“Your vehicle is a Total Loss.” These words, more often than not, spark immediate controversy between an insured and their insurance company. The main cause of controversy between an insurance company and an insured as it relates to total loss is that most people feel their vehicle is worth more than it really is.
A vehicle, though historically not a good investment, is very personal to us. Many of us spend a great deal of time in our vehicles each day and grow attached to our car. Many others ”trick out” their cars and inherently feel that their modifications enhance the value of the car.
I thought it might help some folks if they heard exactly how an insurance company views this and how they go about compensating you for your car should it be determined to be a totaled. There are typically two main things involved in understanding this process: What exactly is a Total Loss and how is the value of a car determined. In this article I am going to discuss and define a Total Loss from an insurance companies perspective.
So, what exactly does it mean when your insurance company deems your vehicle a total loss? In general, there are two types or measurements if you will when it comes to making this determination: Financial or Economic Total Loss and an Obvious Total Loss.
A vehicle is often declared an Economic Total Loss when the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the vehicle, plus sales tax, less your deductible. I am sure you have heard that there is a percentage used to determine if a car is an Economic Total Loss. You have probably heard numbers from 50% to 70%, or more. This is true, however, it is important to know that not all states set an actual percentage and that for the states that do not set percentages, it is up to the insurance company to determine what that will be.
Although all insurance companies that are free to set this number themselves are all different, a common number you will hear is 70%. What exactly does that mean? I thought a quick illustration might help:
Market Value $15,000
Plus tax $ 1,050 (7% used as example)
Less Deductible $ 500
Total Loss Value $15,550
Cost of Repairs $11,662
Repairs are 75% of the value
In the example above, your insurance company would likely determine your vehicle to be an Economic Total Loss. One thing to remember is that if you are paid the value of your vehicle, the insurance company will retain the salvage or damaged vehicle and then sell it to a vendor. Most insurance companies have negotiated contracts with salvage buyers and will use that avenue to recoup some of the money paid out for the total loss. In the example above, your insurance provider would know that your car had a salvage value of $3,000 (example). So, when making their total loss decision, they would factor in this amount and subtract it from the total amount paid of $15,550, bringing their net cost to $12,550.
One other brief point to make that is worth noting is that your insurance carrier will also factor in estimated supplemental damages were your car to be repaired. From my experience as an adjuster and claims manager, there are often supplemental or additional damages/repairs identified once a car begins the repair process. These damages are often discovered on “tear down” or after parts of the vehicle are removed and additional damages are more visible. In many cases it is almost certain that there will be additional damages based on the visible damages, however, an adjuster will only write for what they can see and note that additional damages are likely.
An Obvious Total Loss or OTL is in which the damages to a vehicle are so extensive in terms of repair and/or putting the structural integrity of the vehicle at risk with a repair, that the car is determined to be an OTL. Some examples of an OTL are:
In most cases, a claims adjuster will not have the direct authority to determine a vehicle to be an OTL. The two insurance companies I worked for required a manager approval to make this call. With today’s technology, that can be done easily in the field by simply sending some detailed photos to a Claims Manager or Property Damage Manager. In this case, there isn’t a cost of repairs necessarily but the valuation process is the same.
Hopefully this helps you understand what is meant when you are told that your car is a total loss. Your insurance claims adjuster should explain all of this to you, however, having a basis understanding will certainly help should you find yourself in this situation.