Is Your Car Actually Totaled? Don’t Let them Give You the Runaround

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

So you’ve gotten in a car crash and your car has been labeled as a ‘write off…’ but is the car actually totaled?

Post-accident insurance claims can be a complicated and confusing process. It’s important that you are aware of standard procedures so you know what you are entitled to and make sure insurers don’t give you the runaround.

In this handy guide, we’re going to let you in on everything you need to know about what the next step is for a car that is considered totaled.

Let’s get straight to it.

What influences insurers deciding if a car is totaled?

A common misconception is that a car actually totaled is one that cannot be driven due to damage caused by the accident.

Well, this is not always the case.

The main factor that comes into play when deciding if a car is totaled in an insurers eyes is money.

Put simply, the car will be labeled as a total loss if the cost of repairs is higher than the value of the car.

This means that if your car isn’t worth a lot it may actually be labeled as a total loss even if it hasn’t sustained major damage.

For example: a car is only worth $500 and has a significant dent in the bodywork that would cost $700 dollars to replace then the insurance company will write off the car and define it as being a total loss. This is typically all that it takes for a car to be totaled.

Why do insurers ‘write off’ cars?

This isn’t some sly trick played by insurers, in most cases, it is actually the most beneficial option for everyone involved. Here’s why:

Saves money:

If a car that is worth $4000 needs $5000 worth of repairs then by declaring the car as a ‘total loss’ the insurance company will actually save $1000. Don’t forget they will also make some money back from selling the car to a scrapyard too.

You as the customer will of course also save money as the insurance company is picking up the tab for the wreck and paying you the amount your car was worth before the accident, meaning you can buy one similar.

Saves time:

Neither you nor the insurer has to wait for lengthy repairs to take place before settling the claim. This means that you can get your money faster and get back on the road with your own vehicle ASAP.

What factors determine the payout amount for a car actually totaled?

Insurance companies will pay you for the amount your car was worth before the accident. The following factors come into play when calculating that amount:


Different models are worth different amounts. The brand and type of car will be one of the biggest factors when determining how you will be paid.

The age of the car.

Cars depreciate in value over time. Simply by driving a new car out of the lot will depreciate the value by 11%, while within 5 years the loss can be as high as 46%.

In short, the older the car, the less you will get.


Similar to the age of the car, the higher the number is the less it will be worth.

If your dashboard is still intact, you can find out your mileage from just behind your steering wheel. If not, then you can find the number on previous servicing reports.

The condition of the car.

Insurance companies will do a thorough check to try and find out the condition of your car pre-accident.

They will look for anything from big issues to small negligence problems. All of these will come into play to determine how much you will receive.

Your involvement in the accident.

This can be the trickiest and lengthiest figure to decide upon, but the level of responsibility you had the accident will have a significant impact on how much you will be paid in the end.

For example, if you got ran into by another car while you were stationary then you can expect to receive the full amount.

However, if the lines are not as clear cut as that then should prepare yourself to be paid less depending on your level of involvement.

The insurance company and type of insurance.

Of course, the policy you have and the company you are insured with will also depend on how much you are paid.

Different companies have different procedures and payment calculations.Be sure to check your policy

How long does it take to get paid for a car actually totaled?

There really is no clear cut answer to this as each claim is so different as are the policies among insurance companies.

Once a settlement has been agreed upon it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the check to arrive. But to get to that point can take months, especially if other parties involved in the accident are challenging your statement.

Be cautious of accepting early deals as they may be undervalued, we suggest following the steps below.

What to do when you have a car actually totaled.

Check your insurance policy.

Now is a good time to sit down with your agent.

Despite what many people believe most agents will be very upfront and helpful when it comes to filing a claim as all parties involved want to reach a solution as quickly as possible.

Still, it is important that you are aware of what you are entitled to so that they don’t give you the runaround.

Go through the insurance policy yourself and check what the protocol is and what you should expect. Feel free to ask for clarity from your agent on anything you are unsure of.

Find out the value of your car pre-accident.

With a wide variety of tools available, it is relatively straightforward to find out how much you are entitled to receive.

We recommend getting an estimate from multiple sources so that you will have a rough idea of the average cost of your car.

This will ensure that you know how much you should be paid by the insurer, but don’t forget to take into account the other factors that influence the amount you receive.

Know your rights.

Auto insurance companies are regulated by the state so it’s worth your time checking in with your state’s department of insurance.

Most have a website where you can find out all the processes and steps for your specific state as well as what the insurer is responsible for and what your rights are.

This is also the avenue you should go down if you feel like you are being mistreated or taken advantage of by your insurance company.

What if I still owe on the car actually totaled?

The process is pretty straightforward. Be sure to check out our full post on what to do here.

What if I want to keep the car?

We understand that cars can often hold a tremendous amount of memories/sentimental value and you may want to keep the car after a wreck.

If you choose to go down this route then we suggest the following:

Beware of the risks.

The car may be recorded as being totaled.

After a car has been involved in a major accident it most likely will be registered on a database such as CarFax. This means that it is possible for potential buyers to see the history of your ‘totaled’ car which may be a determining factor in a sale.

Old parts can be hard to find.

One of the reasons old cars are labeled as a ‘total loss’ more frequently than new cars is because it can be more difficult to source the parts for an old vehicle.

Especially if a car is 15+ years old you may find it very hard to get the right parts to fix it up.

It can be a long and expensive process.

If you have a car actually totaled, bringing it back from the dead can be an extremely lengthy process. Often repairs cost more than we predict and take longer than we would like them too.

This may not be feasible if you don’t have the time nor money to wait to get back on the road.

Find out the value of your car post-accident.

Meaning, what is the cash value of your totaled car? If an accident has indeed left your car actually totaled, it’s quick and easy to find out how much it is worth by getting a free no obligation quote from a salvage center.

Once you have this number in mind, it will help you decide whether or not it is worth it and will help ensure that the insurance company is quoting the car actually totaled at an accurate rate.

Decide if it’s worth it.

Remember that you will have to pay the insurance company for the totaled car from your payout check.

You should take the time to weigh up all the pros and cons before making the decision to ensure that your car accident doesn’t lead to further disasters.

Car actually totaled?

We at Cash Auto Salvage are a one-stop destination when it comes to exchanging your vehicle for top dollar.

Not only do we offer free pick ups but we even offer you cash in hand that very same day.

If an accident has left your car actually totaled why not find a service area near you today?

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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