How Do Adjusters Determine If A Car Is Totaled?

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Car accidents are an unfortunate reality. When a car is damaged in a collision, the owner files a claim with their insurance company to help cover the costs of repairs or replacement. But what happens if the damage is too extensive? In cases where the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the vehicle itself, adjusters must determine whether the car is considered “totaled.”

Adjusters play a critical role in evaluating cars after accidents and assessing which ones can be repaired and which ones should be declared total losses. Their evaluation determines how much money the insurance company will pay to the policyholder. The process isn’t straightforward though; it involves several factors that require careful consideration.

“The adjuster needs to calculate the actual cash value (ACV) of the damaged car based on its pre-accident condition, make and model, mileage, and any upgrades the vehicle may have had. They also need to consider the cost of labor, parts, and materials needed for repairs, as well as local salvage values,”

Knowing how adjusters determine if a car is totaled can help you understand your options and rights as an insured driver. In this article, we’ll discuss some common practices used by adjusters to evaluate a car’s post-collision worth and decide whether it’s economically viable to repair the damage or declare it as a total loss.

Read on to learn more about the intricate process of determining if a car is totaled and what steps you can take to ensure a fair settlement from your insurer.

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The Total Loss Formula

What is the Total Loss Formula?

The total loss formula, also known as the total loss threshold, is a method used to determine whether a vehicle should be considered a total loss after an accident. The total loss formula calculates the percentage of a car’s actual cash value (ACV) compared to its cost of repair.

How is the Total Loss Formula calculated?

The total loss formula is relatively simple and straightforward. To calculate it, adjusters will compare the ACV of the damaged vehicle against the estimated cost of repairs. If the cost of repairs exceeds a certain percentage of the car’s ACV, it is declared a total loss. In most cases, this percentage ranges from 70% to 80%.

When is the Total Loss Formula used?

The total loss formula is typically used when damage to a vehicle occurs due to a collision or other covered event under an insurance policy. The formula helps insurance companies determine how much they are required to pay for damages incurred by their policyholders.

Who uses the Total Loss Formula?

Insurance companies use the total loss formula to determine the extent of damage caused to the car and decide on compensation. Adjustors who work with auto accident claims process information such as street signs, photos of the accidents and receipts for necessary replacement parts for cars thereby coming up with a report that gives all the details about the damage dealt with the car.

“The total cost formula is essentially the threshold at which an insurance company decides that it’s no longer financially viable or reasonable to repair a car after an accident” -Sherri Taylor, director of membership and industry relations for the National Auto Body Council.

Understanding how adjusters determine if a car is totaled can be helpful when filing a claim. By understanding the total loss formula, drivers can have a better idea of whether their vehicle is likely to be deemed a total loss by their insurer and what options are available to them next.

Vehicle Age and Mileage

How does vehicle age affect the total loss decision?

The older a vehicle is, the more likely it will be deemed a total loss in the event of an accident. This is because as a car ages, its value depreciates more quickly. For instance, a five-year-old car that suffered major damage might only be worth a fraction of what it cost when new.

When determining whether to declare a vehicle a total loss, adjusters compare the car’s estimated repair costs with its actual cash value (ACV), or market value. If the repairs needed to make the vehicle roadworthy exceed 70-80% of its ACV, most insurance companies will consider it a “total” loss.

This formula takes both age and condition into account. Older cars generally have higher mileage, worn parts, and maintenance issues, which can tip the scales towards declaring them a total loss after an accident.

How does mileage affect the total loss decision?

High mileage also plays a role in determining whether a vehicle is a total loss. The more miles a car has travelled, the more wear and tear on critical components such as suspension, engine, transmission and brakes.

This puts high-mileage vehicles at greater risk for costly mechanical problems and eventual breakdowns, making them less desirable to potential buyers. When this happens, the insurers would take note of these potential issues along with other factors like the safety standard and risks associated with driving the insured vehicle.

If a high-mileage car suffers extensive damage that exceeds its actual cash value, it is more likely to be declared a total loss than one with fewer miles. The jury could always favor newer cars over old ones even if they had the same level of damage sustained from accidents.

What is the impact of high mileage on the value of a vehicle?

The impact of high mileage on a vehicle’s value can be significant. According to Kelley Blue Book, cars that have travelled 100,000 miles or more are generally worth less than half their original value.

High mileage often leads to increased wear and tear on mechanical components like brakes, suspension, engine and transmission. Many of these parts require replacement as they wear out over time, making maintenance costs for high-mileage vehicles higher than those with fewer miles.

