What should I know about a total loss claim with my auto insurer?

Making a claim for damages through your insurance policy is the first step in the settlement process. Next, the insurer assigns a claim number and claim adjuster to the loss. The claim adjuster will verify insurance coverage, investigate how the loss occurred, estimate damages, and prepare a settlement offer. The car's actual cash value determines if it is a total loss.

Insurers access recognized guidebooks and computer sources to determine actual cash value. Unrepaired damage reduces ACV. So does wear and tear, missing parts, and rust (up to $500). The adjuster will compare the value of your car to the cost of repairs plus its salvage value.

Ask about the appraisal clause if you dispute the total loss offer. This process involves you and the insurer hiring appraisers to establish vehicle value. The two appraisers select a neutral third umpire. Agreement by two of the three is binding.

Locate your vehicle title upon accepting the total loss offer. Remove license plates and personal belongings. The insurer will prepare a settlement check less the collision deductible upon receipt of the vehicle, clear title, keys, and signed paperwork. A lender will be on the settlement check if you owe money on the totaled vehicle. The settlement amount may not match the outstanding loan balance.

Begin shopping for a new vehicle as soon as the adjuster confirms a total loss. Your insurer will pay tax, title, and transfer fees based on the totaled vehicles value if you buy within 30 days. You will receive actual costs on a lesser value car.

Illinois law allows you to keep a totaled vehicle nine model years of age or older or one with hail damage not affecting operational safety. The title must be changed to reflect salvage status. The insurer will subtract the car's salvage value from the settlement check. All repairs then become your responsibility.