Getting in a serious car accident is a very scary thing. There’s nothing you can do to fully prepare yourself for the feeling of being in an accident, so even if you’re injured or completely unscathed, it is likely that you’ll feel pretty nervous and shaky in the moments immediately following a crash.
The most important thing to do following an accident is to make sure that you are safe. You should always prioritize yourself before your car, so if you have any question whatsoever about your health and safety, call an ambulance immediately. If you are uninjured following a serious accident, proceed the things you would do after a minor accident. You should call the police, share insurance information with any other drivers who were involved, document the scene and the damage to your car, and talk with any witnesses who stopped when they saw the accident.
After all that is done, it’s time to take care of your car. Dealing with a potentially totaled car can be a little traumatic, especially if you have a sentimental attachment to your vehicle like many people do. Thankfully, the ins and outs of handling a totaled car are relatively easy and straightforward, so it doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Get your car inspected
If your vehicle has been in a minor accident, you can take it home and call a reputable mechanic (such as the ones at YourMechanic) to come and perform a comprehensive safety inspection. The mechanic can help you see what parts need to be repaired or replaced. If you’ve been in a severe accident, get your car straight to an auto shop, where the extent of the damage can be reviewed, and a trained mechanic can decide whether your car is totaled or not.
If you have time to contact your insurance agent before your vehicle is towed, you should do that. Your insurance agent can recommend an auto shop that they work with, which is a great place to have your damaged vehicle taken to. Also, if you handle this process through your insurance agent, it is likely that they will call you a tow truck that they’ll pay for (otherwise you’ll have to pay for it, though most insurance companies will reimburse you). However, if you don’t have time to call your insurance agent (for instance, if your car is in the middle of the freeway and needs to be towed as soon as possible, or if you have to go to the hospital and someone else handles having your vehicle towed), arrange for it to be taken to a nearby auto shop. After you talk to your insurance agent you can determine if that shop will work, or if you need to take it to a new mechanic.
Once your car is at the auto shop, a mechanic will inspect it and determine whether the vehicle is totaled or not. A vehicle is considered totaled if it is a “total loss” – meaning it’s not worth salvaging. Every insurance company has their own definition of what constitutes a total loss, but in general a car is totaled if it is either too damaged to be able to repair, or if the cost of the repairs would be equal to or greater than the value of the repaired vehicle. For instance, if a car was worth $10,000 before an accident, and it would cost $10,000 to repair it after the accident, then it is totaled.
If the mechanic and your insurance agent determine that the vehicle is totaled, then you cannot have the insurance company cover repairs. Instead, they will cover the cost of the vehicle.
Get a price, and a check from your insurance agent
When your vehicle is totaled, your insurance company will pay you what they believe was the value of the vehicle was before the accident. In order to make sure that you’re not getting swindled by your insurance company, you should get an appraisal of your vehicle’s value by visiting a website such as Kelley Blue Book. After your insurance company decides that the car is totaled, they will tell you their appraisal price. If the price seems fair to you, accept it; if it seems like you are getting lowballed, try to negotiate. If they’re unwilling to negotiate, find an arbiter to help determine the correct price for the car.
After you have accepted a proposed price from the insurance agent, they will send you a check for the totaled vehicle. The check will be for the same amount as the vehicle was appraised for, plus taxes and fees, and minus your deductible.
If you are still making payments on your car, then the insurance company will pay the lender the remaining price left on your payment and will send you what is left over. If the insurance payment is less than the amount that you owe on the vehicle, then you will be responsible for covering the difference (unless you purchased gap insurance from your financing company, in which case they will cover the difference).
If your totaled vehicle was being leased, then your insurance company will pay the leasing company. You will not be responsible for any charges, but you will also not receive any of the insurance money.
Once your vehicle has been taken to the auto shop, you don’t have to deal with it anymore; the shop and your insurance company will handle getting rid of the car. However, if you want to keep your totaled vehicle (for sentimental reasons, or to sell it for parts), you can inquire with your insurance agent about that. In some states, it is illegal to keep a salvaged vehicle, but usually you can keep it (you just can’t drive it on public roads). If you choose to go this route, let your insurance agent know, and make arrangements to have the car delivered to your home. Since insurance companies usually sell totaled vehicles, they will subtract the amount for which they believe they could sell the car from the amount that they will pay you.
Get back on the road
After having your car totaled, you presumably will want to get back on the road. In between your accident and your new car purchase, you may need a rental car for your commute. If you have rental reimbursement coverage from your insurance company, contact them and they will set you up with a courtesy rental car while you deal with buying a car.
It’s very important that you don’t cancel your insurance if you are planning on renting a vehicle. Even though your car is totaled, the insurance you have for it will cover you if you are in an accident while driving another vehicle. You will not be able to rent a car without being an insured driver.
If you are not renting a vehicle – or after you finish renting one – remove your totaled car from your insurance policy before you are charged any additional money. Before calling your insurance company, however, make sure that the totaled vehicle is no longer registered in your name.
After your car has been removed from your insurance policy, it’s time to get a new car and put it on your policy. If you need help feeling confident about your purchase decision when buying a new car, have a mobile mechanic from YourMechanic come and perform a pre-purchase inspection for you.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What to Do After a Major Car Accident and was authored by Brady Klopfer.