Friday, March 8, 2019

What happens if I total my car?

One of the most common questions we get is “What’s the process now that my car’s been totaled?”

A total loss (the term insurers use) is when a vehicle is in a collision and the insurance company determines it would cost more than the vehicle is worth to repair it, so they “total” it.

Once an insurer declares a vehicle a total loss, they owe you the retail market value of your car, plus sales tax. But how do you know if the amount the insurer offers you is a reasonable estimate of the retail market value? Many consumers don’t know they have the right to, and should, ask the insurance company for a total loss valuation report, which shows the comparable auto data the insurer used to calculate your vehicle’s value. Most insurance companies don’t automatically provide the report to consumers and there’s no requirement that they provide it without being asked.

Insurers can either give you cash for your vehicle’s retail value or offer to replace your vehicle with a comparable vehicle in your area. A quick note about this point -- Washington state law doesn’t allow insurers to look at car values more than 150 miles from your home unless you give them permission. Even if you are dealing with someone else's insurer, they still need to look for comparable cars in and near where the vehicle is normally garaged or parked.

If you have problems with this -- and you live in Washington state -- feel free to file a complaint with our office so we can help ensure that the rules are followed. If you live in another state, check with your state's insurance department.

Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or by calling 1-800-562-6900.