In a recent blog post I started talking about some of the issues that come up when your car is damaged in a car wreck. However, the one issue I did not get to is when the insurance company tells you that your vehicle is totaled or a total loss. So, what happens when insurance totals your car?
For example, assume you have just finished paying off your Ford Explorer that has a present, book value of $7,000 and because you have taken meticulous care of it over the years, you believe it should run for another 10 years or 100,000 miles. A drunk driver plows into the rear-end of your vehicle and pushes your Explorer into another large SUV causing your airbags to go off. Most likely, your Explorer will be a total loss as each airbag alone tends to cost about over $1,000 to replace.
In Kentucky and Indiana, an insurance company is required to total out a vehicle if the repair costs equal or 75% (in Kentucky) or 70% (in Indiana) of the value of the vehicle. This is a link to a website that describes what I am talking about and lists the percentages for each state, http://www.carinsurance.com/Articles/total-loss-thresholds.aspx.
The problem being that when a car is a total loss, the insurance company owes you the fair market value of the vehicle, not the replacement value.
Therefore, in my example, you could recover the $7,000 the Explorer was worth with some fees for taxes and titling the vehicle. The fact that it may cost you more money to replace that vehicle with something just as good, is irrelevant in the eyes of the law.
Yes, you can keep your vehicle if an accident totals your car. Nothing in the law requires you to turn over your vehicle to the insurance company. However, the insurance company will deduct whatever money they would have gotten from a junkyard for the Explorer. This is usually referred to as salvage value and it tends to run about 20% of the fair market value of the vehicle. So in the case of the Explorer, you could keep it but the insurance company would pay you approximately $5,600 instead and you would have to apply to your local County Clerk for a salvage title.
You have to check with the County Clerk as to the specifics required for a salvage title but, I can tell you that you have to turn in the license plate so the vehicle can not be driven while it is being fixed and a mechanic has to complete an affidavit as to the work done with the appropriate receipts for the parts purchased.
Typically, if insurance totals your car, unless you can fix the vehicle yourself, know a backyard mechanic who can do the repairs cheaply or drive the car ugly because the damage to the vehicle was mostly cosmetic, it is better to let the insurance company haul the car off.