We all know that when a car is “totaled” it’s beyond repair – and you are probably lucky to escape without any medical costs or liabilities, too. But how do you really know that a car is totaled? What role does auto body repair play? What are the most important steps you should take when faced with a ruined car? Here’s what you should know.
Assess the Damage
Specifically, a car is totaled when it would cost more to repair it than to simple get a new vehicle (and finding a mechanic willing to take the project on is often difficult). However, don’t just take someone’s word for it that your car is totaled, especially someone who isn’t a professional. Instead, try to get the opinion (and an estimate if possible) of an auto body repair shop or similar business that you trust to make sure of the cost of repairs, and if they think it’s just not worth it. This information will come in useful later.
Document the Accident
Even when your car is totaled, it’s still important to document the accident as much as you can. Take out your phone and take pictures of your vehicle from multiple angles if possible. Write or type down exactly what happened as soon as you can while your memory is still fresh…especially if the accident involved other people or cars.
Contact Your Insurance Company
You should contact your insurance company ASAP and let them know about the damage to your car. Don’t tell them that it’s totaled or give your opinion on anything – instead, present them with the facts and let them assess the damage on their own.
At this point, the insurance company will make a determination about repairs. If they decide that the car is totaled, they will probably just send you a check based on the specific terms of your insurance policy, and the previous/current value of your car (this only applies if you fully own your car).
Here is where things get more complicated. If you still owe money on your car via an auto loan, then the insurance company will send the check to your lender instead. If you still have a balance after this, then you are usually required to pay it off even after your car is totaled.
Do Your Own Research
It’s worthwhile to check the insurance company’s statements to make sure they are accurate. Check for the value of your car from a reputable source and see what a professional says about repair costs. If your research doesn’t match up with what your insurer says, you have a big problem, and need to contact them quickly to talk about a resolution.
Consider What to Do With the Remaining Parts
A totaled car doesn’t just disappear; you still own it, usually under what’s called a “salvage title.” You will have to decide what to do with it, preferably before it is towed. You can choose to keep the car, which may be worth it if there’s a very expensive cosmetic repair but the car still runs. Or you can look for a donation service that will tow your car for free and then see parts to make money. Likewise, you can contact a salvage yard and arrange for a free tow that will usually net you some cash as well.