Hearing that your vehicle has been declared a total loss can be frustrating. But not knowing what to do after that declaration can be downright stressful.
In this article, we define a total loss, outline the five steps you should take following a total loss to streamline your settlement, and provide expert advice on how to help best prepare for the unexpected.
What does it mean when my car is declared a total loss?
When the damages to your vehicle are equal to or greater than a certain percentage of your vehicle’s Actual Cash Value (ACV), it’s considered a total loss. This percentage varies by state, with the average total loss threshold averaging 75%.
What should I do if my car is a total loss?
If you find yourself in a situation where your vehicle is declared a total loss, there are five steps you can take to help expedite the process.
Step 1: Know the Location of Your Vehicle’s Title
A title is a legal form you receive upon purchase of your vehicle. This document formally declares you the owner of your vehicle. You should receive a title when you purchase your car new or used, whether from a dealer or a private citizen.
The title is required to process a total loss vehicle, so having this document easily accessible is crucial to moving forward with the settlement process quickly and efficiently.
Step 2: Identify your Lienholder(s)
A lienholder is a financial institution that has either leased a vehicle to you or given you money on loan to buy the vehicle.
The lienholder’s information is necessary when settling, as they have an insurable interest in the vehicle.
Step 3: Request a Letter of Guarantee
Once your lienholder is notified that the vehicle is a total loss, they must provide a “Letter of Guarantee” stating the current payoff for the loan. If the valuation for your vehicle is above the payoff amount, your insurance company will pay the lienholder first and any left over money would go directly to the named person(s) on the title.
Step 4: Obtain Your Lien Release Document
If your loan is paid off through the total loss process, you should receive a lien release document from your lienholder. This document states that the financial institution no longer has an insurable interest in your vehicle.
Step 5: Send a Copy of Your Lien Release to Your Insurance Agent
When you receive the lien release, it’s important to provide a copy to your agency so your insurance company can remove the lienholder from your auto policy. This shift will indicate that that party no longer has a financial interest in your automobile.
“I’ve seen many examples of a vehicle being paid off previously, but still noting a lienholder on the policy,” says Adam Halde, property claim representative at Central Insurance. “And by law, if a lienholder is noted on the policy, your insurance company must name them on any settlement check unless you can provide documentation supporting that they no longer hold a financial interest in the vehicle.”
For this reason, ensuring that documentation is passed off to your agent in a timely manner following a total loss is crucial.
How to Prepare for the Unexpected
Having vehicle records that are organized and easily accessible is one small way to make a huge impact when it comes to dealing with a total loss. Eliminating the need to search for or collect various documents from different sources after an accident helps streamline processes and can help you get your settlement sooner.
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Auto policy experts at Central suggest maintaining a folder dedicated to each vehicle you own. Within each folder there should be copies of your vehicle’s:
- Title documents
- Lienholder documents
- Repair records
- Insurance records
With a system like this, if a vehicle you own has been declared a total loss due to an accident, locating everything you need to start working toward recovery will be easy and efficient.
Note: This article was originally published in January 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy.