Aftermath of an Auto Accident: Repair vs. Total Loss

Have you ever been faced with the question of whether your vehicle will be repairable after an auto accident? Understanding how this process works, both from the consumer side as well as the insurance carrier’s side will help you resolve the situation, hopefully creating less stress for you in the process.

In the immediate aftermath of an auto accident, what are the necessary steps to get you back on the road? The first step is obvious. Report the accident to your insurance carrier. After the initial fact-gathering stage is complete, your insurance company will usually send a company adjuster (appraiser) or an independent adjuster out to inspect the vehicle. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may be asked to simply submit an estimate or two for the necessary vehicle repairs. 

This decision of Totaled v. Repairable will be made based on a number of factors:

  • How old is your vehicle?
  • How many miles are on your vehicle?
  • What is the pre-accident condition of your vehicle?
  • How severe is the damage?

These questions will help the adjuster determine whether your vehicle may be deemed a total loss. What is a total loss? It’s simply when the repairs to your vehicle will exceed the current value of the vehicle (actual cash value or ACV).

Man Upset After Auto AccidentThe decision not to repair your vehicle can be more complex and the consumer has a voice in this process as well. Each state has different laws governing how this process is handled. For the purposes of simplicity, I will use general guidelines used by insurance carriers. Keep in mind, your state laws may differ.

So, the claims adjuster will use the answers to the questions noted above to determine whether an inspection is needed. It is important the adjuster is made aware of any improvements to the vehicle which could increase the value – like a new transmission, leather seating, sunroof, etc. Many consumers see these as typical upgrades, but they can greatly affect the value of the vehicle. Be sure to note any trim package on your vehicle along with the correct engine size. Again, these are important factors in pinning down the actual cash value.

After the inspection is complete, the adjuster will review the estimate and photos of your vehicle, along with a report estimating the actual cash value of your vehicle, i.e. NADA, Kelley Blue Book. This information will determine whether your vehicle can be repaired. If unrepairable, the adjuster will call you to discuss the value of your vehicle along with the next steps in the process. Don’t hesitate to ask to review the estimate and appraisal completed on your vehicle.

Keep in mind, a vehicle repair or total loss is always subject to one’s collision/comprehensive deductible and any lienholder has first right of payment in the event of a total loss.

Resolving a physical damage claim on your vehicle can be stressful. Remember to be thorough and ask questions.

-Casey Flood

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5 thoughts on “Aftermath of an Auto Accident: Repair vs. Total Loss

  1. Blakeley Southern

    You bring up a good point in bringing up the questions of how old your vehicle is and how severe the damage was when determining whether to repair or replace your car after an accident. In many cases your car can be repaired by experienced professionals who know how to restore your auto body back to its original state. In my opinion you should first look into repairing and then if it is absolutely not possible replace your vehicle.

  2. Andy Harrison

    If you happen to get in an accident, you should always call your insurance company. Regardless of how severe it is, they should always be notified. After you call them, they will usually send someone out to assess the damage and then make the decision on what to do. If you choose to repair the vehicle, then do be sure to go somewhere that accepts your insurance.

  3. Roger Middleton

    My wife recently got into a pretty serious accident and we’re trying to get our car back but they haven’t finished the ruling and we’re worried about what we’ll do if they rule it a total loss. I liked that you had mentioned that it could be important to answer all questions correctly to make sure you can get the most money back possible from your damaged car. We’ll have to start looking for a professional appraiser so that we can get the total value of the car correct and get the most money back possible.

  4. Ellie Davis

    I didn’t know that every state had different laws when it came to handling the process of deciding if your car should be repaired after an accident. My husband was in a pretty bad car accident last week but I think we are going to try and get the car repaired. Hopefully, we can find a nice auto body shop in our area.


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