Welcome to FindLaw's Vehicle Damage section, which contains a variety of articles and resources to help you deal with the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident. Included are numerous articles about what it means to "total" a car in the context of insurance coverage and how a salvage title works, plus other resources relating to totaled cars. In addition, this section covers what to do when there is no vehicle damage following an accident, how to file a property damage claim, who pays for a rental car after an accident, and more.
Vehicle Damage: What May Be Recovered
While monetary compensation for damages is generally meant to make the aggrieved party "whole" again, it doesn't always work that way in actuality. This is especially true when the settlement for a "totaled" vehicle is not enough to buy a replacement vehicle. But regardless, amounts are typically determined by subtracting the value of the car after the accident from its value immediately before it was damaged. This reimburses the motorist for what was damaged, even if it doesn't actually replace the vehicle.
How Estimates Are Calculated
Your insurer will total up the estimated repair costs and compare them to the current Blue Book value of your vehicle (at the point right before the accident) -- which is roughly what your car would be worth if you tried to sell it. If the repairs would cost a significant percent of the Blue Book value, then the insurance company likely would total it and pay that amount. Some insurers do their own estimates in-house, while others will base it on estimates of independent mechanics.
If the insurance company failed to account for additional damage, the shop may contact the claims adjuster to work it out.
When a car is totaled -- which means the insurance company has deemed it a total loss and not worth fixing -- it is given what is called a salvage title. This is to ensure others (such as would-be buyers) that it has been seriously damaged, even if someone has decided to keep it. Depending on state laws or the insurers' terms, a car may be totaled if the estimated repair or replacement cost is between 60 and 90 percent (typically 70 to 75 percent) of its pre-accident Blue Book value.
Licensing and driving a vehicle that has a salvage title -- if it hasn't been redesignated as "rebuild" or "rebuild salvage" -- is generally not allowed in most states. If you satisfactorily repair the damage in a salvaged vehicle, you can have it inspected in order to change the designation and get it licensed.
Damage to Rental Cars
As with any other car accident, determination of who was at fault will be key. If it's the other party's fault, his or her insurance company will work out the details with the car rental company's insurer. If the other party is not insured, you'll have to check and see if your own policy covers uninsured motorists. If the accident is your fault, then your own insurer will pay for the damage. Before renting a vehicle, however, it's a good idea to review the coverage offered by your own insurer. In some cases, you may want to purchase the insurance offered by the car rental company.
To learn more about vehicle damage, click on one of the links below.