What Happens When Your Car Is Totaled?

“Totaled.” It’s a slightly unusual way to describe an auto accident. Makes you think of a lot of numbers being added up, right? This is precisely why the word is used. All that math can equate to a very costly outcome, which is all you need when your vehicle has already been in a terrible accident, or if it hasn’t (more on that later).

It’s difficult to think clearly during such a stressful time. What to do with a car that is totaled? Who to call? How to stay safe until the proper people arrive? This guide will make all those answers crystal clear to help you make the best of a bad situation. Let’s paint the total picture!

What Does “Totaled” Mean?

The term is a shortened version of “total loss.” It’s how insurance companies classify the condition of a vehicle so severely damaged that the cost to repair it would exceed the cost to replace it (if repairs are even possible). This damage doesn’t have to be caused by a brutal sideswipe or head-on collision, either.

Every driver knows how some cars slowly but surely demand more maintenance over time until one day, they just give up the ghost (not a technical insurance term). This also qualifies as being totaled. It just happens way more slowly than an accident, but it brings the vehicle to the same point of being more costly to repair than replace.

How Totaled is Calculated

Total loss is calculated in one of two ways. The first is the total loss formula, which compares the actual cash value of a vehicle to the total repair costs and salvage value. The second is the simple percentage threshold, which only considers the percentage of the vehicle’s actual cash value that repairs must exceed to be deemed a total loss.

The actual cash value of a car takes depreciation into account. Depreciation begins immediately after buying most items, so don’t expect to get back what you originally paid for the vehicle. Further factors affecting actual cash value are the car’s general condition, mileage, and age.

The 5 Moving Parts of Handling a Totaled Car

Let’s imagine you’ve accepted that your car is a total loss. It’s now time to get the insurer and a towing team involved. Here is how that works:

1. Deconstructing the Total Loss Threshold

The total loss threshold isn’t universal and varies from state to state. Here are a few examples:

  • Indiana – 70%
  • Maryland – 75%
  • Florida – 80%
  • Colorado – 100%
  • California – Total loss formula

This means your car is totaled in Maryland if repairs exceed 75% of the vehicle’s replacement value. You can use this interactive map from Policy Genius that quickly reveals your state’s loss threshold.

2. How the Insurer Plays Their Part

An auto insurer has a few options. They could provide you with the actual cash value of your totaled car compared to other cars in your area. They might replace the totaled vehicle with a comparable one. That cash settlement option may cause disagreement between you on what constitutes a fair figure, which may require an independent appraisal.

A smart move is to ask the insurer (your provider or the other person’s) for their total loss valuation report. This contains the data they used to arrive at the cash settlement figure. You may also file a claim with your insurer using your collision coverage if another driver was at fault for the accident. This is just one more good reason to have collision coverage on your policy!

Keeping your totaled car is an option in some states. Doing so usually means the vehicle will only be good for salvage parts. Your insurance company will take that salvage amount out of the final cash settlement you receive. They’ll also subtract your deductible from the actual cash value.

Sometimes, it’s possible to repair the car and get it back on the road, in which case the driver will have to inform their insurer that this is what they’d like to do before providing proof to the DMV that it passed an inspection. This is when having a lower-priced vehicle works in your favor – its low total loss threshold could mean relatively minor repair bills despite the “totaled” term. 

A quick recap – file a claim as quickly as possible, start talking with your insurance adjuster, and be prepared for some back and forth.

3. The Airbags Deployed – Is My Car Totaled?

This is a little tricky. Totaled wouldn’t apply if a collision triggers your airbags, and they’re less expensive to replace than the cost of your vehicle. It would apply, though, if the opposite were true. Vehicles with a low actual cash value will probably receive the “totaled” tag if their airbags are deployed, while more expensive ones may avoid it.

It can be tough to let go of your totaled car under any circumstances. You may feel the urge to take the insurer’s opinion under advisement and shop around to see if you can find repairs amounting to less than the car’s replacement value.

You may succeed, too! Just remember that even then, it’s likely to cost you a small fortune if your car has a high cash value. This might be doubly expensive if you haven’t finished paying off the loan on the totaled vehicle. You’d have to use the insurance company’s cash settlement toward settling that loan. You’d also have to provide any outstanding amount from your own pocket unless you had loan or lease gap coverage in place.

Then there’s the waiting period if you go the repair route. Who knows how long it will take before you can drive it again? Accepting the car is totaled may be the quickest and least painful solution. Look on the bright side – any money you get as an actual cash value settlement can go toward the down payment on a new car!

4. What to Do When a Car Is Totaled – The Immediate Aftermath

All the above advice is useful after the smoke has cleared. A car that looks totaled by an accident presents more immediate concerns: the safety of the driver, their passengers, and the other motorists on the road. This is your top priority, as the crash may have been due to a hit and run. Your other priorities are:

  • Calling 911 to gain assistance from medical teams and law enforcement
  • Making a record of every detail you can about the accident (failure to act fast here can see stories conflicting as time passes)
  • Calling your insurance company, who should be able to arrange a tow for the totaled car (we’re here for you 24/7 if they can’t)

Much of the same advice applies if your car has been flipped. Shipping a car after an accident requires the specialized skills of a company that has experience moving damaged vehicles. Special equipment is needed to maneuver cars that can’t simply be driven onto a transport truck. Their wheels can be so damaged that they can’t even be rolled on!

A forklift or an onboard crane may be necessary to get the totaled car onto a flatbed or rollback tow truck. That’s heavy-duty stuff. The more details you can give the towing company before they arrive, the smoother the process will be.

5. Towing Your Car to a Mechanic

An insurance adjuster isn’t the same as a mechanic. The adjuster is often limited to what they can see, so it’s not uncommon for the insurance company to arrange for the car to be taken to a mechanic for an expert damage appraisal. It is impossible to state exactly how much this will cost without knowing the car’s dimensions, how far it has to go, and what time the towing takes place.

Make sure you choose a towing company you can trust. They’re the ones with a business address and website to back up their positive reviews. They’ll also be fully licensed and insured to protect their customers and themselves. You can conduct a quick trust test by running a company’s name through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s SAFER system.

There are many moving parts and a great deal to work through when your vehicle is heavily damaged. The good news is that you don’t have to try to navigate all this on your own.

Contact the Geyers Team for Total Peace of Mind

Not sure if your car is totaled? Absolutely certain it is? Take a deep breath. We understand this is a hard time for you. The good news is that our expert towing crew is standing by to come to your rescue! We can tow your car to a safe location where an insurance adjuster can appraise it. We’ll even drop you off where you need to go afterward.

Our versatile trucks can handle cargo of every class and weights up to 75 tons (150,000 lbs.) Our staff is fully licensed, insured, and WreckMaster-certified to supply first-class service and care. You can count on Geyers Towing and Recovery to take care of you 24/7, year-round. Visit our contact page or call (301) 259-3177 anytime for a free quote!

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