Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Important facts to know...

  • A car is totaled when the vehicle is damaged beyond repair or when the cost to repair the car is so high that it exceeds the car’s value
  • Any auto insurance company that is settling a claim for damage to a private passenger vehicle that has standard coverage is only obligated to pay the vehicle owner up to the car’s Actual Cash Value
  • If you are upside down in your auto loan, it means that you owe more on the vehicle than the car is worth in the eyes of your insurer
  • After a total loss accident, the insurer will only submit a payment for the amount of the car’s value to the lender
  • When you carry supplemental GAP insurance on the car, you can file a claim against the coverage to pay for the difference

The auto insurance claims process can be difficult to navigate for first-time claimants. The process can be even more confusing when you get into a serious accident and your virtually new car is so damaged that it’s declared a total loss.

While you’ll learn a lot of things from adjusters and agents, it’s still important to educate yourself before you have a claim so that you don’t have to learn from your mistakes.

Your car is typically not worth what you think it is. Even new car buyers who’ve just recently signed a sales agreement are shocked to learn that their cars are worth about 10 percent less than they were a month ago.

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Since you can’t predict when you’ll be faced with a loss, protecting yourself with adequate coverage is a must. Here’s what you should know:

Cars Depreciate Faster Than Most Property

It’s important to understand that your car isn’t going to retain its value when you drive off the lot. Most cars are only worth about 90 percent of what they were when the buyer signs the sales contract and ownership is transferred.

The depreciation on a new car doesn’t end there. After a year, the car drops in value by another 10 percent.

If your car is damaged in an incident or a crash, depreciation can affect how your claim will be handled.

Standard claims for repairs are handled by an insurance company’s physical damage adjusters, but if the repair estimates are high, the claim will be assigned to the total loss unit.

A car’s rate of depreciation has a direct effect on how a claim will be investigated and handled. If you have a newer model car and it sustains a great amount of damage, the senior adjuster will use tools and guides to calculate the car’s Actual Cash Value.

If the adjuster sees that repair estimates are close to the valuation, they will delve deeper to decide if the car needs to be a total loss.

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How much will your insurance carrier pay to settle a total loss claim?

If you’re to blame for the loss, it’s your insurer that will settle the claim by paying out collision benefits. The insurance company only has to pay you what your car is worth. This is why time and effort are spent to value your car for insurance purposes.

The final valuation is called the car’s Actual Cash Value or fair market value.

Insurance companies won’t simply look at the balance of a car loan and issue a settlement check. The amount of the check that’s issued is strictly based on the vehicle’s value.

The payment will be made to the lender if there’s a loss payee clause on the contract. If the total payment is more than the balance of your loan, your lender will cut you a check.

If, like many borrowers, you owe more on your new car loan than the car is worth, you’ll be considered responsible for the difference. The claims check will bring the balance of the loan down, but the lender will still expect you to honor your debt and pay off the loan.

GAP insurance is a supplemental form of insurance that’s only available to lessees and borrowers. If you’re financing or leasing your vehicle, you should always take the time to determine if GAP insurance is beneficial to you.

After you find out how the coverage works after you file a claim, you’re sure to see the value in it.

How do you file a claim against your GAP insurance?

You’ll only have to use your GAP insurance when the value of your car is lower than the balance of your lending contract.

It’s not until after your physical damage claim is closed and the settlement check has been issued that you can even start filing a claim against your supplemental GAP coverage.

When you have submitted the payment to your lender, you need to ask the lender what’s due to pay the loan off. Then, you’ll have to get your claims paperwork together showing the car was totaled.

With the total loss documentation and the payoff of the loan in hand, your GAP insurer will be able to issue a check for the payoff balance to close the loan.

Difficulty Depends on Where You Buy GAP Insurance

If you buy coverage through the dealer, you’ll have to handle the claims process on your own. If, however, you buy your GAP coverage through your car insurer, everything will be handled by your adjuster.

This is just one reason why it makes sense to buy supplemental protection from your carrier.

You never want to be stuck paying for a car that you can’t drive. If you want to avoid this scenario, build a comprehensive insurance portfolio. If you have a newer car and you want GAP, start getting quotes today.

Use our online quote tool and you can see how cheap it is to safeguard yourself.