Your Car’s Been Totaled and You’re Not at Fault. What Next?

Auto accidents are much more common than you think. 16,000 accidents occur every day in the U.S. That’s 11 accidents per minute. It’s something no one plans for, and no one wants to go through. What if your car gets totaled and you’re not the one at fault? It can be difficult to figure out what to do next because you may be suffering from injuries, dealing with pain or experiencing intense emotional upheaval. Anger, frustration, sadness, fear of the unknown – these are natural reactions to being in an accident. It can be overwhelming, but it’s important to know your rights and your legal options.

What do I do first if I get in an accident where I’m not at fault?

There are certain immediate steps to take no matter who’s at fault in an accident. These are:

  • Check yourself for injuries.
  • Check the well-being of your passengers.
  • Get to safety.
  • Call your state highway patrol or the police.
  • Call 911 if you or the other party are injured.
  • Exchange information immediately, including insurance information and driver’s licenses.
  • Photograph the damage on both vehicles, as well as the other party’s license plate.
  • Photograph the location of the accident, including lanes, cross streets, lights and signs.
  • Take down names of all parties involved, including passengers in the other vehicles.
  • Get the names and contact information of witnesses if there are any.

What should I do about my car directly after the accident?

The first thing to do is contact your insurance agent and initiate an insurance claim as soon as you can. Your insurer will determine whether the vehicle is a total loss based on repair costs. After that, your insurance company will issue a payment to you of the actual cash value of the car minus your deductible if you have comprehensive or collision coverage.

When is a car considered totaled?

Typically, a car is considered totaled when the cost to repair the car exceeds the value of the car. However, some states have laws that define a totaled vehicle by specific thresholds.

For example, if a state says a vehicle is considered totaled at 75% of its value and its worth is $5,000 but the repairs will cost $4,000, it would be considered totaled. In other cases, the insurer determines whether the vehicle is considered a total loss.

I wasn’t at fault – what do I do now?

If your car is totaled by another drive at fault, you can be reimbursed through your collision coverage minus the deductible. However, chances are your insurer will seek payment from the other drivers’ insurer to cover the loss. In that case, you may be reimbursed for your deductible as well. It’s important that your agent or an attorney proactively seek reimbursement for the full value of the car and possible additional damages.

What about insurance?

Comprehensive coverage and collision coverage can help to pay the costs to replace a totaled vehicle. These two separate coverages are typically required on your car insurance policy if you’re leasing or financing your vehicle. If your car is paid off, they are optional. If your vehicle is totaled and you don’t have comprehensive or collision coverage, you may have to pay out of pocket to buy a replacement vehicle. Your insurance company should try to negotiate with the at-fault driver’s insurer so that you are reimbursed for the full amount.

My airbags deployed. Does that mean the car is totaled?

If your car’s airbags deployed, it doesn’t necessarily mean the car is a total loss. Your insurance adjuster will assess the situation and determine the cost of replacing the airbags and repairing additional damage. If the cost of all repairs exceeds the value of the car, your car will be considered totaled. If the cost of repairs does not exceed the car’s value, your vehicle will likely not be considered a total loss.

What if I live in a state with no-fault car insurance?

No-fault car insurance means the insurance company will pay for certain damages regardless of who was at fault. However, in some no-fault states, vehicle claims are not subject to no-fault rules which

means you can still pursue a claim against the driver at fault. Be sure to check with your insurer when it comes to vehicle damage claims or consult an attorney to determine which insurer is required to pay for your property damage.

What if I disagree with the Insurance company’s valuation of my totaled car?

If you think the valuation of your totaled car is too low, be sure to check the Blue Book value of your car online first. If you still disagree, you can try negotiating further with your insurance company or file a lawsuit. If you file a lawsuit, be ready to offer evidence and proof of the car’s value including recent photos of the car and documentation of recent upgrades. It might be a good idea to hire a qualified, independent appraiser to offer an opinion as to the value of your car before it was totaled.

What happens long term?

Sometimes insurance claims can take weeks, even months, to settle. If there’s a dispute as to who was at fault, the negotiations may become lengthy and drawn out. It’s important to ensure that your insurance agent is doing all that he or she can in being proactive on your claim. In case of injury, be sure that you have legal representation from an auto accident attorney so that your hospital or medical costs are covered, and additional fees for damages are also obtained.

What if my car was totaled but I haven’t paid it off yet?

If the value of your car on the day of the accident is less than what you owe on the car, you will still be liable to pay the difference, unfortunately – even though the car was totaled. So if you owed $20,000 on your car but the current Blue Book value is only $15,000, you would be liable to pay the difference of $5,000. Also, keep in mind that if your insurance companies declares your car a total loss, they have the right to take your car and possibly sell it on the secondary market to recoup some of the loss.

Now I need a new form of transportation. What do I do?

It’s always wise to have rental car insurance as part of your insurance policy. But if you don’t and your car is totaled (even if you’re not at fault), first check with your insurance company to see if they might have a way to advance funds to you for a rental vehicle. If the insurance companies are still haggling over the outcome, find a rental car company that has cheaper, long-term rates and document all expenses. Check with your employer to see if they would allow you to work from home for a period of time.

Why are so many different insurance agents contacting me?

In accidents where the vehicle is a total loss, there are often several agents involved doing different tasks. Each claim is unique and the process may involve many people working on different aspects of your claim. It also depends on how cooperative both insurance firms are, and how forthcoming they are with providing necessary information.

You may be contacted by a medical claims representative if you were injured in the accident. You will definitely be contacted by the claims adjuster who will assess the damage done to your totaled vehicle. Sometimes a third agent might be involved in efforts to reclaim your deductible. Be patient and realize that the process can be somewhat complicated. However, remain proactive in contacting your primary agent if you feel no progress is being made.

It’s a harrowing experience to be in an auto accident, especially if you’ve been injured and your car is a total loss. It’s even more frustrating when you’re not at fault. It’s always a good idea to be educated before an accident happens. But if you’ve already been in one, be sure to follow these guidelines to get through the process as smoothly as possible.