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We never expect a car accident when we settle in behind the wheel, but the truth is that every 60 seconds, someone is involved in a motor vehicle accident.

While speeding remains a leading cause of traffic accidents, our 2021 Distracted Driving Survey shows that texting is also to blame as the biggest factor in distracted driving. Incurred losses for 2020 were $54,683,622 in auto property damage, with the Insurance Information Institute showing that although pickups experience the worst claims severity, passenger cars actually file the most claims.

With the number of accidents increasing each year, it makes it all the more likely that you will have a totaled car at some point in your life. While no one ever hopes to be in this situation, it’s always a good idea to know what to do should it happen to you. The Insurance.com team has you covered.

  • Auto insurance policies include a provision for a total loss, in which the insurer pays to replace a vehicle when it’s beyond repair.
  • Your car insurance company could foot the bill if your car is a total loss. 
  • The specific values for a totaled vehicle vary by insurer, but your policy’s declarations page should offer more details.
  • Insurance companies assign claims adjusters to claims cases, but you also have the option to hire your own at personal expense.

When do you need to negotiate with a car insurance adjuster?

When you experience damages to your vehicle, you must file a claim to receive compensation for eligible damages and repairs. There’s a certain expiration date that may apply to your damages, preventing you from filing a claim for damages when you pass a specific deadline.

There also may be some limitations as to what your auto insurance company will reimburse. Your policy’s declaration page itemizes the specific damages and incidents covered under your policy, but your insurance agent can also help with questions.

When you’re ready to file your claim, many car insurance companies allow you to file your claim online, through an agent, or via a mobile app. Your insurer will connect you with a local claims adjuster, who’s responsible for assessing the damage, determining what is covered, and calculating compensation value. However, when your vehicle is beyond repair, it’s deemed a total loss, and your insurer determines its value for fair compensation.

Sometimes, an insurer may offer far less than you expected, but there is still room for negotiation.

“Simply put, any insurance claim is a negotiation,” says Dennis E. Sawan, a personal injury and insurance lawyer at Sawan & Sawan. “Some aspects of a claim may be a bit less negotiable. Also, often, insurance adjusters are not provided much flexibility by their company. However, in our view, it’s always worth trying so long as the request is well supported and reasonable. As the saying goes, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.”

How to negotiate with a car insurance adjuster

There are a few things to keep in mind when negotiating your total loss claim with your insurer.

Determine worth

The value of your car must first be assessed to determine compensation. Several factors are of consideration, including your vehicle’s make, model, body style, and mileage.

Procure estimate

A qualified mechanic or expert witness can provide an in-depth estimate that details all necessary repairs or damages.

Review offer

While some claims adjusters may be sufficient, others may require some negotiation. Carefully look over the details of your claim and consider how compensation is related to your vehicle’s value and damage.

Get legal help

If you’re unsatisfied with negotiation efforts, you can hire an attorney as a last resort. Armed with experience and skill, your attorney can help you fight for the settlement amount you think you should have.

Get it in writing

When you and your claims adjuster agree on a settlement, be sure to spell out these terms in writing to validate the agreement. It ensures that everyone understands their financial obligations and is on the same page with expectations.

“In general, the best practice is to arm yourself with a wide base of information from a variety of sources as to value the vehicle prior to engaging in any negotiation,” says Sawan. “Additionally, the market for used car sales can sometimes lead to higher offers. For example, in 2021 alone, used car prices were estimated to have surged nearly 48%. Depending on how skillfully this is worked into the negotiation, it can often result in a much higher offer.”

While the process may differ slightly based on claim value, your local insurance agent can work with you to provide support and receive the settlement to which you feel entitled.

What are betterment charges and how do you counter them?

When repairs require newer, more expensive parts, insurance companies help cover the cost through a betterment charge. It’s like your contribution to repair costs that could very likely increase your vehicle’s value.

This can happen if repairing the vehicle actually improves the vehicle to a better state than when it was damaged.

This doesn’t apply to all policyholders, and your insurance company will offer details on pricing and scheduling based on your car insurance policy.

Betterment charges vary by incident, insurance carrier and the vehicle.

You can request the insurance adjuster waive the betterment charge. There’s no guarantee that the insurance company will remove the betterment charge, but you can ask for specifics and see if it can be waived.

How do you get the most money from insurance for a totaled car?

You need to provide specific details to counter your insurance company’s offer.

Providing your insurer with the sticker details of your vehicle can provide critical details quickly, helping to speed along the claims process.

For greater efficiency, you can prepare a counteroffer that shows proof of your vehicle’s value and includes receipts or estimates for any recent work done on your vehicle within the last few months.

It’s important to remember that you are never forced to take a settlement offer,” Sawan says. “If you feel as if an insurance company is treating you unfairly or unreasonably, it’s wise to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. However, remember that time is of the essence as most legal claims are governed by strict time deadlines.”

Should you accept the first offer from a car insurance company for a car?

One of the biggest tips we hear from experts is that there is often room for negotiation.

You don’t have to take the first offer you receive, says Dr. Alan Himmell of Florida’s Allstar Adjusting.

“As a claim adjuster and a doctor who has seen first-hand the insurance claim process for totaled vehicles, I can say that no, you don't have to accept the first offer that comes in for a totaled car. Remember, they need you to sign a release which states that you are in agreement with their offer,” Dr. Himmell says.

If you’re offered a lower value than you expected, you can work with your claims adjuster directly to negotiate. Written estimates can help bolster your argument to improve your chances of approval.

“Sometimes, I have noticed that the insurance company is spot-on with their offer,” shares Dr. Himmel. “However, you never want to assume the offer is fair. You can do your own homework. The real trick to getting the highest number is simply going onto the marketplace by checking local dealerships and listings. This will tell you what it will cost you to actually purchase the vehicle with real-world accuracy. Collect this documentation, and this is what you will present to the claim adjuster. I have had several patients with totaled cars get more money, thousands more in fact, by doing this.”

Once you accept an auto insurer claim, it typically takes about 30 days for settlement.

What do you do if car insurance doesn’t pay enough for a loss?

An insurance company doesn’t always pay full losses and you may feel you don't have a fair payout. Should negotiations fail and you feel you're not getting a fair market value for your car, your insurer may refuse to pay any damages, leaving you on the hook for damages. Be sure to contact your insurer or agent directly to discuss the decision and find out if there is any way to appeal.

Small claims court, mediation, and even hiring an attorney are all ways that could help bring success should you prefer to pursue legal channels if your company doesn't agree to pay fair market value.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you negotiate with insurance adjusters?

Drivers should always negotiate with insurance adjusters to ensure that they receive the right value for their claim. Insurance companies will try to save money wherever they can, but furnishing additional information like estimates, work receipts, and even policy details can help provide a more accurate value.

What does it mean when your car is a total loss?

Insurers vary in their requirements. For example, some insurance companies may require that a totaled vehicle have damages of at least 50% of its pre-accident value. Other companies may require 80%; it all depends on your policy.

Can you keep your car if it’s a total loss?

Many insurance companies allow you to keep your vehicle even if it’s deemed a total loss. However, just as the specifications of the claim can vary, your ability to keep your car will ultimately depend on your insurer.

Can you get your own claims adjuster for total loss settlement negotiation?

Car insurance companies have teams of insurance adjusters that they use to assess vehicle damages. However, policyholders have the option to hire an independent claims adjuster at their own expense to provide further proof and documentation for your claim.

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