In addition to costing more in maintenance and repairs, high-mileage vehicles may also be seen as less reliable by potential buyers, making them harder to sell and commanding lower prices even in good condition. These factors contribute to the overall decreased value of a high-mileage car.

“A car’s value begins to drop dramatically when it hits the 80,000- to 100,000-mile mark because it’s perceived as a riskier purchase.” – Aaron Miller, writer for Auto Blog
Overall, age and mileage are both critical factors in determining whether an insurance company will declare a vehicle a total loss. Older and high mileage cars are often more susceptible to damage and have significantly lower resale values due to normal wear and tear, making them less economically viable to repair following an accident. Remember to consider your options before purchasing new coverage or if you think there might be damage sustained from accidents on your current policy.

Damage Severity

After a car accident, one of the first things on an adjuster’s mind is to determine if the vehicle is salvageable or not. A total loss occurs when the cost of repairs exceeds the actual cash value (ACV) of the vehicle. The decision can be based on various factors including damage severity, age of the vehicle, and cost of repair.

What is considered severe damage?

Severe damage refers to any harm that significantly affects the drivability, safety, or structural integrity of a vehicle. Examples of severe damage include frame damage, transmission issues, bent axles, airbag deployment, electrical problems, and anything else that impacts the overall function of the automobile.

How is the severity of damage assessed?

Assessing the severity of damage requires a trained eye. After inspecting the vehicle visually, an adjuster will begin determining the cost of the necessary repairs. They use computer software that takes into account the price of parts, labor costs in the specific area, and hourly rates charged by auto body shops.

Adjusters also consider issues with the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, and other vital components. Sometimes, the extent of damage may require additional investigations such as diagnostic tests, mechanical checks, and evaluations from professional mechanics. Insurance companies hire independent appraisers to ensure an accurate assessment of damage severity, particularly for complex situations like hail damage or flood damage.

What is the impact of severe damage on the total loss decision?

Severe damage significantly impacts the total loss decision, and cars with this level of damage are often declared totaled. In some cases, even minor damages can cause a car to be designated as a total loss if repairing it would exceed the vehicle’s actual cash value. Insurance companies use a formula that compares the cost of repair to ACV or replacement value. If the repairs amount to 70-80% of either of these values, the insurance company will typically declare the car a total loss.

What are the options for repairing a vehicle with severe damage?

If your car is deemed salvageable after an accident, you have two options: repair it or accept payment for its current market value. In cases where the damages do not meet the threshold for being considered a total loss, your insurance company will negotiate with repair shops and other vendors on your behalf to fix the damaged parts at a lower price without sacrificing safety standards in compliance with state laws.

“If you decide to keep the car, your insurance provider will pay minus any deductible, but in return, they will reduce settlement payments by the expected salvage value.” – Edmunds

Alternatively, if you believe the payout value from your insurer does not reflect the true market value of your car, you may dispute the amount through negotiation or additional appraisal. Some states allow drivers additional options such as finding their own repair shop or opting to cash out the claim check entirely, depending on local regulations and policy terms.

The severity of the damage significantly impacts the decision of whether a car should be totaled or repaired. Repairing a badly damaged car also depends on personal preferences, policy terms, potential legal requirements, and location-specific rules.

Cost of Repairs vs. Actual Cash Value

When your car is involved in an accident, one of the many factors that insurance adjusters take into consideration to determine whether it’s totaled or not is the cost of repairs compared to its actual cash value. To better understand how this works, let’s delve deeper into each element:

What is the actual cash value of a vehicle?

The actual cash value (ACV) of a vehicle is the amount that it would sell for on the open market at the time of the accident. It takes into account various factors such as the make and model of the car, its age, condition, mileage, options, and any pre-accident damage.

“The ACV is calculated by taking the replacement cost of the car minus depreciation,” explains Steven L. Chung, a California-based attorney and author of Winning Your Personal Injury Case: The Ultimate 8 Step Guide To Protect Your Health, Family and Finances. “Replacement cost is what it would cost to repair or replace the damaged property with new property of similar kind and quality. Depreciation is the decrease in value of an item over time.”

For instance, if your car is worth $20,000 before the accident, but has depreciated to $17,000 due to wear-and-tear or high mileage, then your insurer will only pay you up to $17,000 if it’s deemed a total loss.

How is the cost of repairs compared to the actual cash value?

If the cost of repairing your damaged car exceeds a certain percentage of its ACV, typically 70% or higher, then insurers consider it to be a total loss, also known as a write-off, salvage, or scrapped vehicle. This means they’ll pay you the ACV of your car minus your policy deductible instead of fixing it. The precise threshold may vary by state or insurer.

