What to Do After a Total-Loss Auto Accident

Tips to Get Your Insurance Money Fast

Steps to take after a total loss auto accident. Report the claim to the insurance company ASAP, have the vehicle towed to your insurance company's preferred shop, track down your title, check to see how much you owe on your vehicle, do your own research to confirm insurance company payout numbers, and mail all your completed paperwork as quickly as possible.

The Balance / Madelyn Goodnight

A total-loss auto accident can range from a disastrous collision to bumping a deer, depending on the value of the vehicle. Either way, a total-loss accident is usually more complicated than getting a vehicle repaired. More steps are involved in closing a total loss claim. Knowing what to do after a total-loss auto accident will speed up the claims process so you can get your insurance money fast.

01 of 06

Report the Claim to the Insurance Company as Soon as Possible

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A tota-loss auto claim is not a claim you want to sit on. Total-loss claims can sometimes take over a month to finalize and close. The insurance company plays a large role in the speed of a claim, however, you play a part in the speed too. The sooner you file the claim, the sooner the insurance company can start working on your claim.

02 of 06

Have the Vehicle Towed to Your Insurance Company's Preferred Shop

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If you think your vehicle has a good chance of being totaled, have it towed to your insurance company’s preferred body shop. Most companies have a few appointed shops they work with directly and it can speed up the claims process to use a preferred shop. If you do not like your insurance company’s preferred body shop, it really doesn’t matter because it’s probably totaled right? They are not going to be doing any repairs to the vehicle. Having the vehicle towed to the preferred shop just makes the claims process faster. Plus, often if you have your vehicle towed to the tow company's lot you will be charged a storage fee.

03 of 06

Locate Your Title

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Titles have a way of coming up missing right when you need them. Make sure you know where your title is as soon as you think your vehicle is a total loss. If you have lost your title, file for a lost title at the DMV right away. If your vehicle is a total loss, you may have to sign the title over to the insurance company.

04 of 06

Check to See How Much You Owe, if You Have a Loan on the Vehicle

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Knowing how much you owe on your vehicle can prepare you in case your auto loan is greater than the current value of the vehicle. Hopefully, if you are underwater on your loan you have gap insurance or loan/lease payoff on your car insurance policy. Total-loss claims are not paid out based on what you owe but on the actual cash value at the time of loss.

05 of 06

Do Some Research on Your Own to Determine the Value of Your Vehicle

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Researching the value of your vehicle is not mandatory. Your research gives you an idea of whether or not the insurance company is in the ballpark with its final payout figure. Investigate the value of your vehicle the following ways to determine its value:

  • Check Kelley Blue Book for figures on your vehicle. Insurance companies do not base payouts strictly by Kelley Blue Book, however, the site does a good job at placing a value on a vehicle. For someone who is not familiar with car values, Kelley Blue Book is a convenient tool.
  • Check similar vehicle listings in your area. Most insurance claims adjusters go through the same process by checking auto websites, newspapers, and dealerships in the area.
  • Collect receipts of recent major improvements because the upgrades may factor into your final payout.
06 of 06

Mail All of Your Completed Paperwork as Quickly as Possible

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Total-loss auto accidents can require quite a bit of paperwork. An agreement needs to be reached on the payout amount of the totaled vehicle. If you have a loan on the vehicle, you will probably need to sign a power of attorney document which will transfer ownership of the vehicle to the insurance company once the loan in paid off.

Tips for Total-Loss Paperwork

  • Sign your name exactly how it appears on the title when signing the power of attorney.
  • Ask if you can fax the insurance company the documents from your agent’s office before mailing to speed up receiving your check.

Communication is the key for any insurance claim to run smoothly. Take it one step at a time and work closely with your claims adjuster. Make sure the insurance company has a good contact number for you and be available so you are not constantly playing phone tag. If you can survive a major accident which totals your auto, you can survive the claims process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What should you do with a totaled car that doesn't have insurance coverage?

If you don't have insurance coverage on the car that's totaled, then you won't get any payout. If you own the car outright, then you can sell it to recoup as much of your financial loss as possible.

How many days do you have to decide what to do with a total loss?

The timetable for your total-loss process will depend on your insurance company and your state. You can expect to have at least a week or two to file a claim, but you may have more than a month to decide. However, you generally want to make these decisions as soon as possible, because the claims process can move slowly.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Millar Law Firm. "How Long Should It Take To Receive a Check From an Insurance Company After a Car Accident in Georgia?"

  2. Gama Law Firm. "What You Need to Know About Towing and Rental Car Charges After a Crash."

  3. Progressive. "Total Loss Claims."

  4. Mass.gov. "Frequently Asked Questions About Auto Insurance Claims."

  5. USAA. "Total Loss Power of Attorney."

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