How Do I Report a Totaled Car to the DMV?

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If you get news from an auto mechanic that your car is “totaled” after a motor vehicle accident, this means that the costs of repairs are more than the value of the vehicle. In most cases, owners will choose to settle for the “salvage value” of the vehicle rather than paying for repairs. Insurance companies may not cover the costs of repairing a totaled vehicle. Instead, they will offer compensation to make up the value of your vehicle. Knowing how to report a totaled vehicle to the Department of Motor Vehicles, like the DMV in California, can help you facilitate the claims process.

Compensation offered by insurance companies often is undervalued. Work with an experienced car accident attorney to ensure you receive the maximum compensation for your damages.

How Can I Tell If My Car Is Totaled?

Before you can give your information to an insurance company, you must know for sure that your vehicle meets the requirements to be “totaled.” Totaled refers to a vehicle that is a total loss. The definition of totaled can change from state to state if the state has a specific law on totaled vehicles. The California DMV defines a “Total Loss Salvage Vehicle” as one that has enough damage or destruction, so the owner or insurance company finds it uneconomical to repair.

In general, if the costs to repair damage are greater than 75% of a vehicle’s total value, state law considers the car “totaled.” In most cases, however, it is the driver’s insurance company that decides when and if a vehicle is totaled. An auto insurance company may require the claimant to take (or tow) a vehicle to an approved auto mechanic’s shop for a professional opinion if it is not obvious whether the vehicle is a total loss.

A “non-repairable vehicle” is different from a totaled one. A non-repairable vehicle has zero resale value, other than for scrap metal. Once you receive the official opinion on the status of your wrecked vehicle, your insurance company may offer you a settlement based on the value of the totaled vehicle (or the pre-accident value, depending on your insurance plan). At this point, you will need to verify your ownership of the totaled vehicle through a DMV Salvage Certificate. Without getting this certificate, you could face fines and penalties from the DMV.

What Is the Value of Your Totaled Vehicle?

In California, the “salvage value” of your car after a serious accident is the remaining value of the damaged vehicle. Bids from salvage vehicle buyers will generally determine the salvage value of a totaled vehicle. In general, the salvage value will be far less than the purchase price of the car. If you choose to keep your totaled vehicle, the insurance company will deduct the amount of the highest salvage bid from your settlement amount. In other words, you will “buy back” your salvaged car through your insurer.

So How Do Insurance Companies Determine the Value of Your Vehicle?

In order to calculate the value of your vehicle, the insurance company has to determine the actual cash value of the car. They will factor in the year, the make, model, current mileage, features of the vehicle, and the zip code location of the vehicle, to come up with an estimation of the value based on today’s market value.

A lot of the times the calculated actual value of your vehicle will be lower than the cost to replace the vehicle. This is when you would have to request the replacement cost. You can work with a personal injury lawyer to help you negotiate to get the full amount for your new vehicle.

You must then file a salvage certificate with the DMV if you plan to keep the car or accept a settlement. You do this by submitting an Application for Salvage Certificate or Nonrepairable Vehicle Certificate. You need to file this application and surrender the vehicle’s license plates within 10 days of the settlement loss to qualify. You will need your certificate of title, as well as money to pay the Salvage Certificate fee. You may also need other documentation.

If you suffered a “total loss” of your vehicle in a California car accident, your insurance company will pay you not only the salvage value of your vehicle, but also the costs of taxes, licenses, and transfers. Your settlement should be comparable to similar vehicles and quality. If an insurance company is offering you less than you believe your totaled car is worth, contact an attorney for help negotiating a higher amount. You may need to file a personal injury claim to receive better compensation.

Contact an experienced Los Angeles accident attorney about your case today! (310) 477-1700