car will still be considered legally totaled.

I have seen situations where compliant repairs were made for far less than the body shop estimates. In these cases, the car’s owner had to finance all the work, but had a claim for the costs later.

It is important to note that if you are still paying off the car, you will need the permission of the lienholder (the company you financed the car through) to do this.

If an insurance company totals a car, they buy it from you, but if you want to keep the car, sometimes you can buy it back from the insurance company. The insurance company will still write you a check for the vehicle, but it will be smaller because they will first subtract the vehicle’s scrap value from the check before they give it to you.

Once a car has been totaled, it won’t have a clean title anymore, or ever again. It will be reissued a “salvage” title, meaning it has been considered totaled and cannot be legally driven again until it has been completely repaired. When it was been repaired, it must then be inspected by an officially licensed Georgia Department of Revenue inspector to make sure it is roadworthy, and then it can receive a “rebuilt” title. It takes time, but the process can be done.

If you decide to sell your car after repairing it, it is important to know that many potential buyers may be wary of a car with a rebuilt title. They may worry whether the repairs were done correctly and may believe the car is unsafe.

Likewise, if you still want to drive it yourself, you may have a hard time insuring a car with a salvage title. Any money you save by repairing your vehicle rather than buying a new one could even be spent on higher insurance premiums. This is because insurance companies are also skeptical about cars with salvage and rebuilt titles, and often think they are more likely to break down and cause a crash.

You Also Deserve Compensation for Injuries

Severe damage that causes cars to be totaled often only occurs in severe wrecks. In severe wrecks, drivers and passengers often end up injured. When you are injured in a wreck through no fault of your own, you deserve compensation not only for the cost of your vehicle’s repair or replacement, but also for all your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

It is important to remember the claim for property damage is separate from a personal injury claim and there is no reason to tie them together.

Many injury victims may feel pressured to accept a settlement that doesn’t even begin to cover their medical expenses because they need access to working transportation as soon as possible, whether that means a check for repairs or a check to take to the dealership.

You do not need to handle your claim for medical bills at the same time as your claim for vehicle damage. These claims can and should be treated separately. That means you can settle your vehicle claim and still push back against a lowball claim for your medical expenses.

If you are having issues with an aggressive or dismissive insurance company after an auto wreck in Georgia or Alabama, contact the Law Offices of Gary Bruce to learn how we can help.