If you are in a car accident and make a claim to your insurance company, an investigation will be performed. Your insurance company will determine whether it is possible and cost-effective to get your vehicle repaired. If it is not, the insurance company will label your vehicle as a “total loss.”

If you vehicle is determined to be a total loss, your insurance company will then perform research to determine the market value of your vehicle, and offer you an amount of money reflecting what they believe to be the appropriate value.

However, the insurance company’s assessment may not always accurately reflect the maximum value of your vehicle at the time the accident occurred. After your insurance company determines the value of your vehicle, you can perform your own research to dispute the amount that was offered. You may even be able to file a lawsuit if you cannot reach an agreement on the value of your vehicle.

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What Type of Research is Performed?

After a claim is made, your insurance company will research the market value of your vehicle by looking up how much it is selling for. However, a lot of times they will use the lower priced data that is available and exclude data that shows higher prices.

Because of this, their research may not indicate the actual market value of your vehicle. After the research is completed, your insurance company will generate a report that will usually show comparable vehicles that are available in your local market and the amount they will pay out to you.

How Can I Dispute the Value of my Vehicle?

  1. Review the Insurance Company’s Report
    • First, you should request and review the research report from your insurance company. Some important things to look for are:
      • Whether the comparable vehicles have the same features as your vehicle (such as a CD player, power locks, leather interior or back-up camera);
      • Whether the listings are old or inactive; and
      • The location of the comparable vehicles (to confirm they are in fact from your local market).
    • If any of the above discrepancies are present, you can notify your insurance company and ask that further research be done.
  2. Do Your Own Research
    • Next, you can perform your own research to determine the value of your vehicle. You can search for comparable vehicles on various websites. You can also look up the Blue Book value of your vehicle online. However, keep in mind that insurance companies generally are not required by law to pay you the Blue Book value.
    • In addition, any positive attributes of your vehicle could help your request for a higher amount. For example, low mileage and no prior accidents can add value to your car.
  3. Ask for a Higher Pay Out
    • After you complete your independent research, compare it to your insurance company’s report. If there are major differences in value, you could try to request a higher pay out for your totaled vehicle.
    • Send a copy of your research, along with your concerns, to your insurance company and inform them of any positive features they may not have included in their research. Regardless, when dealing with this type of situation remember that each state has its own laws regarding how insurance companies must operate when dealing with evaluation of total loss vehicles.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If your insurance company will not accommodate your request for a higher payout or reevaluation of your claim, you may be able to file a case. This would likely go to small claims court. While you may not need a lawyer or be allowed to have one in small claims court, a local insurance lawyer can advise you of your rights and help you prepare for your court hearing.