THE CRASH COURSE
IN TOTAL LOSS AUTO SETTLEMENT
From an agent's point of view
Disclaimer: It is important to note the laws and regulations related to auto insurance and auto total loss vary by state and jurisdiction, and readers should always consult with legal or insurance professionals for specific guidance related to their individual circumstances. The information provided is intended for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. The author and contributors are not responsible for any consequences that may arise from the use or misuse of the information provided.
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For an Insurance Agent when presented with a Total Loss Auto.
Purpose: The purpose of insurance is to Indemnify. For total loss autos, the vehicle owner is to be indemnified, receiving no more and no less than the fair market value for the vehicle. Fair market value is the value agreed upon by a willing and informed buyer and a willing and informed seller, both without duress or coercion.
We have an ethical responsibility to act in the best interests of our clients, and not to make promises or guarantees on which we may not deliver. Being cautious with realistic expectations can build further trust and confidence with our clients.
Secure a copy of the Total Loss Evaluation Report. In most jurisdictions the Unfair Claims Practices Act entitles the vehicle owner to a copy, upon request.
Review the Total Loss Evaluation Report line by line and identify all errors. Make sure the correct vehicle is being reviewed, and all features are being credited. Make notes of items to question, things the owner doesn’t understand or agree with, and errors.
Follow up on the comparable vehicles. Find out as much as you can about the comparable vehicle. Determine if the comparable is a “true” comparable.
Don’t be intimidated. No one knows your car better than you. Organize your notes. Follow up with the adjuster, present your findings, and ask for corrections.
For an Insurance Agent when presented with a Total Loss Auto.
Do NOT send people to the internet to look for comparable vehicles. It doesn’t have the positive impact most people might think. If you want an idea of what the value is, that’s ok, but do not use this as a comparable. Here is why, if you submit a comparable vehicle to the carrier for consideration, the new comparable vehicle is added to all of the other vehicles, diluting all of them. For example, the total loss evaluation report lists 5 comparable vehicles. The carrier “reluctantly” accepts the comparable submitted by the vehicle owner. Now you have 6 vehicles to compare. Even if the new comparable is $1200 more than the others, it’s averaged into the mix, watered down to $200 (each). That’s a lot of work for a $200 bump in car value.
Do NOT advise people to use the Insurance Policy “Appraisal Clause”. The clause is intended to keep the insurance company from getting sued. It is a tool for resolution as a last resort. It is not the best resource to get the client indemnified for their vehicle in a timely manner. The appraisal process is slow, lots of work, and yields very low results.
Do NOT take the first offer without doing your due diligence. It's always a good idea to negotiate and try to get the best deal possible. It's important to remember that the initial offer is usually just that - an initial offer. Do your research and gather evidence to support your counteroffer. Be respectful but firm in your negotiations, and be prepared to provide clear and concise reasons why you believe the offer should be higher.
Expect to see 3 to 5 comparable vehicles on a total loss evaluation report. If there are more than 5 comparable vehicles it may be an indicator that they are trying to exchange quality for quantity. Look even closer at all the comparables.
Ideally, comparable vehicles should be within 25 miles of the address listed on the registration for the damaged vehicle. This is a general guideline and not a hard and fast rule. There may be circumstances where comparable vehicles are not available within 25 miles, such as in rural areas, or for less common vehicles. The further away the vehicles are, the more opportunity and flexibility the appraisal company has to 'cherry-pick' which comparables they want to use. Appraisal companies do not have to disclose vehicles they don’t use.
Huge dollar gap between the highest and lowest value comparable vehicles. Find the reason why they are so far apart. It’s usually something that is not in the report. Follow up about the vehicle.
Removed one bad comp and submitted receipt for recent maintenance repair. An increase of $731.65
Double check the average mileage on NADA or Edmond's
We did one more revision. Added a feature from the original window sticker, and removed another comp. Ended at $8,102.10, less $1,000 deductible $7,102.10. In the end, an indemnification savings of $1,680.88.
This is a side by side comparison of an actual report the customer brought to us.
HOW TO READ THE TOTAL LOSS EVALUATION REPORT
When you purchased the car, did you try to get a good deal? Of course you did. Why should someone else (like the insurance company) get to benefit from your expert shopping skills. They don’t need to know how much you paid for the car.