“If the cost to repair exceeds the value, then you cannot keep driving the vehicle because it is not economically practical,” warns Chung. “Even after repairs, the car will have lost a substantial portion of its resale value due to damage/accident history and be deemed as less valuable in the eyes of buyers.”

For example, if your car’s ACV is $20,000, but the estimated cost of repairing it is $15,000, your insurer may offer you a settlement check for only $17,000 assuming that your policy has a $1,000 deductible. That way, they can cash out your car and sell it to a salvage yard or auction house to recoup some of their loss.

“In California, when the cost of repairs plus the scrap value equals or exceeds the ACV, the vehicle is considered a total loss,” adds Chung. “The insurance company must pay the insured the ACV less any deduction or excess identified in the policy language. This payment discharges further liability of the insurer under the policy.”

Knowing how adjusters determine if a car is totaled can help you prepare for such a scenario and make an informed decision based on your car’s condition, mileage, and market value. Be sure to review your policy limits and deductibles before filing a claim, and consider getting gap insurance if you owe more on your loan than what your car is worth.

“Totaling a car can take many forms depending on the situation. Most states set criteria for what counts as a total loss, usually expressed as a percentage of the car’s actual cash value (ACV) in determining whether it should be repaired or declared a total loss.”

State Laws and Regulations

When a car is involved in an accident, the insurance adjuster has to determine if the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the vehicle. If the repair costs are more than what the car is worth, then it will be considered a total loss. But how do adjusters determine if a car is totaled? State laws and regulations play a critical role in this determination.

What state laws and regulations affect the total loss decision?

The method used to determine if a car is totaled varies by state; some have specific formulas while others leave it up to the discretion of the insurance company. Some states use a total loss threshold, where the insurer declares a car a total loss if the repair costs exceed a certain percentage of its actual cash value (ACV). For example, in California, the threshold is 65% of ACV.

A handful of states have “branding” laws that require insurers to declare a car as salvage or rebuilt after it has been declared a total loss. These branding laws apply if the damage to a car is significant enough to warrant declaring the car a total loss according to the state definition.

Most states also have specific requirements for titles and documentation regarding total losses. These requirements vary but generally include notification to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and receiving a branded title that reflects the car’s status as a salvage vehicle.

What are the requirements for reporting a total loss?

Insurers are required to report total losses to the DMV, which typically involves submitting specific paperwork within a certain time frame – usually within 30 days of determining the vehicle was a total loss. According to most states’ regulations, insurers must notify the DMV when monies are paid out on claims resulting from a total loss of a vehicle or a reportable accident. In addition to this, insurers must provide an affidavit of retention when they purchase the salvage from the insured.

What are the legal obligations of the insurer and vehicle owner in a total loss?

The insurance company has several legal requirements following a total loss event. First, it must notify both lienholders on the car (if there were any) within ten days after determining that the vehicle is a total loss. The promptness of this notification is essential because the insurers effectively own the vehicle once the claim payment has been concluded. If they don’t fulfill this obligation promptly, it may affect their ownership rights going ahead.

If an adjuster determines that the vehicle is a total loss, the responsibility for making the decision about what to do with the vehicle lies with the policyholder. They have some options which include taking the insurance payout and keeping the car as-is, selling the salvaged vehicle remaining to its expected net value or relinquishing the vehicle’s ownership to the insurer for settlement purposes. Some states may require additional steps or specific documentation to complete these events. Suppose the policyholder chooses to keep the vehicle rather than sell it. In that case, regulations may requite specified repairs before reregistering the car, resulting in a branded title

“When a car is totaled, the legal definitions define a car as having a serious physical trauma. To meet this standard, repairing a car would not be feasible either due to damage that can’t be fixed or significant repair costs.” -Brett Hecht, Cofounder & CEO of Swoop

State laws and regulations make up a critical component of how adjusters determine if a car is totaled. These set guidelines for thresholds, branding, and proper reporting, ultimately protecting both the consumer and the insurer in cases of total loss events.

Negotiations with the Vehicle Owner

When an adjuster assesses a damaged vehicle, they have to determine if it can be repaired or if it’s better to declare it a total loss. If the cost of repairs is higher than the car’s value, then it makes financial sense to settle for a cash payout and sell off the wrecked vehicle.

What are the options for negotiating a total loss settlement?

