If your car gets totaled in an accident, you generally have three legal resource options:
· You could file an insurance claim.
· You could sue the at-fault party––which isn’t necessarily another individual.
· You pay for your losses out of pocket.
Your next logical steps depend on the facts of your situation. While understanding your options won’t magically fix your damaged vehicle, they could help you plan your next steps.
What does it mean when your car is totaled?
Many people picture a totaled car and picture a vehicle up in flames, sizzling on the side of the road. This is not the case. As Investopedia explains: “When a vehicle is totaled, the insurance company believes it isn’t worth repairing.”
Basically, this means your car’s repairs are more than your actual car is worth. So, technically, you can still drive a totaled car, but you won’t get far (and probably not safely, either).
Your options if you totaled your car
While the following options may not apply to your situation (as every case is unique), they could help you navigate the post-accident landscape.
- Filing an insurance claim
Most states require motorists to carry some degree of insurance. So, if you’re in an accident that another driver caused, you can file an insurance claim with their provider to recover your property damage costs.
Alternatively, if you live in a “no-fault” state, you would file a claim with your own insurer. In these systems, the idea is that you can settle your case faster than if you were pursuing another entity for your losses.
Who pays for my car if it is totaled?
If you’re still paying off your car, having your car totaled doesn’t absolve you of that debt. While the insurance company might offer you a settlement to pay off your car, this might not leave room for you to buy a new one.
That’s what makes carrying insurance so important. Your insurance might not only pay for your car’s damage but also for the cost of replacing it altogether. If you get into a collision and you don’t have insurance, you could have to shoulder all of these expenses on your own.
- You could file a lawsuit
Even if you live in a no-fault state, if you were in an accident with another driver, you could personally sue them. Here, there’s no limit to the amount of money you can request (unless you’re also pursuing pain and suffering). If the judge or jury rules in your favor, you could recover the following damages in your lawsuit:
· Medical bills, if you were injured
· Lost wages, if you missed time from work because of the accident
· The cost of renting a car
· The cost of replacing your vehicle
· Any remaining costs you owe on your previous car
· Pain and suffering
Depending on where you live, you could even include “loss of consortium” in your lawsuit. This would compensate you if the accident negatively impacted your spousal relationship.
You must file your case before your state’s statute of limitations expires, the American Bar Association warns, or else you could lose the right to damages.
- You pay for your losses out of pocket
If you have the financial resources to cover the cost of your totaled vehicle, then you might not pursue any of these options. While it’s always a good idea to tell your insurance company if your car was destroyed, you don’t legally have to do this.
Don’t assume that the insurance company won’t pay for your losses, though. Even if you don’t think you have adequate coverage, you might.
Steps to take after totaling your car
Your first priority should always be your health. Before you move forward with getting your car assessed by a mechanic, visit with a healthcare professional to ensure you’re in good shape. Once you’ve met with your doctor:
· Tell your insurer. The claims adjuster will inspect your vehicle and determine whether its “totaled.” You can take your car to your own mechanic to get a second opinion, but the insurance company may not cover these expenses.
· Temporarily use a car. The insurance company might offer you a rental in the aftermath of your collision. However, this is likely not a permanent arrangement.
If the insurer doesn’t offer you a car, you can use rideshare services or rely on friends. Be sure to keep records of these expenses, as you could pursue them later through your insurance claim. Whatever you do, don’t rush into getting another car.
· Think about your next car. While your options may be constrained by your budget, it’s always a good idea to think about what you want in a new car. That can serve as the basis of your search.
· Consider your legal options. Insurance settlements often limit what you can pursue since they only pay to the policy’s maximum limits. However, lawsuits don’t. By working with a lawyer, you can sue the at-fault party for your accident-related losses.
Two commonly asked questions about totaled cars
If you recently totaled your car, you might be wondering:
- Can I fix to have my totaled car replaced?
Sure. But consider this: suppose you take your 2011 Dodge Avenger to the mechanic after an accident. According to Kelley Blue Book, you could get $5,297 on a good day.
But realistically, you’d get about $4,000. Now, the mechanic says that your car needs $8,000 in repairs. In this instance, the insurer would consider your car totaled. But suppose you could pay the $8,000?
In that case, you could have your totaled car repaired. However, you’d be better off taking the money and getting another car of equal or lesser value.
- My car is totaled, but I can still drive it. Is this safe?
Probably not, but honestly, it really depends on what’s wrong with your vehicle. For instance, suppose you have a powertrain problem, meaning that something’s wrong with your steering wheels, transmission, and engine.
If these systems fail, you could get seriously hurt, and driving your car in this condition would not be safe.
However, if your car exterior is totaled, but nothing is wrong with it internally, then you could keep driving it. You would be best advised to stay away from major roadways and highways, though.
Totaling your car is an awful ordeal, but like everything else, it will come to pass. The most important thing in a collision’s aftermath is to consider your options and prioritize your well-being.