The VIN is the most important identifier for the vehicle. The report must accurately represent the correct make, model, and year of the vehicle. When decoding the VIN it will show the standard equipment included with the vehicle at the time it was manufactured. Any additional features or equipment that were added after the manufacturing date needs to be included in the report to get an accurate value.
Ensure that the general condition of the vehicle is accurately described in the report. You want the best ranking you can get. This includes wear and tear and the correct mileage. Additionally, it is crucial to verify that the vehicle listed in the report is the correct make, model, engine, and transmission, as this information can significantly impact the value of the vehicle.
The multiplier effect is an additional consideration when reviewing the report. Changes in values in one section of the report, can have a ripple effect and impact other values in the report. For example, changing the condition of the vehicle can adjust the comparable vehicle values. THIS IS WHY EVERY PENNY COUNTS.
When reviewing the vehicle equipment section, it is important to review that all applicable boxes are checked and that any features not listed are added to the discussion with the adjuster. You may need to check more than one box. For example, a stereo radio has 3 boxes to mark. It is also essential to check for any common errors, such as the material of the wheel rims, and confirm that all equipment is accurately listed in the report.
Review the appraiser's opinion and notes on the specific condition of the vehicle's components. These vary by appraisal services. Some imperfections may be considered normal wear and tear, while others may be more significant and affect the value of the vehicle. It's also important to note that certain common problems may not have a negative impact on the value, especially if they are common among similar vehicles. Example: peeling paint. However, if a vehicle is in better condition than similar vehicles due to exceptional care or storage, it may have a higher value.
If the vehicle has had refurbishments or recent work performed, such as a new transmission, suspension work, new tires or body repairs, be prepared to provide documentation. Providing this information can help to increase the value. It is important to note that not all refurbishments or recent work performed on the vehicle will necessarily increase its value. It ultimately depends on the type of work performed and how it impacts the overall condition and performance of the vehicle.
The owner should evaluate all the comparable vehicles, including ones that may be added to the end of the report as “additional” comparable vehicles. Make notes on the differences between each one and compare them to the totaled vehicle. Is the car still available? If available try to go look at it. Inspect it closely and compare it to the totaled car. How much did it sell for? Do you have the ad or pictures of it? Is the dealer reputable? Check google and the BBB. The owner should be able to discredit comparable vehicles that are not “true” comparables. If the vehicle is not a “true” comparable, there is an argument for discrediting it and removing it from consideration in the valuation of the totaled vehicle.
The adjusted comparable value is the final value assigned to each individual comparable vehicle. The higher the adjusted comparable value, the more beneficial it is for the vehicle owner, while a lower value would benefit the insurance carrier.
All adjusted comparable values are added up, and then divided by the total of the number of comparables to arrive at the base value for the totaled vehicle.
Appraisal companies use various formulas to adjust for mileage differences between the totaled vehicle and the comparable vehicles. The mileage adjustment is typically based on a percentage or a dollar amount per mile, and it aims to account for the depreciation that occurs as a vehicle accumulates more miles. The adjustment takes into account the mileage differences between the totaled vehicle and each comparable vehicle, with more weight given to the vehicles that have lower miles than the totaled vehicle.
“Take Price” - this varies by state. This refers to what is the lowest you would take for this vehicle. Some Appraisal companies adjust for the difference between the “for sale” price, and the actual “sale price” the car sells for. Some use a formula, some factor in a percentage, and others claim they have their representatives contact dealers to see what the car actually sells for. When you are calling about the comparable vehicles, ask this too.
Going up the chain command and talking to a manager should be a last resort. It's always best to work with the adjuster first to try to come to a fair and reasonable settlement. However, if you feel that the adjuster is not being fair or reasonable, or if you have exhausted all other options, you can consider escalating the issue to a manager. Just make sure to explain the situation clearly and calmly, and provide any supporting documentation or evidence that you have.
What to do, and how to do it. STEP BY STEP.
If you haven't done so yet, contact the adjuster and find out the physical location of your vehicle. It is common for the adjuster to have the vehicle moved to a cost-effective secure storage lot. You may need to remove your personal items from the car. It’s a good idea to call ahead and schedule an appointment. You should also take screwdrivers and pliers with you to remove the license tag. It is recommended you take interior photos of the car, and pictures of the original window sticker, if available. This may help you remember additional vehicle features.
