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Car Value

3 figures every consumer needs to be familiar with after an accident:

  • Actual Cash Value (ACV) – $$$ your insurer will pay for your vehicle when it is totaled. Insurance settlements are typically insufficient to replace your car with a vehicle of like kind and quality. Insurers pay you the depreciated value of your vehicle, forcing you to come out of pocket to get a new car. All insurers have a different methodology for this and some are more generous than others. You will have to “arm” yourself with the best information available to defend your position and make a case for the maximum settlement. Remember, you get what you NEGOTIATE, not what you DESERVE!
  • Repair Cost (estimate) –The key driver in the total loss decision process. The total cost of the repair, as a percentage of the Retail Value will determine what flexibility an insurance carrier has in qualifying your vehicle as total loss or repair.
  • Total Loss Threshold (Click here) - Repair Cost as a % of Actual Cash Value - the lower this figure is, the more likely your vehicle is to be totaled.

You can obtain an electronic copy of the vehicle repair estimate from your insurance adjuster or insurance claims center. Your claim number will be assigned when you report your accident to the carrier and you will most likely be given an alternate telephone number to call for updates. The body shop where the vehicle is located may not be at liberty to release a copy of your repair estimate so it is best to go directly to your insurance carrier provided you have insurance coverage. Always get the estimate emailed to you so that images can be viewed, expanded and retained for future reference in the event of a legal dispute.

Example #1:

Your Vehicle’s Retail Value
Repair Estimate
Total Loss Threshold in your state

In the example above, the vehicle should be a total loss. If the repair estimate is below the threshold, but close to it the insurance carrier may total the vehicle at the adjusters’ discretion. Another factor influencing the total loss is the Supplemental Repair Order Process. It is fairly typical for most body shops to begin a repair and find “hidden” damage or repairs that are not accounted for on the estimate. The body shop will have to request that those repairs be covered in a Supplemental Repair Order. Some insurance carriers experience Supplemental Repair Orders submitted on 40% of the vehicles they repair. The industry standard is close to 30%.

Example #2:

Your Vehicle’s Retail Value
Repair Estimate
Total Loss Threshold in your state
Supplemental Repair Estimate

The sum of the estimates is now $6,150, which exceeds the State Total Loss Threshold and the vehicle must be totaled to conform to state law. In this scenario, the insurance carrier is also responsible for the partial repairs to the vehicle (tear-down charges) which result in unnecessary added expenses had the insurance carrier decided to total the vehicle initially.

In summary, insurance carriers will look carefully at the repair costs as a percentage of the vehicle retail value (ACV), but will err conservatively to account for supplemental repairs that could put the vehicle over the total loss threshold. If your goal is to have your vehicle totaled, the supplemental estimate angle is a very legitimate one that can be used for leverage in negotiating with your claims adjuster.

How to get more for your total loss?

Go to all the following Automotive Guidebook Sites:


NADA and BlackBook are the most widely recognized by insurance carriers and in our opinion the most accurate. ALWAYS enter your VIN, it will insure against mistakes that will impact your final vehicle value.

Before you research values, have the following:

  • VIN
  • List of all “added” equipment

Don’t: estimate or try to remember the mileage if the vehicle is not with you. Use the last repair receipt (oil change). If you can’t find anything with the exact mileage, be prepared to “adjust” your thinking along with the same rate that the guidebooks will adjust your vehicle value. We typically see a 10-12% error rate when people guess the miles on their vehicle. This could cost you several hundred dollars of adjustment on a total loss settlement.

Do: be honest with yourself… if your vehicle is CLEAN, the insurance adjuster will see it was clean and agree. If you say it was clean, that does not mean, “washed” before you wrecked it! CLEAN means very well maintained, spotless interior, flawless exterior and excellent mechanical working order.

2006 Nissan Altima-4 Cyl. Price Rough Trade-In Average Trade-In Clean Trade-In Clean Retail
Base Price $6,375 $7,425 $8,300 $10,925

DamageMAX experts hear all the time from insurance personnel that they consistently lose legal disputes over total loss settlements when the consumer uses BlackBook or NADA to challenge a claim. Stand your ground if you have a guidebook that substantiates any attempt to “short” or underpay a total loss claim.

Other items:

Mechanical repairs – while your insurance carrier may give you a pro-rated adjustment for items like new tires, a rebuilt transmission, etc. Guidebooks do not. These items are generally required for the vehicle to be in good working order and fall into the area of vehicle condition. Be prepared when you meet with your adjuster. Bring receipts for all recent maintenance items, repairs, upgrades, etc. Items like brakes are not generally pro-rated. The adjustment given for these items are usually of a conciliatory nature and not significant.

Negotiating – Remember, YOU are the customer. The policyholder. Insurance carriers spend $5.7 B per year in advertising trying to attract new policyholders, they lose on average almost 1 out of 2 (50%) after accidents due to claims handling. Let them know that you intend to stay if they treat you fairly and fairly is YOUR perception and opinion, not theirs. It is their job to make you FEEL like you have been treated fairly and most insurance adjustors lack the social skills to handle people. They follow a process and deviating from the process makes them uneasy and they resist. If you sense resistance, escalate your claim to a supervisor and you will be rewarded. Squeaky wheels get oiled!

Diminished Value Claims – there are provisions for diminished value in three states; GA, KS & NC. That means the insurance carrier will be writing you a supplemental check specifically for diminished value after they settle your claim. Specific formulas are established for that purpose in each state. The adjuster will generally not initiate any discussion and will dismiss this topic as non-negotiable and formula driven by state legislation. Ask and you shall receive!

How many people get a DIMINISHED VALUE ADJUSTMENT? Well I didn’t! Because I didn’t ask for one! Now if the vehicle is a total loss, diminished value is kind of a moot point. But if it gets repaired and the accident was not your fault, you should be compensated. If there is any doubt in your mind that if any “reported” accident will have an impact on your vehicles value, go to www.carfax.com and under ABOUT US you can find out what they specifically report on. This was taken from their site:

Every CARFAX Report contains information that can impact a consumer's decision about a used vehicle. Some types of information that a CARFAX Report may include are:

  • Title information, including salvaged or junked titles
  • Flood damage history
  • Total loss accident history
  • Odometer readings
  • Lemon history
  • Number of owners
  • Accident indicators, such as airbag deployments
  • State emissions inspection results
  • Service records
  • Vehicle use (taxi, rental, lease, etc.)
    CARFAX receives information from more than 34,000 data sources including every U.S. and Canadian provincial motor vehicle agency plus many auto auctions, fire and police departments, collision repair facilities, fleet management and rental agencies, and more.

READ the above AGAIN carefully… “Every CARFAX Report contains information that can impact a consumer's decision about a used vehicle”

This translates to…”what we report will have an impact on who looks at your vehicle”. This will unequivocally have a financial impact on YOUR vehicles’ value when you go to “trade” or “sell” the vehicle. All franchised and independent auto dealers in the USA try to avoid trading vehicles with accident history because it complicates the sales process with damage disclosures, thereby increasing liability.

Think of it this way… what consumer goes to a dealer intending to buy a car that has been in an accident?

CARFAX has successfully capitalized on insurance company data sources, motor vehicle and municipal data sources. The information from your accident can and will be shared and will be attached to your vehicle’s history FOREVER.

Get paid for the diminished value up front by your insurance company! Fight for it now because you will give it up later…