How to Get the Retail Value for a Totaled Car

by Kristen Dennis
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Crash on the street. German auto model 2007. image by Dariusz Kopestynski from

Dealing with the insurance company after an auto accident can be difficult and confusing, especially if your car was severely damaged. After the accident, an appraiser will assess the damage to the vehicle to determine if it can be repaired or if it needs to be replaced. If the cost to repair the car is higher than the value or the car, the insurance company will declare it a total loss and pay you the value of the car. With a little research and the right information, you can negotiate a fair retail value for your totaled car.

Before the Accident

Step 1

Speak with your insurance agent to make sure you understand the fine print of your policy as is relates to paying to repair or replace your damaged car. Understanding your policy beforehand will give you peace of mind and confidence if an accident does occur.

Step 2

Keep your car clean and in good repair. After an accident, an appraiser will assess your car's condition to determine if it is poor, fair, good or excellent. To get the highest value, keep your car's upholstery, engine, paint, etc. in good or excellent condition at all times.

Step 3

Save maintenance receipts and records. A used car with a clean engine, meticulous maintenance records, and updated parts is worth more than a comparable car that hasn't seen a mechanic in five years. When dealing with the insurance company, you want to be able to prove that the car is worth the highest value possible.

After the Accident

Step 1

Determine the value of your car by checking car-pricing sites like Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book. You can enter your vehicle's specifications into the site's calculator, and it will give you the retail, private sale, and trade-in values for the car.

Step 2

Find comparable cars for sale in your area. The insurance company should offer you the Actual Cash Value (ACV) of your car, so you need to know what your car would have sold for if you had tried to sell it prior to the accident. This amount may be higher or lower than the Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds value, so it is beneficial to have both sets of numbers.

Step 3

Negotiate with the insurance company. Just as dealers and buyers haggle over the price of a car, you can negotiate with the adjuster for the value of your car. In his article, "Confessions of an Auto Claims Adjuster," Phillip Reed, a former adjuster, suggests that you do not take the insurance company's first offer, which will always be low. Adjusters are prepared to give you more for the car if you decline the first offer.

Step 4

Challenge the appraiser's report. If you think that the appraiser has undervalued your car, you can argue that your car was in better condition, had recent upgrades, or had a specialty trim package that the appraiser failed to notice. Edmunds writer Steve Siller explains, "Don't be afraid to present your case and ask them to make an adjustment—if your argument is sound, companies will probably listen to you. In fact, your insurer is required by law to give you a fair price."

Step 5

Ask the adjuster to reduce the number of comparables. The adjuster's offer is based on the average selling price of several comparable cars. You can ask the adjuster to only use the top five cars on his list to raise the average value.

Step 6

Remember that the insurance company will give you the actual cash value, or fair market value of the car. They are not required to give you what you paid for the car, or even what you still owe on the car.

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