Specialty vehicles, vintage, trucks, and rebuilt vehicles may present greater challenges in determining their fair market value, as there may be limited or no comparable vehicles available in the market. In such cases, the appraiser may need to use alternative methods to determine the vehicle's value, such as consulting with experts or using specialized valuation tools. It is important for the appraiser to be transparent with the owner about the challenges involved in valuing such vehicles and to make every effort to arrive at a fair and accurate value.
The Total Loss Evaluation report is a large document, usually 20 - 25 pages, created by the appraiser to provide an estimate of their opinion as to the value of the vehicle that has been declared a total loss. The report typically includes information about the make and model of the vehicle, its condition, mileage, and any unique features or recorded upgrades. It also includes a list of comparable vehicles that have been used to help determine the value of the totaled vehicle.
The appraisal company sends the appraiser out to inspect and provide their opinion on the value of the vehicle. Most insurance companies have determined that they can save time and money outsourcing evaluations to contracted companies like CCC, Mitchell’s, ADP/ Autosource. By using their car database and algorithms to come up with similar cars, they can “support the lowest offer they can legally justify”.
The appraiser inspects and provides their opinion as to the fair market value of the totaled vehicle, based on factors such as its condition, age, make and model, mileage, and local market conditions. While the appraiser may provide information about similar vehicles that are available in the market, it is not their job to find a replacement vehicle for the owner.
The adjuster is the insurance company representative who authorizes and approves the eventual settlement. They are the go between of the appraiser and the customer. They use the appraisers report to reach a settlement with the vehicle owner. While it is important to maintain a professional and courteous demeanor with the adjuster, it is also important to advocate for oneself and push for a fair settlement. Being assertive and presenting valid arguments and evidence to support a higher value can help in achieving a better outcome.
You have the total loss report, and checked the vin number. Make sure they have it correct on the report. Check all the features, make sure you are getting credit for everything on the vehicle.
These are the same comp. Notice that Comp#5 has now becomes Comp#4 on the revised report because the old comp#4 was removed. Also you will see an increase on all comps by adding $87 repair.
Remove Comp #4 as a bad comp. Wish we had a picture, it was trashed. Not a reputable dealer.
The objective is to determine if each furnished comparable is a good “true” comparable. Start with the ones with the lowest “adjusted comparable value”. Begin digging, check the dealer's website, see if it is still there. Gather more information about the condition, maintenance history, and any previous accidents, or damages. Call the dealer, seller, or owner, and make notes of the differences between each individual comparable. If possible go look at the car, see if it even resembles your car.
Scenario / Case Study. What you might find when you check the comps.
Comp #5 has the lowest adjusted comparable value, it is the same year, make, and model. Comp#5 has a basic trim package, the totaled vehicle has a deluxe trim package. Comp#5 has 40,000 more miles than the totaled vehicle. You call the dealer who is selling it. Try to identify who you are talking to. They may tell you they don’t know what you're talking about. They have no record of that car, it’s a “Phantom Vehicle”. Make a note, you spoke to Jim Smith, at Local Dealer Shop, does not, and has not had a car matching the comp. One cause for a phantom vehicle is that it’s been in the appraisers database for too long, more than 12 months.
Move on to Comp #4. Comp#4 is the next lowest adjusted comparable value. This vehicle is available online at the dealers website. From the pictures you can tell its ultra lime green with oversized tires. It has a salvage title, and may have flood damage. It’s basically a clown car, no wonder it’s so cheap. The dealer is a “buy here, pay here” dealer, and has very bad google reviews. Not a member of the BBB, and is in a bad section of the city. Take online screenshots of the car, make your notes and move on to the next one.
Comp #3 Looks good on paper. You call, it's a reputable dealer, and it checks out ok. Ask them, why are they selling it so cheaply? Oh, it’s been on the lot for 2 years and we just want to get rid of it, or it's a repo. Ask them to email you the listing. Make your notes.
Comp #2 looks good, is priced right. Solid comp. You should go look at it to see how it differs from your vehicle. Make notes.
Comp #1 has all the right features and is a good comp. You should go look at it and see how it differs from your vehicle. Make notes.