Once the insurance company declares a total loss, the adjuster will present their offer to the vehicle owner based on their assessment of the car’s market value. The initial amount may not always be satisfactory, so the driver has the option to negotiate for a fair settlement.

The first thing the driver needs to do is research what similar models in their area are selling for at dealerships or online sales platforms like Craigslist or AutoTrader. They should print out listings and descriptions that illustrate the asking price and condition of cars comparable to theirs and submit them to the adjuster as proof of the market value. In most cases, adjusters will consider this evidence and reevaluate their initial offer.

If the difference between the offered settlement and the desired amount isn’t too significant, drivers may want to focus on factors other than money to reach a compromise. Some options could include keeping parts that aren’t damaged and still usable from the totaled vehicle, getting free rental vehicles while shopping for replacements, or ensuring timely payment processing through more efficient communication channels or specific agreements built into the policy.

What factors can influence the negotiation process?

In general, two primary considerations impact negotiations following the declaration of a total loss: how much the adjuster feels the car is worth versus the amount the driver believes it’s worth based on current regional market data.

The most critical variable in this equation is how likely a car is to hold its value. Some cars depreciate quicker than others due to model features, driving mileage or wear and tear exerted by the previous owner, environmental factors, demand fluctuations, etc.

There are online resources that offer free tools for checking depreciation rates of new and used cars in various categories like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, NADA, and TrueCar. Adjusters may utilize these at least as a starting point when assigning market values to vehicles coming through their claims processing system. However, insurance companies have rigid criteria they use across the board for settling total loss cases, so it’s always worth factoring specific policy terms into the negotiation process as well.

How can a fair settlement be reached for both parties?

The most successful negotiations happen when all parties involved have an open mind to compromise and adjust their respective expectations based on common-sense principles. In many instances, drivers need to get up-to-speed quickly with some basic negotiating skills if they hope to challenge the initial offer.

“Negotiating doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any pushback; It often results in more significant insight into what motivates each party’s desire and act accordingly,” said Michael Alexis from

This means remaining calm and professional while engaging in communication throughout the negotiation process. Drivers should come prepared with clear data points supporting their claim for greater compensation, including comprehensive photos, maintenance records, documents relating to nonstandard aftermarket parts installed (usually not covered under standard policies), estimates by independent mechanics or dealerships, and anything else that might help sway the insurer toward the driver’s side of the argument.

If both sides work together with respect and transparency fueling conversations during the claim, then it’s possible for everyone to walk away feeling satisfied with the outcome. Remember, neither side wants to go to court – a costly and time-consuming endeavor for everyone involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

What factors do adjusters consider when determining if a car is totaled?

Adjusters consider the car’s pre-accident condition, mileage, age, and the cost of repairs. They compare the repair costs to the car’s actual cash value (ACV) and determine the percentage of damage. If the repair costs exceed the ACV or the percentage of damage is too high, the car is considered totaled.

How do adjusters calculate the actual cash value of a totaled car?

Adjusters use various sources to determine the ACV, including car value guides, auction prices, and recent sales of similar cars. They also consider the car’s condition, mileage, and any upgrades or modifications. Once they have determined the ACV, they subtract the salvage value and any deductible to calculate the settlement amount.

What is the difference between a salvage title and a rebuilt title?

A salvage title is issued when a car is considered a total loss by the insurer. It indicates that the car has significant damage and cannot be driven without repairs. A rebuilt title is issued once the car has been repaired and passed a state inspection. It indicates that the car was salvaged but has been restored to a roadworthy condition.

Can a car be considered totaled if it is still drivable?

Yes, a car can be considered totaled even if it is still drivable. The decision is based on the cost of repairs compared to the car’s actual cash value. If the repairs are too expensive, the car may be considered a total loss, even if it is drivable. In some cases, the owner may choose to keep the car and receive a settlement for the ACV minus the salvage value.

What happens to a totaled car after the insurance claim is settled?

After the insurance claim is settled, the car is typically sold at auction to a salvage yard or a company that specializes in buying and rebuilding totaled cars. The salvage yard may sell the usable parts or scrap the car for metal. If the owner chooses to keep the car, they will receive a settlement for the ACV minus the salvage value, but they will also be responsible for repairing the car and obtaining a rebuilt title.

What steps should I take if I disagree with an adjuster’s decision to total my car?

If you disagree with an adjuster’s decision to total your car, you can request a second opinion from another adjuster or hire an independent appraiser to inspect the car. You can also negotiate with the insurance company to reach a higher settlement amount or dispute the decision with your state’s insurance department. It’s important to review your insurance policy and understand your rights before taking any action.

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