What Metrics Do Car Insurance Companies Use to Determine a Car’s Value?

After being involved in a serious car accident, you'll be faced with a series of unpleasant decisions. For starters, you'll need to receive medical care for any injuries that you sustained in the accident. Depending upon the circumstances of the crash, this could quickly become expensive. Fortunately, your auto insurance policy is required by law to feature a "personal injury protection" clause that may significantly reduce or eliminate your out-of-pocket medical expenses. As long as you're carrying auto insurance at the time of the accident, you shouldn't have to worry about the financial impact of your injury.

However, you will have to worry about the post-crash condition of your vehicle. If your vehicle sustained a great deal of damage, you'll need to file a claim with your insurance company and arrange for a claims adjuster to examine it. If there aren't any claims adjusters in your area, you might be asked to take the vehicle to an approved auto body shop for an appraisal. In either case, you'll receive a repair estimate. If the value of the required repair work exceeds the fair market value of the vehicle, it will be declared to be a "total loss."

Depending upon the policies of your insurance carrier and the laws in your state, such a declaration will probably entitle you to a full payout of the car's agreed-upon market value. However, it's important to note that this payout may not be equal to the price that you'd receive for the car in a private-party sale. In fact, its ultimate value will depend heavily upon the pre-accident condition of your vehicle as well as the overall health of the used-vehicle market in your geographical area.

Most auto insurance companies use either private-party or used-lot sales metrics to determine the value of a totaled vehicle. Since the difference between private-party and used-lot sales values can differ by as much as $1,500, you should ask your insurance company about its calculation methods.

In the event that your vehicle is totaled, it's likely that your insurance company will have a claims adjuster examine it firsthand. This individual will look for evidence of pre-accident wear and tear that might reduce its theoretical resale value. The overall condition of the vehicle will influence your eventual payout: A car that was in "good" condition could fetch $2,000 more than a car that was in "poor" condition. Unfortunately, you'll have little control over this particular metric.

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