After reviewing the comparables, call the adjuster and discuss any discrepancies you found in the report, such as missing features or inaccurate comps. If the adjuster agrees to make changes, they may suggest using the remaining comps only, or providing new ones. If they update the report, you should then review the new report to ensure you are satisfied with the revised value.
Typical responses from the adjuster.
A really good overworked pro adjuster who wants this claim off their desk as soon as possible will suggest submitting the changes to the appraiser, and just use the 2 remaining comparables. (Only agree to this if you are happy with the 2 remaining comps). Or, they will ask the appraiser to provide 3 new comps. Since you just reviewed 5 comps, do you really want to review 3 more new ones? Probably not. Ask for just one new comp, for a total of 3 to be averaged. If it's not a good comp, ask for more.
A new adjuster, I’m not sure if we can make changes like that.
An adjuster who hates their job. No, that’s our offer, take it or leave it. *They only ever say this on a non recorded phone line. Never in writing. The requests you made are reasonable. If they're being difficult, remember, you are trying to be reasonable. When this change is made, we’re done, it’s settled.
Examples of things to look for
Car owner had USB ports in their 2020 Nissan. The appraiser missed it. When the USB ports were added to the Total Loss Evaluation Report, it was a different price on every vehicle. It was the same USB port part number, but their algorithm assigned different values based on the particular car. After reviewing the math that worked best for the customer, it was presented, and all USB ports were included at the same price. Not sure why they do this, the value of a USB port shouldn’t fluctuate based on geography and mileage on a car.
Features that have caused problems in the past.
The dealer added high end forged aluminum wheel rims. This may not be included because it was added after manufacturing and doesn’t register on the VIN. Other equipment like wheel rims/chrome, satellite stereo, Multi disc CD, DVD player, built in navigation/GPS, custom paint, USB ports, keyless entry, remote start, nitrous oxide, lojack, or tinted glass, added spoiler, speaker upgrade, Sirus, dash cam cloth seats/leather, 2 wheel drive, and 6 speed, sun/moonroof… just make sure you get credit for these items.
How much damage does there have to be to be a total? A car is considered to be a total loss when the overall cost of damages approaches or exceeds the value of the car. Most insurance companies determine a car to be totaled when the vehicle's cost for repairs plus its salvage value equates to more than the actual cash value of the vehicle. For example, if the car is worth $10,000 and needs $7000 worth of work, it's not worth it to try ot repair it, plus the repair cost may go up due to hidden damage Generally, somewhere in the 70% to 75% range.
The appraiser sees total loss autos multiple times a day. The seller was just involved in an auto accident that totaled their vehicle, they are without a car, and possibly injured and out of work. How many total loss accidents will the average seller experience in their lifetime? Sellers usually have no (or limited) experience or expertise in determining the value of their vehicle. Sellers are relying on the company and appraisal to be accurate and fair.
CCC (Certified Collateral Corporation) Information Services Inc. is a company that provides vehicle value reports to insurance companies. If you believe Google, CCC settles their lawsuits out of court.
Diminished Value - its the loss in value because the car has been in an accident. If the car is a total loss, this doesn’t factor into the claim because they are paying you for the entire car.
Tires - How to determine how much tread is left on your tires
Tread Depth Gauge: This is a tool that measures the depth of the tire tread. It can be purchased at most auto parts stores.
Penny Test: Place a penny in the tread groove with Lincoln's head facing down. If the top of Lincoln's head is visible, the tire has less than 2/32 inch of tread and needs to be replaced.
Quarter Test: Place a quarter in the tread groove with Washington's head facing down. If the top of Washington's head is visible, the tire has less than 4/32 inch of tread and should be replaced soon.
Wear Bars: Most tires have wear bars built into them. These bars are located in the grooves between the treads. If the tread has worn down to the level of these bars, the tire should be replaced.
Unfair Claims Practices Act - when dealing with someone else's insurance company.
Bad Faith Claims Handling - when dealing with your insurance company.
It’s great to love your insurance company, and love your adjuster, you should love your agent even more! The appraiser does not know you, and probably doesn’t care. They are not your friend.
Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. The use of the documents is with the permission of the vehicle owners for whom the report(s) was created. Their identities have been removed to protect their privacy.