Chelsey Tucker graduated with a Bachelor of History degree from Metropolitan State University in 2019. She now writes about insurance with her specialty being life insurance and has been quoted on Help Smart Phone and MEL Magazine.

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Mar 19, 2020

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The lowdown...

  • Most insurance companies refer to cars and other property that’s written off after a total loss
  • A total loss is defined as the destruction of an asset to the point that no value or very little value is left
  • Some states require cars that have been damaged by flood or fire to be written off automatically after a claim
  • It is the insurer and not the client who pays for the insurance that decides if the car should be written off
  • One of the main requirements that have to be met after a loss is that repair costs have to exceed the car’s value

Insurance companies never pay more than they have to when they are settling claims. That’s the entire reason that car’s that seem to be fully functional can still be written off after a claim.

When it’s going to cost the insurer more money to fix the car than it would to replace it, it simply doesn’t make sense for the company to send a check for more than the insured property is worth.

Make sure you are getting the best rate for your auto insurance needs by using our free insurance comparison tool above today! 

If you ever have a claim and your property is damaged so badly that the repairs add up to more than what similar cars are selling for on the market, the insurer will write the car off. When a car is written off, it’s classified as a total loss. Here’s what you need to know about the process of writing a car off for insurance purposes:

Filing Your Insurance Claim


You can’t just wake up and decide that your car should be written off because of wear and tear or because of dents that have accumulated over time. In actuality, it’s the insurance company that estimates damage and then makes the final decision on whether or not the car meets the criteria to be written off.

Since either your insurance company or the carrier that covers the other driver will declare the car a total loss, you have to have a covered loss before writing the car off is even an option.

That means that the damage sustained has to be caused by a sudden and unexpected peril. If you have a covered loss, the next step would be to file a claim. If you don’t file a covered insurance claim, your car won’t be written off.

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Reviewing Your Insurance Coverage

You have to have the right kind of insurance for the company will even investigate your physical damage loss. If you don’t have comprehensive or collision on your own plan and you’re filing a claim, your insurer will inform you that you don’t have the right coverage.

They will investigate the liability portion of the loss, but if you’re at fault, the company won’t estimate your damages or anything else.

When you have full coverage, which includes comprehensive and collision, your insurer will investigate the incident and estimate the damage no matter who’s fault. If you’re the not at-fault driver and the other driver had coverage at the time of the loss, their insurer will begin to start the process of estimating the cost of repairs.

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Estimating the Cost of Repairs

Once your coverage is verified and you have the protection that’s needed to help pay for your mangled car, the next step is working with your insurer to assess how much your car will cost to get back to its condition before the accident.

The insurance company can’t effectively write off a car until they know what type of damage they’re working with.

There’s one of two ways that you can arrange to have the damage estimated. The first option is for the carrier to send an estimator to you. This estimator will take photos and calculate how much they believe the repair costs will be. The next option is to take the car to a repair facility run by the insurer.

The facility will keep the car until the estimate is done. If you don’t make the vehicle available or coordinate with the insurer, you could delay the entire process.

You can’t try to put off an inspection when it involves assessing the damage. If you wait too long, the other insurer might accuse you of hiding damage or fraudulently filing a claim.

Reviewing the Repair Estimates

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You do have a part in the claims process. The insurer will always send you information that’s gathered in the estimate reports so that you can decide if you agree or disagree with the final figure. Ask your adjuster for the repair estimate invoice right after it’s complete.

If you think the number is too low or too high, you have the right to ask for a second opinion. If the second estimator comes up with the figure that the insurer doesn’t agree with, you’ll bring in an unbiased third estimator. After three estimates have been drafted up, the industry norm is to take the average of all three.

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Assessing the Vehicle’s Value

When you don’t want to appeal the estimate, the next step is for the adjuster who has your file to start determining how much your car is worth on the private market. When this number is compared to the repair estimate, it’s what will determine if you have a write off on your hands.

Insurance companies will only pay you as much as your property is worth no matter how valid your claim is. That’s why the Actual Cash Value determination is so important when the repair estimates are higher than you expected. Actual Cash Values vary so much from car to car that it’s hard to predict what number the insurer will settle on. Here are some tools the adjuster will use:

  • NADA guides showing the current fair market value of a model
  • Sales prices reported by dealers in the local area
  • Current listings at local dealerships
  • Current for sale by owner listings in your area

What if you don’t agree with the Actual Cash Value?

If you think that your insurer has valued your car way too low, you can tell the insurer how you feel and see if they will work with you. Sometimes, adjusters will bump up the value by $500 to $1000 simply because you’re unhappy. If you think it’s off by more than that, you have to provide receipts or other types of proof.

When cars are total losses, the insurer will take over possession of the vehicle as soon as the papers are all signed on the dotted line. You can keep your car by accepting a lower settlement if it makes sense to do so.

If you’re going to keep your salvaged car, make sure you can insure it.

Use your computer, get online quotes instantly, and see what the underwriting rules are for covering salvaged cars.

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