Auto Total Loss – DIY Tips to Get Your Claim Settled

If you would like to get a fair settlement for the total loss of your auto, you have found the right article. It will take a little work, but I think I can shed a little light on what you need to know in order to get a fair settlement.

As the owner of an appraisal company as well as a former licensed adjuster who has settled thousands of total loss claims, I will reveal the tricks to getting an insurance company to take you seriously.

Let me dispel some common misconceptions that apply on total losses in almost every state:

  • Your vehicle is not a retail vehicle.  What dealers would ask for your vehicle is not what your vehicle is worth.  Your vehicle is a private vehicle, and the value of your vehicle will be reflective of this fact.
  • Frame damage has nothing to do with whether your vehicle is considered a total loss or not.
  • You cannot force the insurance company to total your vehicle, nor can you force them not to total it.
  • Any vehicle can be repaired; it is simply a matter of cost.
  • The salvage value of your vehicle is very important.
  • Insurance adjusters do not have the authority to change company policy, but claims managers, litigation adjusters, claims presidents, and vice presidents of claims departments usually do.
  • Staff insurance adjusters are normally not experts on determining vehicle value and may not even have an adjuster’s license (ask them for their license number).

Okay, if you understand those seven things then you are ahead of most people.

I think most people believe (rightfully so) that insurance companies use computers and formulas to determine vehicle values.

This practice is the main problem that consumers face.   

How do you argue with a computer or formula?

I’ll tell you how – you have to call it’s bluff!

Each vehicle should be evaluated on its own merit, and the adjuster should be able to utilize common sense.  Instead, processes, computers, and formulas keep adjusters from using logic, and when you (the victim) don’t agree with the result of the process, the adjuster is trained to simply advise you that their offer is the final offer.

So what do you do? 

How do you call their bluff and get them to act human?

Here is the process:

  1. Gather every scrap of documentation on your vehicle that you can find and get it in front of you. If you have no oil change receipts, other maintenance records, the purchase invoice, list of options, etc., then you will have a hard time proving your vehicle was taken care of and “above average” no matter how good it looks. (you need to prove your vehicle doesn’t fit with the “formula”)
  2. Demand a written salvage value quote from the insurance company (in writing), but if the adjuster verbally gives you a quote, write it down for comparison later.
  3. Use the internet! Go to the websites for NADA, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, AutoTrader,, Craigslist, E-bay Motors, etc. Carefully document your vehicle’s value according to all of these publications. The more information you have, the harder it is for the insurance company / adjuster to argue with you.
  4. Pick up the telephone and call auto salvage lots in your area.  Ask them to give you a salvage bid on your wrecked vehicle.  Do this with at least three salvage dealers, even if you have to call dealers that are over 100 miles away from you.  Document at least three bids on the salvage for your vehicle and, if possible, ask the salvage company if they maintain auction sales records and see if they will give you an average sale price for vehicles like yours that have been sold at auction in the last 6 months to a year.  Document all of this and determine your vehicle’s salvage value so that you can compare it with the value the insurance company gave you in step 3.  Most of the time, insurance companies/adjusters simply use a percentage of the car’s value to determine salvage value (crazy and inaccurate!).
Okay, so if you have completed steps 1 through 4, you should be ready to move on. 
If you haven’t completed steps 1 through 4, then this is probably why you need help with your settlement….you can’t follow directions.

Just kidding!  🙂  Moving on…

  1. Write a well thought out demand letter and give the insurance company a time limit for responding.  Indicate in your demand that your offer to settle will be rescinded at the end of your time limit, then follow up by telephone every two business days until your time limit expires.
  2. When calling the insurance company, unless the adjuster is responding favorably, just request to speak with the Vice President of Claims and then settle for a claim supervisor.  Unless you are an experienced negotiator, try to avoid getting into a detailed conversation with the claims department.  Simply ask them when you can expect a written response to your demand.  Try and get the supervisor to provide you with a fax number or e-mail and then correspond only in writing.  If they will not provide you with a fax number or e-mail address (some won’t), then try and record your conversations with the claims office and advise them that you’re recording the conversations.  Not because it’s required, but because they will be more likely to be careful if they know they are being recorded.  Of course, you can use snail mail, but who wants to wait on the mail?  The point is to document what you are doing so you can review it later if you need to.
  3. Be willing to give in a little bit on the value that you expect to receive. If the insurance company is increasing their offer to you, then in the spirit of fair business dealings, you should reduce your demand. Always move in small increments – don’t give away the house or settle for too little (insurance adjusters are trained to move as little as possible to try and settle low, so why shouldn’t you do the same, but in an attempt to settle high?).  Be confident in your negotiation, but don’t be over-confident.  Remember: if you fight for every penny, you will likely spend at least a few hundred dollars fighting, you know?  It is possible that you have overlooked something that an adjuster or attorney has already found.
  4. If all else fails, hire a qualified expert to write a detailed and industry accepted market value report (hey, we do that!).  Submit the report to the insurance company along with a final demand letter and a small claim petition.

That’s it.

If you can follow the steps outlined in this article, you can get a fair settlement for your auto total loss.

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